Death’s Gambit: Afterlife Review – Pretty Much a Whole New Game
Developed by White Rabbit
Published by Serenity Forge
Available on PC, Nintendo Switch
In 2018, when Death’s Gambit was originally released, I picked it up. “A new 2D souls-like adventure!” I thought. I was correct, but it was just not for me. The soulslike genre works well in 2D, with some caveats: The elimination of a 3D space constricts combat actions to 2 dimensions, meaning maneuverability in a fight is not going to be the same. Movement is the key in a 2D soulslike. For me, Death’s Gambit just didn’t hit the mark. It had its fans, for sure. Champions of the grind, ready to throw down their free time to best a beautiful, yet flawed game. Fast forward to now. Right now. On my Steam profile I have almost 20 hours played in the game. What changed? Death’s Gambit: Afterlife was released.
Death’s Gambit: Afterlife is, at its heart, an update. I almost don’t want to call it an update. Most games don’t completely tear down and build back different with their 2 year old game. If I were to call it anything, I’d call it an upgrade, or expansion. Even those words don’t fit exactly. This upgrade/update/expansion is, without hyperbole, a new game. If you payed Death’s Gambit in 2018 and bounced off of it, now is the time to go back. It took its soul, drenched in the lessons of the soulslike genre, and added something new and amazing.
Let’s start with movement. The movement system in Death’s Gambit: Afterlife has been completely renovated. You aren’t a slow tortoise, inching closer to enemies, hoping that the next swing of your sword doesn’t take all of your stamina. No, now you’re a fast moving machine, hellbent on the destruction of anything that gets in your way. “B-b-but that takes away the tactical aspect!” you say, crouched atop the ruins of the From Software offices. No it doesn’t! The combat feels just as challenging as ever! Maybe even more challenging. The ability to double jump and dash have been added, as a bit of metroidvania flair.
That’s the biggest thing about Death’s Gambit: Afterlife. It went from a dark fantasy 2D soulslike, to a dark fantasy soulslike metroidvania. That doesn’t seem that different, but it is. It makes all the difference in the world. There’s also now a map! I need a map in games. My brother calls me “directionally challenged”, and has ever since he saw me try to navigate the island area in Resident Evil 4. The original Death’s Gambit had a huge game world, and lacking a map, I was instantly frustrated. That of course, is my personal preference. There is a challenge in having to remember where things are. You could also just use graph paper and draw your own map, like the psychopaths in the original Metroid days.
“Ok, so better movement and combat options.” you sneer, scraping the last bit of marrow from a bone with a weathered Bloodborne disk, “is that it?”. No! The map size is almost doubled, from 11 to 21. There were a whopping 14 bosses in the original Death’s Gambit, all with their own movesets and fun little gimmicks. Now there are 20 bosses. The amount of things to do in Death’s Gambit: Afterlife is staggering. The world is pretty much open from the get-go, with a few caveats. With new metroidvania mechanics come metroidvania features: Areas you can’t reach until you find the requisite power-up. Double jump, dash, ground slam (called crash down in the game) will help you navigate the map. A lot of the content is purely optional.
I often found myself just goofing around and running into a boss. The bosses are hard, but not impossible. If you want that challenge, there are heroic rematches with each boss. The gist of it is, after defeated a boss, you can interact with them/their corpse to rematch them. The heroic bosses pack a higher health pool and heroic versions of their previous moves. That means, if you want that 100%, you’re going to have to fight 40 bosses. Each boss drops new rewards after a heroic kill. Some bosses have special conditions that award super rare items. One of the special conditions I discovered was defeating the second boss using only the ground slide attack. I was almost level 120 when I challenged the heroic boss and tried to ground slide them to death. Even with my sizable health pool, it still took almost an hour.
The crafting system has been updated and expanded. Finding blueprints around the world allows you to craft new gear. Much like the initial release, you can upgrade your weapons to absolutely bonkers levels and grind until you can beat a boss in one hit. That’s the most important thing for me in Death’s Gambit: Afterlife. You don’t have to grind. In the original release, you pretty much had to grind at one point or another. Afterlife says no. You are more than welcome to grind. Become a powerhouse of muscle and steel, trampling anything that dares get in your way. You don’t have to, though.
There is just so much to do in Death’s Gambit: Afterlife. I am infinitely impressed with what the developers have done here. I implore, nay, beg you; if you didn’t like Death’s Gambit when it initially released, go back. Go back now. You’re going to find a completely different game, with a completely different feel. They’ve also added some new endings, so I guess I’m going to go find those now that I’ve completed my first run.