Kristala Early Access Review

Kristala is a new Soulslike game that just entered Early Access and has quickly captured my attention.
Kristala Featured

I was given the chance to check out the Kristala Playtest, an Early Access build of an upcoming cat-like Soulsbourne-inspired title. Soulslike games as a genre are quickly growing on me, but Kristala might be my new favorite; with both a unique setting, atmosphere, and cool twists on the genre’s familiar mechanics, Kristala has a lot to offer even in its pre-launch state.

The immediate standout selling point in Kristala is the game’s focus on a more feline approach to fantasy. By that, I mean the protagonist of the game is literally an anthropomorphic cat fighting against anthropomorphic Rat enemies. Fans of the Warrior Cats franchise rejoice!

Kristala Character
Screenshot: Try Hard Guides

Immediately, making a cat the star of your Soulslike game is an attention-grabbing choice. Still, the world of Kristala feels genuinely well-built and intriguing even beyond the “gimmick” of using non-human characters. The environmental storytelling is rich, and I’m happy to see more non-traditional fantasy settings entering the game market.

Being a cat is much more than just an aesthetic choice, as your feline nature defines Kristala’s gameplay.

As anyone familiar with the term Soulslike may be aware, the gameplay loop in Kristala is based around the Dark Souls/Bloodborne identity of difficult, reflex-based combat. You’ll find that the game plays very similarly to its inspirations, from its combat encounters to its level-up system, though the former are enhanced with some really flashy finishing moves, which are just one way the game feels unique in its genre.

While I know Souls games have some platforming in them, it feels like Kristala has taken it three steps further. Being a cat, you can run up vines, tightrope walk, and spin-jump from outcropped poles. The levels are even designed in such a way that you can optionally skip entire combat encounters through the use of parkour and platforming, making you feel like a truly stealthy cat warrior.

Kristala Stealth
Screenshot: Try Hard Guides

You can also, of course, choose a stealthier approach by sneaking up on your enemies. Doing so puts you into a four-legged cat walk, which is just a little detail I adore so much.

Not that you are encouraged to sneak by every combat encounter, that is. Fighting the many Ratty enemies in Kristala is an exceptionally fun experience. Like I said before, the combat follows many of the Soulslike stables you would expect to see in the genre, with light and heavy attacks, dodging and blocking, high damage, and stamina managed. The game also mixes in some equipment-based special attacks, as well as explosive spells.

I did, of course, run into a few unintended issues and bugs when playing the Kristala playtest. Considering this is an early access, testing branch of the game, these are of course expected, but I wouldn’t really be doing my job if I didn’t point them out.

Crashes to the desktop were rare, with only one during my time with Kristala. If I recall, it happened after death, and the game closed and threw up an Unreal Engine error. It didn’t happen again, so I couldn’t tell you exactly how to recreate the problem, and I imagine most players won’t face it again.

One significant bug I faced that seriously impacted my gameplay was when I hit continue on my save, which loaded me into the game with no weapons. My sword and shield were still in my inventory, but I couldn’t equip them. While a serious problem, this luckily didn’t affect my playthrough too much, as going for an unarmed build turned out to be fairly viable.

Kristala Unarmed
Screenshot: Try Hard Guides

While not a bug, I had real issues with the speed of the camera traversal on the mouse. When moving your mouse left or right, the camera will zip to rotate in that direction at a ludicrous speed, which made platforming kind of a nightmare when I wasn’t super careful with it. I couldn’t find an option to turn this down in the settings, which is something I really hope gets added before the game releases.

A problem of optimization seems to exist in the current build of the Kristala playtest.

I don’t have the world’s greatest computer, with a few parts here or there that could use updating. Nevertheless, I can play most new releases (particularly triple-A, graphics-heavy titles) on Ultra without issue. Kristala, however, I had to play on high (and not the game’s preset for Epic-level graphics) and even then experienced long load times and frame rate drops. I tested the game on multiple modern machines and had pretty much the same result on each one.

Kristala Fight
Screenshot: Try Hard Guides

This is an issue that seems to plague many early in-development Unreal Engine games, where the incredible power of the engine’s graphical presentation is not tested across multiple machines. It’s why these playtests exist, and they shouldn’t be held against the Kristala team, of course, but it is worth pointing out so it can be addressed.

The playtest’s biggest performance draws seem to be CPU-related. I’d be willing to say it has something to do with the game’s shadows, reflections, or subsurface scattering (I don’t really know what that means, and I’m only including it in this paragraph to sound smarter.) The point is that players with a CPU on the weaker side might not be able to enjoy the Kristala playtest, though hopefully, this won’t be a problem when the game enters its official release.

Overall, Kristala already seems to be an exciting and unique entry into the Soulslike genre. With its unique setting and twists on the genre’s gameplay mechanics, the game has real promise. Though there are still bugs to be polished, optimization to be implemented, and tweaks to the controls and gameplay to be made before Kristala is ready to launch, Kristala has a lot to offer fans of Soulslike games, but it should be equally appealing for newcomers looking to make this cat-based world their first experience with the genre.

Pros:

  • A lore-rich and unique fantasy setting
  • Fantastic graphics and character designs
  • Fun twists on Soulslike combat

Cons:

  • Some poor optimization that can gatekeep some players from enjoying the game
  • Some bugs that need to be polished out before the game releases
Erik Hodges

Erik Hodges

Erik Hodges is a hobby writer and a professional gamer, at least if you asked him. He has been writing fiction for over 12 years and gaming practically since birth, so he knows exactly what to nitpick when dissecting a game's story. When he isn't reviewing games, he's probably playing them.

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