OverBorder Studio’s Thymesia was released just before Gamescom, but we didn’t want to let this Team 17-published Soulsborne to be overshadowed by the flurry of gaming news that came at you from all sides last week. Here are our thoughts on the PlayStation 5 version of the game, which is also out for Xbox Series S/X and the Nintendo Switch.
That list of platforms might seem like an odd choice on the developer/publisher’s part, skipping out on a huge installed player base on PS4 and Xbox One, but it’s good to point out that the Switch version is of the streaming variety and not actually running on Nintendo’s relatively underpowered hardware. If you’re planning on grabbing the Switch version, make sure you can play with a good network connection.
With its narrative setup and general look and feel, Thymesia doesn’t appear to want to hide its inspirations very well. There’s a blood-related plague that’s turning people into monsters, and you have to find out why. You play as Corvus, against a backdrop that is reminiscent of dark ages in which alchemy is important and plague doctors walk the streets. It’s hard to not get a Bloodborne vibe here – though that’s not a bad thing.
Thymesia’s narrative could have been richer in its delivery though. Game worlds like these are intriguing, but Thymesia’s story relies too much on in-game notes that you find along the way. While this was commonplace in earlier games, we’ve grown accustomed to cinematic cutscenes and voiceovers to grab us in a more audiovisual sense these days, which can make it harder to feel engrossed with Corvus’ journey, at least in the narrative sense. Or maybe we’ve just gotten too lazy about reading…
Another relevant element about the game’s delivery is that Thymesia doesn’t feel like a poster child for a ‘next gen only’ kind of game either. It’s no Demon’s Souls, but even if you lower the bar you’ll find plenty of PS4-era games that have more visual polish – including the games that inspired it. This is a smaller scale production though, and Team17’s known for being able to deliver quality with smaller teams that don’t necessarily work with AAA budgets. For the most part, that’s true for this one as well, and it also has its areas where it’s different to its inspirations.
One such example is the game’s length, as we know that plenty of people find Soulsborne games a bit too daunting on account of length and the grind required to progress id you’re not a veteran of the genre. Thymesia offers a more streamlined approach, in a campaign that took us twelve hours to complete – and we’re by no means experts so others can probably do it a bit faster than that.
That streamlining we mentioned isn’t just about a shorter length though – it’s something that also translates to the game’s gameplay, and especially the combat, which is fast-paced and rewards an offensive approach. You’ll still have to try and dodge and parry, but you’ll want to keep the pressure on as well. This is mainly because of the way in which you deal damage in Thymesia, and how enemies will recover from injuries unless you follow up your attacks with a special claw move that opens up their wound so they can’t heal properly.
Of course there’s a risk and reward mechanic to that where being on the offensive also opens you up to counter-attacks, which makes encounters equal parts thrilling and unpredictable. The game also makes sure that combat doesn’t become repetitive, as you’ll unlock and upgrade a ton of additional weapons while playing that feel different from one another and genuinely change up the experience when you equip them. The game’s skill tree system reinforces this as well, as upgrades in one direction often means you’re sacrificing something else at the same time, potentially moving your gameplay style in an entirely different direction. It’s quite refined, and the absolute highlight of the game.
It’s also a system that encourages experimentation in the way that it’s been implemented, as you can always change your mind and go back to another style later if you wish. If you enjoy multiple replays, then this (along with the shorter runtime) also helps, which means you’re getting a lot of value considering the game’s gentle asking price. It may not impress in terms of audiovisual production values, story or originality, but Thymesia is a lot of fun to play, and in the end that’s what matters most.