Dark Devotion is a side-scrolling action game set in a dark, crumbling temple. Each section, or world, of the game has multiple paths, each with its own boss, concluding with a final boss at the end of the world. Each path has its own secrets, monsters, loot, and lethal traps that can vary widely, and the game is just difficult enough that death can come fairly easily if you're not careful.
Death returns you to the main hub, where you can outfit yourself again and either start from the beginning, perhaps to choose a different path, or to transport to the last saved position should you be lucky enough to have reached one. Its inspirations should be familiar to seasoned readers, but in the details are important differences.
The game is spartan in its equipment allowance, permitting two weapon setups for main and off-hand, one armour slot, one gem slot (which allows a strike-by-strike buildup of a special, short-term bonus), and one idol slot, in addition to four slots for consumables. Find something in surplus, and in the case of equipment slots you can swap, but with consumables, if you find something that doesn't stack with what you have you must use up a stack of what you have before you can pick up the new item. In similar games you tend to be able to pile on the gear, perhaps losing currency when you die but retaining your equipment build. Here it's the opposite, as all currency, in the form of devotion, is saved, but upon death, all of your equipment is lost.
The hub allows you to spend your earnings on upgrades to your basic stats, and you may also find ways to enhance and diversify your starting equipment and starting blessings. Blessings are a major part of the core mechanics; weapon and character statistics are fairly straightforward, with critical and (yes) miss chances, damage range, stamina regeneration, maximum faith, and movement speed, but blessings expand these base stats regardless of equipment, and can be earned through discoveries and accomplishments, almost acting as an in-game achievement system with demonstrable benefits.
The opposite of blessings are curses that can add a layer of challenge to your current build, sometimes as a result of wounds received or spamming healing items. These are cleared upon death, though, so there's no long-term retention of mistakes made.
The game does not allow jumping, but you can leap from ladders, allowing some degree of platforming, and a rapid roll, normally used for dodging enemy attacks, can get you onto a rushing platform or over short gaps. Generally, the character is able to parry with a shield or two-handed weapon, assuming they have them, and both dodging and parrying reduces your stamina bar. Too low a stamina leaves you vulnerable. The hits you can take are a combination of armour points and health points, modified by your accessory's stats. Salvaged armour can sometimes have zero armour points remaining, but its other benefits may be tempting enough for you to hope to find armour repair later on. Since most sections of the map close off once you've passed through an exit, you are often forced to make interesting choices on the spot, both with the equipment you want to keep, and the routes you can take.
While not exceedingly difficult, combat against the monstrous dwellers in the temple is suitably tense. Mistakes in combat are costly, so it is sometimes a legitimate strategy to just bypass normal enemies entirely, forsaking whatever loot they may drop as a worthwhile price to pay for avoiding wounds or death. Loss of equipment rather than spendable experience, and the ability to reliably find certain items of loot along certain paths, means that through repeated visits to areas you feel encouraged to try out equipment builds first hand, learning how reliable a weapon is or how slow it is to swing. Collecting blessings and curses rewards paying attention to your surroundings and the hidden rules of the world, and the secret rooms in the game tend to have seemingly unique assets and a bit of a story behind them, as an additional reward to what is otherwise just an incremental increase in power.
Another major mechanic is devotion. While killing enemies earns permanent currency, the character's faith is a meter with a maximum value that you can use to power statues in the world that open doors, heal you, cure you of an ailment, or open a gate you can access from the hub world, amongst other things. Proper management of this resource can open hidden passages that lead to permanent benefits, special equipment, or heal your character enough to face a boss.
The Heavy demo takes you to the first world's boss, with more worlds planned. The visual style is perhaps uneven at times, and we did experience a clipping bug at the very edge of a ledge, but for the most part the game played smoothly and reliably. You may recognise similar mechanics to other games here, but the combination of these elements brings about a different feel than others of this sub-genre, and we're looking forward to seeing how the game develops post-Kickstarter (which ends on October 16). Currently, they offer a Light version of the demo which is free to download, and those who back the game to the tune of €28 will unlock the Heavy demo we played for the purposes of this preview.