Joe Winters, the solo developer behind Resting Relic, has release his epic action adventure Song of Iron for Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X and PCs. Does it live up to the promise of the gorgeous trailers?
I believe the first time I saw Song of Iron was in an Xbox showcase, where it blew me away with its gorgeous visuals – the kind that make it almost impossible to believe this is a project done by just a single developer. We later interviewed Joe Winters about how he pulled it off, but couldn’t wait to play the final game as well. That moment has arrived, and aside from a few rough edges the game delivers on its tremendous promise.
As a viking warrior, you return home only to find your fellow townsmen under attack. Things quickly take a turn for the tragic when your loving wife dies in your arms, and you are lured to the temple of your gods to see if divine help can help you turn the tide. And while it’s tempting to just start hacking away at enemies, especially with all the adrenaline after what just happened, you quickly learn that you need to be more thoughtful in combat.
Enemies aren’t just there for you to button mash your way through them – they can really hurt you, break your shield, or swarm you in numbers. You need to be thoughtful about what you do, and Song of Iron is slower/more realistically paced than other action games in this regard. You’ll frequently pick up new weapons and shields as they break, and weapons can be thrown at enemies from range as well – a risky move when you miss, but an instant kill if you connect.
You can’t always be on the offensive though, and you’ll take a while to heal if you get here. Blocking is your friend, as is your ability to roll past an enemy and hit them in a brief moment where they’re not guarding themselves. What further discourages button mashes is the use of a stamina meter, which depletes extra quickly if you use the heavy attack rather than the regular one. You’ll also gain access to different weapons over time, and these too will give you options – like the bow that lets you attack from range, which is especially useful when you have multiple enemies charging at you at once.
When they go, combat has a tendency to feel a little clunky, making me yearn for the Arkham games and their smooth and flowing combat style whenever a certain scene would get the better of me again and again. Eventually you’ll overcome them, often by using a different strategy or a part of the environment, but moments of mild frustration do pop up from time to time over the course of a narrative that will take you about five hours to complete.
During that time, however, it’s hard to not be captivated by the game’s presentation and atmosphere. There’s not just a gorgeously detailed world here, with background and foregrounds that really bring the environment to life, it also gets enhanced by great lighting effects, stellar set pieces and varied locations to traverse, from mountains covered in snow to dimly lit caves.
Song of Iron is a stunning debut for a solo developer, and raises the bar of what can be done visually without the help of a giant team or studio behind you. For that reason alone it’s a standout indie title that will no doubt be used as a benchmark in the months and years to come.