Bleak Sword DX is the updated and expanded PC port of the mobile game Bleak Sword, bringing its unique blend of intense combat and dark atmosphere to a wider audience. Developed by More8Bit and published by Devolver Digital, this dark and challenging action title offers players a brutal journey through an aptly named bleak and unforgiving world. Though decidedly minimalist in its art style, it’s hard for anyone to mistake the wealth of style this little title has to offer.
The core of Bleak Sword DX lies equally in its beautifully grim presentation and in its demanding combat system. With a simple control scheme mapping only a handful of keys, players engage in visceral yet straightforward battles with gruesome foes. The game requires precise timing and calculated movements, as players must strategically block, dodge, and counter-attack as well as memorize enemy attack patterns to emerge victorious. Each encounter feels weighty and impactful, as the bone-crushing sound effects and on-screen effects create a satisfying sense of impact. Bleak Sword DX’s combat mechanics successfully emphasize the need for precise timing and skillful execution, and can easily be called a Souls-Lite in its crippling difficulty and easy-to-learn, hard-to-master mechanics.
As I said before, the daunting combat is just one-half of the Bleak Sword formula that Bleak Sword DX beautifully executes. The game employs a minimalistic art style, utilizing a black-and-white pixel aesthetic you might find in early 80’s RPG titles. While these pixels are beautifully crafted, the game also uses modern rendering effects and lighting to evoke a haunting and atmospheric experience. Each dark pixelated detail contributes to the overall immersion, effectively immersing players in the grim world of the Bleak King.
The sound design in Bleak Sword DX is also masterfully executed, adding depth and immersion to the overall experience. While you might assume by looking at the game that it employs a sort of retro soundscape, the game actually uses delightfully macabre piano and violin soundtracks to sell you on the experience of being in a dark fantasy world. The haunting and atmospheric soundtrack complements the game’s dark tone, intensifying the sense of unease and despair, but the sound effects are what really immerse you. The clash of sword against flesh and the groans and shrieks of defeated enemies make each encounter feel impactful and when paired with the beautiful soundtrack creates a foreboding ambiance that effectively complements the game’s grim visuals, drawing players deeper into this oppressive world.
Bleak Sword DX presents a challenging journey for players, but it also offers a rewarding sense of progression. As players navigate through various levels, they encounter increasingly difficult enemies and face daunting boss battles, gaining experience points and discovering new items along the way. Item drops feel particularly exciting, as they can provide you with stat bonuses that make progressing way easier. If you die, however, you’re given one chance to recover your gear and xp before it is lost forever and you’re forced to try again at level 1.
As a horror fanboy, I’d be remiss to go without mentioning the unique monster designs in Bleak Sword DX. The varied monster designs present in Bleak Sword DX’s large bestiary are truly horrifying, adding to the game’s dark and foreboding atmosphere. Despite the game’s minimalist pixel art style, the creatures players encounter are grotesque and nightmarish, leaving a lasting impression on the player.
Or perhaps it is because of the minimalist style that these creatures make such an impression. An advantage of the monsters in Bleak Sword DX have that many 3D creatures lack is their ability to tap into and exploit the player’s imagination. The minimalistic pixel art leaves room for interpretation, allowing players to fill in the details of these grotesque creatures with their own fears and nightmares. Looking at a relatively simplistic outline of a spider, I didn’t see minimalistic pixels, but a grotesque and hairy beast with malformed and deadly legs that helped it leap across the screen at me.
The real standout monster designs are the towering and menacing bosses. These monstrosities are larger than life, towering over the player and seemingly taking inspiration from real-life cryptids and monster stories. A personal favorite of mine is Black Hoof, who resembles the modern interpretation of the Wendigo.
The environments in which these monsters are encountered further heighten the horror. Dark and claustrophobic dungeons, fog-shrouded forests, and decrepit catacombs serve as the backdrop for these nightmarish creatures. The combination of atmospheric lighting, eerie soundscapes, and oppressive ambiance creates a sense of unease and intensifies the terror of encountering these monstrous beings.
It’s worth noting that the horror of Bleak Sword DX’s monster designs lies not only in their appearance but also in the sense of vulnerability they evoke. The game emphasizes the feeling of helplessness as players navigate these dark realms with limited resources and the constant threat of death. While one giant spider or shambling skeleton might not be much to fear, a few missed blocks can quickly heighten the tension for the player. The ability for the game’s monsters to quickly overpower you if you aren’t careful makes each encounter a hair-raising experience.
Once you make it through the initial campaign, Bleak Sword DX offers several difficulties and bonus modes to give the game plenty of replayability. While I didn’t get to try out Boss Rush and The Arena in my playthrough, I think they seem pretty self-explanatory. It’s hard to imagine that the game can get more difficult than its normal difficulty, but Doom and Bleak offer increased challenges for the player who beats Normal and wants a further challenge. Fans of the mobile game can also play in classic mode for a more familiar experience.
The Final Word
Bleak Sword DX is a hauntingly beautiful game, with a fantastically executed Dark Fantasy world and great combat hidden behind a deceptively simple art style. Fans of Dark Souls or Dark Fantasy as a genre would be missing out if they don’t give Bleak Sword DX a try.
Try Hard Guides was provided with a PC review copy of this game. Find more detailed looks at popular and upcoming titles in the Game Reviews section of our website! Bleak Sword DX is available on Steam, GoG, Epic Games and Nintendo Switch.