Most people will talk of Castlevania and more recent Metroidvanias when they play Elderand, but for me, I’m getting flavours of the 16-bit era (Leander for some very bizarre reason) and others. Yes, I’m not like most people, but here’s my review of this action RPG/side-scroller from Mantra, Sinergia Games, and Graffiti Games.
For a more modern comparison, it’s a bit like Death’s Gambit or the more recent GRIME. There’s definitely a Souls-like vibe to it: bloody hard, incremental skill increases, and enough bonfires to, erm… start a fire. But, making those comparisons are complimentary – this is an enjoyable, albeit challenging game.
Forgive me for not being able to recall the plot/story behind Elderand, as it was surplus to requirements. That’s a lazy statement, but the point is, the gameplay is spot-on for this sort of title that watching cutscene after cutscene would spoil the experience. It’s something to do with a bad egg named Sserthris. Essentially you’ll be exploring a continuous collection of biomes connected from interlinked paths. Some are available through exploration; others require a boss slaying.
At the start of your adventure, you’ll be about to choose your avatar, give them a decent barnet and learn the intuitive controls. There’s a melee weapon to begin with, a secondary bow (massively satisfying, but limited ammo). Your hero carries sidearms such as blades and axes, allowing them to throw in a vertical arc. Naturally, game progression unlocks skill points to assign to your character, going for a strength, dex or magic build.
Unlike Souls-like games, you can level your Elderand hero from the pause menu and reassign attributes from a bonfire. Stats include the basics: vitality, strength, dexterity and wisdom. They should be self-explanatory, so imagine which affects your attack, magic attack, defence and critical chance. Often opting for a strength build, while it worked great against the first boss and one-hit-kills early enemies, I have to say that magic is the way as you can locate weapons that rely on both strength stats and wisdom, allowing you to cast from a distance.
Ranged attacks are essential and complementary to the skilled combat mechanics (there’s no button-mashing here!), and there’s a good deal of platforming, too. Nothing complex, but as is always the way, projectiles and those loathsome flying enemies will often knock you off a ledge if you aren’t careful, so take them out from afar. The same goes for those that inflict debuffs like bleeding damage. There’s a plethora of weapons to unlock and armour, rings and relics that offer up a good selection of buffs.
A Big Ol’ World
Elderand’s world is pretty big. Playing for the first few hours didn’t even make a dent in the exploration percentage, and that’s down to some of the difficulty aspects. Sometimes you can get into an area a little earlier than necessary if you’re unskilled. Several times, I found myself overwhelmed by seemingly lower enemies but countered that not through enviable skill but grinding and overpowering them. Each time you rest at a bonfire, enemies will respawn, allowing a farming session to level up and perhaps earn some coins to buy gear from the merchants.
Grinding is, of course, optional, and that will depend on your skill level. The enemies through each biome are incredibly varied – no reskinning here – and while they initially offer up some challenges, learning their patterns and perhaps levelling up will combat it. The same can’t be said about the bosses as they can pull off cheap shots that take a third off your health, rendering a run futile. That said, that’s not a whinge that the game is too difficult, just that one needs to git gud.
Regarding the difficulty, it reminded me of Salt and Sanctuary – another excellent 2D side-scrolling Souls-like, only the latter has some comic relief. It’s not that Elderand takes itself too seriously, but there’s simply no time to giggle about dying (again). Dust yourself off, level up, and stock up on consumables. The press for the game does state that it has Lovecraftian enemies, and to some degree, it does, but I wouldn’t go in thinking that this is a Lovecraft-inspired title like, say Dreams in a Witch House or Source of Madness.
While compiling these thoughts, I booted up the game on the Steam Deck once more to ensure I was heading the right way with my ‘evaluation’. Yes, I’m quite fond of Elderand and immediately got into another new game when I should have finished this review. Castlevania-like? Perhaps, but if you like Salt and Sanctuary and Souls-like mechanics in a 2D environment, I encourage you to check this out.