Stockholm syndrome is a concept most are probably familiar with, but before Deck13’s Blood Knights, I can’t say I ever experienced the same kind of phenomenon while playing a game. Almost everything about this title is a mess in some way or another, and yet midway through the game I realized that I was loving it. Reading through other people’s experiences with the game, it became patently clear that I’m not alone—despite being objectively bad in an unbelievable number of ways, Blood Knights ends up blinding many of its players with love goggles, forcing them to enjoy the experience. It’s truly the guiltiest of pleasures.
The story is a bit vanilla
The game starts with a group of vampires stealing a powerful artifact called the blood seal, with the side effect being that the moon breaks and the whole world is more or less doomed. None of this is ever explained or elaborated on, and there are occasional moments where things simply don’t add up. For example, you’re attacked by several groups of werewolves on your journey to recover the artifact from the vampires. Wouldn’t the moon being destroyed be a bad thing in the eyes of werewolves? Things like this really don’t seem to make any sense, but these incredulity-inspiring details aside, the story is okay-ish. There aren’t as many twists and turns as you’d probably expect out of a game focused on vampires, but this is a game where the focus is less on the overall story than the characters themselves.
Though the characters aren’t developed much
The premise behind the game is unexpectedly interesting: in a desperate bid to combat the vampires, a priest bonds the vampire-killing knight Jeremy with the vampiress Alysa so that the death of one results in both perishing. This forces Alysa to go along with Jeremy’s anti-vampire crusade up until he’s (predictably) turned into a vampire, at which point he can choose whether to embrace his newfound vampire side or remain allied with humans. However, none of these decisions matter. Apart from one or two characters regarding you differently and the choice netting you slightly different dialogue from Alysa and Bartholomew the priest during certain quests, you can go through the game as either the most virtuous vampire or a merciless human-hater and receive the same ending either way. This is, at its core, a completely linear aRPG game that provides little more than the illusion of choice.
Unfortunately, Jeremy and Alysa aren’t fleshed out as much as you’d probably hope. That’s not to say that they’re not enjoyable characters overall, because they have their own unique personalities that often clash in amusing ways, but you won’t ever get a sense that either of them have much of a back story beyond “was a really good vampire hunter” and “likes being a vampire.” However, the uneasy truce-turned-friendship-turned-maybe-something-more between the two is as weirdly compelling as it is remarkably subtle, and the game’s focus on the two opposing factions of humans and vampires both being horrible in their own unique ways helps the two to occupy a sane kind of middle ground that makes them exceptionally likable despite their relative shallowness.
Hack and slash and shoot
The bulk of Blood Knights’ gameplay consists of combat, and despite said combat being a bit on the floaty, weightless side, I can’t help but enjoy the game’s approach. In single-player mode, you can switch between Jeremy’s close combat style of sword fighting and Alysa’s more long-range oriented crossbow shooting at any time, using the unique strengths of both against the large number of enemies who stand against you. Both characters have their weaknesses, as well. Using the keyboard and mouse, Alysa’s bolts will fly in the direction that the mouse is pointing whereas on a controller you have to aim using the right analog stick, and the difference in accuracy between the two is astounding. It’s simply far too difficult to aim her bolts accurately using a controller (or when you’re on a laptop and are using a trackpad), making Jeremy the preferred character for laptop and controller users.
Jeremy has flaws of his own, however. His style of up-close combat means that he’s getting hit far more often than Alysa, who can kite around her enemies and theoretically make it through the entire game without getting hit once, so anyone with a dedicated mouse will most likely spend a large chunk of time playing as Alysa. At the end of the day, I found myself sticking with a single character based on which computer I was playing the game on rather than switching inside of combat. Both are perfectly capable of holding their own, though, and this means that you’re bound to figure out which one you enjoy using most and stick with them.
You should play through the game twice
Why twice, you ask? Because, dear reader, both Jeremy and Alysa will comment on things at predetermined points in the game depending on which one you’re using at the time, and I found that second playthrough worth it to hear the comments I missed out on. This may be a small detail in the grand scheme of things, but hearing Jeremy muse about how he couldn’t possibly kill a succubus because she’s “too hot” was entertaining enough to make that second playthrough worth it. A second playthrough also enables you to make different choices, of which there are only ever two, meaning you can effectively see everything there is to see in two playthroughs.
It has light RPG elements
Both Alysa and Jeremy share experience, so leveling up means both characters receive “perk points,” which, true to their name, allow you to upgrade their perks. These perks range from increasing Alysa’s movement/firing speed to allowing the character in question to suck more blood from enemies, and it’s one of the more shallow systems I’ve ever seen; not all perks can be upgraded, and those that can only have a maximum of 3 perk points that you can put into them, meaning these upgrades aren’t the night-and-day difference you’d probably expect of most RPGs.
Each character only has three stats to speak of: health, strength, and luck. Health is self-explanatory, strength obviously dictates damage, and while I can’t recall luck being explained in-game, I’m inclined to believe that it affects that character’s critical hit chance. One of those three stats can be increased every time you collect 5 “blood coins,” items hidden off the beaten path during levels, though the game proved to be playable without them due to its generally forgiving difficulty curve.
Items are just kind of there
While playing through the game, you’re constantly stumbling across all kinds of different weapons and armors that you can equip. Alysa even has special grenades and bolts that she can use, though these aren’t unlimited like her normal bolts. All of this is a bit on the superfluous side. Don’t get me wrong—some of the bolts you can buy are incredibly helpful, but the new armor and weapons are just tacked on to the game and don’t really have a good reason for existing apart from showing up on your character. These weapons and armors don’t even display stats unless you hit the shift key (which you’ll only know to do because of incredibly vague arrow icon), instead telling you on the main screen whether they’re stronger or weaker than what you currently have equipped. Items, then, are a game of picking up everything you can and equipping whatever shows a green arrow. This doesn’t benefit the game.
Puddles are a vampire’s worst enemy
As you can see in the above image, simply stepping foot in ankle-deep water instantly kills you. Perhaps the vampire hunters should trade in their swords for super soakers? At any rate, this proves to be a bit annoying during chapter 2 when there’s water all around, but I can’t recall it being a problem after that.
Blood Knights doesn’t give you any kind of control over the camera. This isn’t an issue through most of the game, but there are some intermittent platforming sections where the camera angle is less than ideal for nailing that one jump you need to make to avoid dying. One could be forgiven for thinking that there’s no way around this since nothing in-game ever mentions a different camera view, but as it turns out, hitting F2 switches to a closer angle that can help during these sections.
That’s one of many things you’re not told
Not only can you switch your camera view, but you can also toggle the GUI by hitting the delete key, and even make quicksaves with F5 that can be loaded with F9. None of this is ever explained to you in the game. In fact, before yesterday, I was convinced that Blood Knights used the ever-inconvenient checkpoint save system. As it turns out, you can make a quicksave at any time (even during combat) and load it should something go horribly awry. This also helps to make tricky platforming sections more bearable, and the game should really tell you about all of these features instead of assuming that you’ll randomly start hitting keys.
Bugs and miscellaneous issues
There are all kinds of strange problems I faced while playing through the game. The first problem is that torches thrown by enemies remain lit on the ground for a moment and look remarkably similar to the glimmer of gold, meaning I found myself running voluntarily into fire thinking that I was picking up money. The second problem I noticed was that enemies would occasionally disappear and reappear in the middle of combat, which, while never much of a problem, came across as amateurish. Third, there are only two difficulty modes: “normal” and “hard.” Hard isn’t much different than normal, however, with the only change I noticed being that enemies did more damage with their hits. Fourth, there are invisible walls all over, and while these aren’t a problem when you’re platforming, having Alysa’s crossbow bolts intercepted by an unexpected invisible wall can be a bit annoying. Lastly, there are knights impaled on spikes in every level who exist to have blood (and thus health) sucked out of them. It’s really distracting that no one seems to be concerned with the high number of people lying around on spikes, though.
It’s only 4-5 hours long
This is an incredibly short game, especially when compared to other games in the genre. In fact, if you know what to expect and skip through the cutscenes, you can make it through the game in 2-3 hours easily. Personally, I find that there’s a certain charm to games that can be completed in a single day, though obviously not everyone will agree with that. However, given that you can pick Blood Knights up for 2-3 dollars on sale, I’d say the short length isn’t as much of an issue as it is with other games, especially given the weirdly addictive nature of this particular game.
Graphics are mediocre, but have personality
Much like Deck13’s Venetica, Blood Knights’ graphics aren’t photorealistic or even particularly good, but there’s something incredibly unique about them that stands out. While this game may lack the moody lighting of Venetica, its character models are quite a bit more detailed and expressive, even if the textures don’t always hold up; there are a few instances where you can see a noticeable seam where a texture tiles in an awkward way, and the blurriness in certain textures becomes apparent at higher resolutions. Still, this is a game that revolves around its characters, and all of the characters you meet are very unique-looking.
That can’t be said of the environments you’ll spend much of the game fighting through, however. Many of the areas are saturated in far too much bloom and suffer from low-quality foliage, though the game ends on a graphical high note by ensuring that the final chapter is the most visually interesting one. There’s absolutely no excuse for the shadow issue demonstrated in the above video, though.
Orchestral that works
I’m always harshly critical of games that use orchestral music because of its tendency to be completely forgettable, but Blood Knights surprised me by including orchestral music that actually stuck with me. The main menu theme is very melodic, for example, and while there’s not a huge amount of music given the game’s short length, it never struck me as anything but good. Sound effects, on the other hand, are a different story. Alysa’s crossbow in particular has a weak-sounding “phthew” sound when shooting bolts that should probably have more impact to it.
The voice acting in Blood Knights is one of the more entertaining things about it. Yes, much of the dialogue is corny. Yes, the phrase “damn no” will forever be engraved in my mind as one of the most awkward exclamations in gaming history. Still, not all of it is “so bad it’s good,” because despite the delivery of many lines coming across slightly forced, both Jeremy and Alysa’s voice acting was enjoyable.
Here’s what you should do: