Review – Death’s Gambit: Afterlife
The original Death’s Gambit launched back in 2018, and whilst I didn’t review it back then, I enjoyed it quite a bit. It was a soulslike metroidvania title that, despite its many flaws, was an enjoyable time. It didn’t the heights of the likes of Hollow Knight, but it provided a solid experience. Death’s Gambit: Afterlife is the expanded and upgraded version of the original game with tons of new content and gameplay overhauls heavily based on player feedback, generously free to owners of the original game on PC, also making its debut on the Nintendo Switch.
Death’s Gambit is a 2D sidescrolling game in the same light as GRIME, combining elements of soulslike combat with metroidvania level design and exploration. It’s got all the soulslike traits you would expect: enemies drop Shards, which are used as currency and a means to level up, and combat is about managing your health and stamina, making sure you don’t get too greedy. Also, health supplies work in a similar way to Dark Souls, being limited use items that refresh everytime you rest. However, in order to mix things up, Death’s Gambit causes you to drop one wherever you die, forcing you to either make the journey back into a boss arena to pick it up or use your shards to buy it back.
It’s nothing we haven’t seen plenty of times before in games like Blasphemous and Salt and Sanctuary, but Death’s Gambit’s gameplay does take some interesting turns, namely in the abilities that are attached to each of the game’s multiple weapon types. At any point you can have three equipped on your hotbar, giving your weapons powerful attacks. The original game, while good, suffered a bit with its combat mechanics. In Afterlife, things have been revamped a bit. Your character now feels much more responsive to control, and, as a result, the combat feels more fluid, fast, and fun. For instance, perfect parrying now opens up a super powerful counter attack, whilst the kick has been replaced with a slick slide that allows you to reposition with ease.
Afterlife not only is an improvement to the original game’s combat system, but also almost every single aspect of Death’s Gambit, from the level design, to progression and a healthy number of quality of life improvements. Think of Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin, but even bigger, essentially doubling the size of the game. Alongside the new well-designed areas is an expanded skill tree system. You get your initial class tree based on your starting weapon, and after a certain point in the game, you will also unlock a second weapon tree. This allows you to create a hybrid class ramping up the build potential and replay value along the way.
Boss fights have also seen some changes, mostly relvolving around rebalancing. Forgotten Gaien and Ione, for instance, are two early bosses that have seen massive changes that I won’t spoil here (though they are still mechanically similar). The vast majority of the bosses you will encounter are actually really fun to fight, and the new ones are some of the best in the game. Defeating certain bosses now rewards you with new movement abilities such as a double jump, airdash and ground pound, which go hand-in-hand with the brand new level design. A good chunk of the areas have been redesigned from the ground up to accommodate these new abilities.
On the visual side of things, not a lot has changed. The same general art style is here but some backgrounds have been touched up a bit. Death’s Gambit was a pretty decent looking game at the time, with a visually pleasing pixel art style with plenty of colour and variety; that hasn’t changed. The dark aesthetic is reminiscent of Dark Souls, with destroyed cities and an overall bleakness to the design, though it takes it in some surprising directions as well to give it its own unique flare. It also looks right at home on the Switch. It’s just a shame the ugly UI couldn’t see the some bigger changes.
Sound design is also pretty much the same, being comprised of a great soundtrack with some thrilling boss fight themes. I was also surprised by the quality of the voice acting, which, whilst not the best out there, did a great job of immersing me into a surprisingly well-told story. Matthew Mercer in particular did a great job as Death. Afterlife also includes more spoken lines from NPCs all throughout its runtime.
Death’s Gambit: Afterlife is a massive improvement over a game that while pretty good for its time, had its fair share of flaws. Not only does it improve upon the original title’s shortcomings, but it also doubles its overall size with new areas to explore and new mechanics to abuse. Not to mention the fact that this is a free upgrade if you already owned the previous PC version. It’s a phenomenal effort that makes it worth coming back to for fans of the original, and if you either weren’t a fan or haven’t tried it before, I can’t recommend Afterlife enough.
Visually identical to previous versions. The beautiful pixel art design looks wonderful on the Switch. Sadly, the UI is still a bit ugly
Improved combat mechanics and brand new movement techniques, such as a double jump. Not to mention the revamped level design, which takes advantage of these new moves.
The soundtrack is great and Matthew Mercer absolutely kills it with his portrayal as Death.
Fun Factor: 9.0
Death’s Gambit: Afterlife is not only a sizable improvement over the original game, essentially doubling its size, but a great game in its own right for newcomers.
Final Verdict: 9.0
Death’s Gambit: Afterlife available now on PC and Switch.
Reviewed on Switch.
A copy of Death’s Gambit: Afterlife was provided by the publisher.