I first heard about Thymesia last year. This Souls-like action RPG from OverBorder Studio and Team17 was on my radar for a short while, only to find out that it got delayed. Now, after yet another delay, it’s set to release on Steam.
I expected the tried-and-true formula that’s common in this genre. However, Thymesia did manage to pique my interest given some cool mechanics. Sadly, it was also bogged down by other ideas that never truly gelled well with the action.
A Plague Tale: No Sense
One of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to Souls-like games is how they lean on the “cryptic information for the sake of being cryptic” mantra. And Thymesia, regrettably, uses this as a crutch.
You play as a fighter named Corvus (who dons a plague doctor’s attire). You fight your way through three medium-sized levels in the Kingdom of Hermes, which has fallen to chaos and corruption. Along the way, you’ll pick up a few fragments of lore. Likewise, there’s a single hub with a lone NPC named Aisemy, who just talks to you about restoring your memories. Simply put, the story isn’t fully fleshed out, nor is the development of the narrative meaningful enough to feel any attachment to the characters or the setting.
As mentioned above, Thymesia only has three levels or zones. You generally make your way through corridors, battling baddies and picking up keys to unlock doors. At the end of each zone, you’ll fight a main boss. Once a zone is cleared, you’ll unlock a couple of sidequests.
You’re going to backtrack often to areas that you’ve already visited (which is expected). The downside is that the tasks are so banal and pointless. Outside of one side area in the second zone, exploration feels quite unrewarding. At best, you’re completing these tasks for extra souls/runes to level up.
I should also mention that level design is mostly rudimentary, so don’t expect to find jaw-dropping secrets. Speaking of design, the game’s graphics are a bit outdated. I was also concerned by how often the game stuttered and froze whenever I took screenshots (with momentary freezes lasting for 20 seconds).
Rip ’em apart
Combat is the meat and potatoes of any Souls-like game, and Thymesia has a few tricks up its sleeves. Firstly, there’s the plague wounds mechanic. In most action titles, simply attacking an opponent would whittle down its HP. Rinse and repeat until the mob is dead. In Thymesia, regular attacks with your sword somewhat “poison” your target (i.e., a part of their HP bar turns green). This portion will still get regenerated over time if you don’t damage them, and that’s where your plague claw comes in.
When using your plague claw, you’ll completely take out a chunk of that green portion, preventing regeneration up to a certain point. To be honest, I was a bit miffed at the idea of enemies who often restored their HP. But, after a while, this concept grew on me, as it nudged me to alternate blade and claw attacks for combos. Moreover, it adds to the plague doctor and disease theme. I do think the only gripe I had is that some mobs do seem tankier than normal.
The second mechanic, reaving, also adds a lot of dynamism to combat. By holding down your plague claw’s attack button, Corvus will charge and drill through an enemy. In turn, he’ll obtain a Plague Weapon skill depending on the equipment that your foe has. For instance, using this on a greatsword wielder will let you do a massive swing that knocks down surrounding hostiles. Meanwhile, absorbing someone’s spear ability (or unlocking it using shards) allows you to strike out with multiple thrusts. Plague Weapon skills can be upgraded, too, for additional damage or modifiers.
The talented Mr. Corvus
If HP wounds and reaving made Thymesia stand out of the pack, then almost everything else related to combat became a detriment. There are actually some abilities and talents that you’d barely get to use, as though they were added for the sake of showcasing their existence without fully examining their viability.
For example, Corvus is able to throw feathers to interrupt an enemy skill. It’s something I barely used since dodging felt more natural. Then, there are aerial attacks, which aren’t fully utilized since you can only leap whenever a boss does its ultimate. On the bright side, you can respec your talent points whenever necessary, just in case you pick some rather poor options.
As for survival, you’ve got dodges and parries. The good news here is that the game doesn’t have a stamina bar, which means you can attack, dodge, parry, and sprint at your leisure. For dodges, there’s a minor delay even after unlocking a particular talent. Parrying, though, needs some tweaks. You can certainly parry a lot of hits made against you, but the timing is very tight and enemies will still continue with their chain.
I was genuinely hoping for a perfect parry system that can stagger enemies, followed by a brutal riposte. Instead, staggers can only occur once you’ve fully depleted an enemy’s HP bar. They’ll flash red, and you’ll then be able to perform an execution (which leads to sweet invincibility frames). That’s probably a tradeoff given the lack of stamina usage.
A couple of notches above Dolmen
I’d liken Thymesia to another indie Souls-like game called Dolmen, which I reviewed back in May. Both relied on the usual formula that the genre is known for, and both had their own unique takes. Thymesia is slightly better, though that’s a fairly low bar to clear.
It has several mechanics for you to consider, slightly veering away from the style of combat that you may have gotten used to. Unfortunately, others aren’t particularly integral to core dynamics. Worse, when you factor in the rather short campaign length (i.e., less than 10 hours), the lack of enemy variety (i.e., samey-looking knights), and repetitive trudges through the same zones, it hardly scratches the itch for another Souls-like romp. It is somewhat disappointing knowing how many times the title has been delayed to polish its overall presentation.