Skautfold: Usurper is a follow-up to that of Skautfold: Shrouded in Sanity; a game I have not previously played. It’s lucky then that you need not have taken in Shrouded in Sanity in order to partake in Usurper.
Coming from Pugware and Red Art Games, Skautfold: Usurper is billed as a Metroidvania Action RPG, which, honestly, seems totally fair. But should you be taking a trip into a Metroidvania world, where everything and anything is ready to kill you – and a single death means you have to restart?
Now, the story of Skautfold: Usurper is an interesting one, starting out as it does with us being a corpse! In the beginning, we see Waltham getting his behind kicked, and he is reduced to a creeping horror type creature that cannot survive without a host. And this is where our handily placed corpse comes into play, as Waltham can not only make it his home, but also revive us in the process.
The game is set in London, where an other worldly Citadel has appeared, leaking monsters onto the streets. It’s our job to go into the citadel and try to figure out a way of stopping this. Waltham may have his own reasons for going along, of course…
As far as presentation goes, Skautfold: Usurper is a very pretty game. It is somewhat retro styled and seemingly owes a large debt of inspiration to the Castlevania games, but the art direction is very good indeed. Being a huge fan of Antiques Road Trip (bear with me here) the whole feel of the game has a Victorian style to it, if that makes sense? The characters and enemies that you meet are certainly stylish, even the fish with guns (yes really). The backdrops and levels are also designed very nicely. The game plays out in the traditional 2D side on platforming style, and everything moves at a fair old lick, rock solid while it does so. In fact, pretty much everything is good from a visual point of view, if you’ll pardon the pun.
Aurally we are looked after as well, with the swish of weapons and cries of enemies a perfect accompaniment as we go through the Citadel. The music is suitably gothic and fits the ambience of the game perfectly, and all in all there isn’t really anything to grumble about.
But the meat and drink of an action RPG is the action and gameplay that accompanies it. The first thing to say is that Skautfold: Usurper, as weird as it feels to type it, put me in mind of a 2D Dark Souls. If you die (and you will, as the game is very hard and extremely unforgiving) you are sent back to the last place you rested at; a throne rather than a bonfire. The principle is the same, however, and every time you die you also lose some of the game’s currency, but cannot get it back, sadly.
Anyways, away from that and it’s about time to have a look at combat. One nice new touch that this game brings in is the Guard bar; an additional bar on the top of the screen next to your health bar. Guard is reduced when you are hit, and any damage that depletes the Guard bar with some impact leftover does damage to your health. With me so far? Good. The Guard bar refills over time, and can also be boosted by rolling through attacks and taking risks, which is an interesting mechanic. There is a great deal of learning to be done with this element of Skautfold: Usurper, as you need to learn what attacks you can roll through, as well as the timings. Practice will most definitely be your friend here.
This goes double for the boss encounters, as while they have patterns to exploit, seeing the pattern and having the timing to act upon it are two entirely different things. And don’t think that is just an old man moaning, even my son, who is currently breezing through Lords of the Fallen, mentioned that it all felt a bit hard. To be fair, the tutorials are a tad half hearted, and certain aspects of the game would benefit from a bit better explanation. Or you could just do what I did, and keep going until things make sense!
As you explore, you will gain lots of new weapons to utilise, capable of equipping multiple ones at any one time. There is a good mix of melee and ranged weapons, and having options is always a decent idea. Ranged weapons, like bows, will only let you fire them if you have ammo, so be on the lookout, but a massive sword or axe just needs you to swing it about. It is when you start fighting that you notice that the Guard bar also seems to act a bit like a stamina bar, and reduces as you attack. It all adds a little more spice to an already red hot dish.
Collecting items as you go through the game will allow you to level up multiple character stats, with the traditional health and stamina increase very much on the agenda first of all. After that, it depends on what sort of character you want to build – a fast and fragile magic user, a heavy tank who can dish out the damage? Level wisely and these can all be yours.
All in all, Skautfold: Usurper is a game that will do a lot to endear itself to your gaming heart. It looks great, it plays very well and the challenge is all too real, but the rewards are there if you can learn how to risk it all on the Guard bar.
If you fancy a great Castlevania style game, Skautfold: Usurper is one I recommend wholeheartedly. Just don’t be surprised when it takes a hundred odd attempts to just beat the first boss…