Strength of the Sword is apparently something of a cult game, with a very strong following on the PS3. Now, I don’t have a PS3, so I’m coming to this, the Ultimate Edition of the game, as fresh as the proverbial daisy. With an intriguing premise, a blend of a third person action game and a beat-em-up, this has certainly piqued my interest. Throw in a host of new modes, including PvP this time around, the experience has grown, but how does it play? I picked up my best Titan Shield and went to find out.
Graphically, Strength of the Sword has a unique style. The controllable character, a War Golem sent down by the Mechanic in the Sky to help the people of the world below fend of a demonic invasion, put me in mind of one of the droids from The Phantom Menace, and the way he moves immediately smacks of an old PS1 game, MediEvil, which featured a skeleton in a suit of armour.
The animation of the hero and the opposing enemies here is absolutely bang on, with different enemies having different “tells” and wind up animations to their various attacks, which allows you to learn what is about to be unleashed upon your poor Golem.
However, while I say you can learn, the learning process is brutal, with many deaths found along the way as you begin to understand what can be blocked, what must be avoided, and when it’s best to up skirts and run away!
The design of the enemies is very good indeed, ranging from small little speedy guys to slow, hard-hitting behemoths, all with a cool graphical style that makes smacking them with a sword a pleasure. Even the Golem himself is almost infinitely customisable, with new weapons and various bits of armour to unlock and buy in the in-game shop, allowing you to tweak your golem to suit your play style; be that ranged, tank or a mixture of the two. Different armour bits give different boosts to the likes of stamina and mana, so again finding a mixture to suit is easy.
The actual gameplay of Strength of the Sword: Ultimate is where the main strength lies, if you’ll pardon the pun. The game is presented as a series of arenas, with waves of enemies to defeat, with the odd boss dropped in every now and then. The story mode is where we’ll begin, and the presentation is very good indeed, presented as almost a puppet show/shadow theatre style affair, depicting the Golem descending from the sky, and following his journey into the depths of hell to ultimately deal with the source of the invasion. Loading into each arena, every new enemy is introduced with a little cutscene, and the first few stages are treated as an extended tutorial, teaching you the basics of attacking, defending and dodging.
Now, here is where the game deviates from the norm. You see, there are button combos to learn, depending on the weapons you have equipped, and using these can see the difference between success and failure. However, as the developers state on their website, “They are deadly allergic to button mashing” so the correct press at the optimum time is required for the best results. The timing is needed for parrying attacks as well, leaving enemies open to a counter. That said, a well timed dodge will save you if all else fails. This is where the beat-em-up element rears its head, as learning combos and timings will really help you. The game is very challenging, with the bosses likely to mess you up the first time you encounter them, particularly the Silver Back that moves at a rate of knots!
Completing story mode – which won’t take too long as there aren’t a massive number of stages – ensures that the Survival Arena is unlocked. Basically doing what it says on the tin, the arena pits you against waves of enemies, punctuated by bosses from the campaign, and challenges you to stay alive as long as possible, scoring points as you go. And what do points make? That’s right, they let you buy things from the bonus in-game shop to help you survive! Alright, it’s not as catchy at Brucie’s catchphrase, but it is certainly much more applicable to the game we’re interested in. This shop allows you to buy a health or Mana refill, which both come in very handy. This is another great feature, and kept me score chasing, trying to tweak my loadout to enable me to survive longer and longer.
There are two promised multiplayer modes, co-op and PvP, and in theory they sound great. Co-op is a 2-player arena mode, allowing you to play together with a friend against the evil hordes, while PvP is again as you’d expect, letting you prove whose Golem is the greatest in a battle to the death.
Now, these modes sound awesome, but as I write this, I haven’t been able to get into a single multiplayer match. Trying to play with strangers, or inviting friends who also have the game, delivers a blizzard of “Network Errors” and no actual gameplay. Even trying to play with others on the same network, with no internet involvement, still throws up the same errors. It’s a bit of a let down if I’m honest, having a big segment of Strength of the Sword unable to be played.
Despite the lack of multiplayer though, Strength of the Sword: ULTIMATE on Xbox One has kept me interested; playing and grinding to try and eke out the currency to buy all the gear on offer, from a huge shield to a rocket launcher backpack. The single player mode is great fun, and while this makes for an enjoyable experience, once the online multiplayer begins to work as intended, this is a game that will go from strength to strength.