Let’s get one thing out of the way. When you play Strength of the Sword 3, you will die. And die. And die a few more times (I assume you mean your avatar, not you personally. Or you’re a zombie Shaan now? – ed).
This is perhaps the most impressive part about the game, aside from the fact that it was made by a team of three. While some studios are content with labelling their game as “difficult” because of some devious AI or other tricks, the folks over at Ivent Games have crafted a perfectly balanced brawler that places the blame on you personally with each and every death. There are no cheap hits or unavoidable combos; each and every round lost, death earned, and hit taken can be traced back to an error made on your part. And it’s this uncompromising difficulty that makes Strength of the Sword 3 such a delightful (and at times, a rage-inducing) experience.
The game is light on story, but when you’re moving from fight to fight, a paper-thin premise does the job just fine. There’s an evil force invading the kingdom, and that’s all your really need to know. While the story may be lacking, the game more than makes up for it in its presentation and visuals. For a team of only three, Strength of the Sword 3 has a fairy-tale aesthetic that is rarely captured so well on screen. While most fantasy combat games tend to stick to your browns and grays, Strength of the Sword 3 is not afraid to inject a little colour onto the scene, and it goes a long way in making it stand out from other titles in the genre.
But unlike God of War or Dynasty Warriors, you won’t be able to simply mash your way to victory (oh dude, you need to play Dynasty Warriors on Chaos difficulty sometime – ed). And while you might be tempted to draw comparisons to something like Dark Souls, Strength of the Sword 3 relies more on player skill, and less on repetition and memorising the fighting patterns of the enemies. Yeah, I’m going there – I enjoyed this combat more than Dark-freaking-Souls. As I mentioned earlier, you will die. Even if you are good at games, you will die. If you’re anything like me, you’ll underestimate the game’s punishing difficulty, and die a handful of times in the tutorial. Granted, things get somewhat easier once you’re through the basic tutorial, but prepare to put in some serious time to learning the ropes.
Successfully clearing a stage will earn you unlock tokens, which can be used to access different swords and shields, all which have varying speed, strength, durability, and other bonuses. Apart from your standard sword and shield combo, the game steadily introduces secondary abilities, which can be triggered on the fly. Offensive weapons like grenades, rocket launchers (yup, you read that right), and throwing knives serve as effective combo breakers, while defensive capabilities like a small health boost keep you in the fight longer. Each item has limited use, but using them over time ranks up their level, giving you additional resources. It’s an intelligent way of balancing an already difficult game; playing a level over and over can grant you an additional health regeneration, for example, which can be the difference between success and failure.
Unfortunately, a few technical issues do rear their head, which put a damper on the overall experience. Most notably, the camera relies on auto-locking on an enemy, and occasionally the camera will position itself behind an environmental object, leaving your character out of view. There were also a few instances where enemies fell through the game’s environment, causing some of the user interface to disappear, making fights almost impossible to win. Most of these issues can be solved with a quick reset, but their presence won’t go unnoticed.
Still, technical glitches aside, Strength of the Sword 3 is a must-play for those who are hankering for a tough-as-nails brawler that rewards player skill and patience over button mashing. To quote the developers, “it never gets easier, you just get better”, and if you’re fine with that kind of mentality, don’t hesitate to give it a go.
– Shaan J