If I could purge my memories of the opening hour and first major boss encounter, it would be easier to recommend Thymesia (OverBorder Studio/Team17) as one of the better 3D ‘Souls-like games to emerge in some time – especially when you consider it comes from a tiny Taiwanese studio on a limited budget. However, like so many other attempts at emulating FromSoftware’s iconic title, it’s obvious designing a game to be both challenging and rewarding is no easy task.
Just “git gud”?
A good ‘Souls-like features difficult boss fights but they can always be bested through pattern recognition, improving player skill, and an evolving character build. There’s a steady escalation of encounter complexity and difficulty that challenges you, but also motivates you to push forward and keep testing the limits of your skill or build. Often, there are multiple paths and encounters at any given time if you run into a seemingly insurmountable difficulty spike.
In contrast, Thymesia’s opening hour feels designed to kick you in the teeth repeatedly while giving you no alternative but to grind only one area to improve your stats and gear. If you tough it out and defeat the first boss – both phases, back-to-back, with a large moveset, and a low-health super that can wreck an otherwise good attempt – your reward is a game that fluctuates wildly in difficulty.
Now that said, I don’t want it to come across as if Thymesia has nothing going for it as the combat can be fun. It’s just not always a good fit for a genre.
Thymesia is a visually stylish and attractive game, though it’s not pushing any boundaries. Character movement, combat animations (especially executions and special attacks), and enemy designs look good. Each region has a distinct aesthetic and atmosphere, though they’re discrete levels that lack sweeping vistas or a sense of interconnected space. Thymesia gets a lot of mileage out of each of the four regions and if you tackle sub-missions – which eventually unlock an optional boss – you’ll be retreading the same space with only a few new paths and shortcuts. On the audio front, attacks, parries, and executions sound meaty and impactful, while the music sounds like twisted variants of common fairytales themes.
Thymesia also runs well across a variety of platforms, even on the budget Xbox Series S which holds a 60fps framerate and only rarely drops inputs. It’s a good thing too as the fast-paced combat – inspired more by Bloodborne than Dark Souls – relies on responsive inputs and minimal latency.
Onto the meat of the game and Thymesia’s combat, after a few upgrades, can feel like it was pulled from a dedicated action game and transplanted into a ‘Souls-like framework. It looks and feels great, combos flow together, and there’s no stamina bar to worry about. Success is all about moving in for a few strikes, dashing out of range, parrying when possible, and interrupting critical strikes to open gaps in enemy defence.
There’s a satisfying wound system that becomes essential to defeating tougher enemies and bosses. Basic attacks inflict wounds before removing health so you’re encouraged to mix plague claw strikes into your combos to strip away total health, gain energy, or finish off an enemy with a charged attack to gain a single-use plague weapon. The energy pool is used to summon upgradeable plague weapons or abilities at any point, which you can upgrade by collecting the associated weapon shards from fallen foes. These are situational secondary tools that offer a trade-off between energy costs, damage, and animation length, and are often essential for finishing off bosses or mini-bosses. Many are heavy weapon strikes but some apply status effects to your sabre or feather attacks.
Thymesia’s levelling system initially feels like simplified ‘Souls fare. There are only three stats to improve and six related attributes, no armour or accessory system, only a sabre and plague claws for basic attacks, and recharging “feathers” as a ranged secondary attack to aggro enemies or interrupt critical strikes. However, the further you get, the more memory fragments you collect (i.e. souls), and the more upgrade materials you gather, the more freedom you have to specialise your build.
In addition to increasing your basic attributes, each upgrade rewards you with a point to invest in one of six skill trees, with powerful combat or passive buffs. Examples include increasing sabre or feather attack damage, gaining energy on strikes or counters, and increasing material drop rates. Given the alchemy-themed narrative, you can also upgrade three variants of potions – standard-, long-, and fast-acting – to make them more effective, add more charges, or infuse them with up to three ingredients that add extra properties like bonus healing, temporary damage resistance, or a temporary damage boost.
On paper, and against many foes, the combat and upgrade mechanics shine.
At this point, it’s worth briefly mentioning Thymesia’s paper-thin narrative and minimal world-building. The distinctly Bloodborne-inspired protagonist, Corvus, alongside their mysterious female companion, is attempting to purge a kingdom of a blood plague by delving into his confused recollections about a woman with an eye patch – suggesting some events have already come to pass. Beyond that, there’s little to go on until the finale.
Admittedly, this is a genre that shies away from direct storytelling but Thymesia’s loading screen snippets, one-sided conversations with rare NPCs, and abundance of scattered notes are all brief, bland, and not particularly effective at building up an overview of the world in your mind. It’s enough to keep you going but, if you’re after a narrative as deep as the mechanics, you’ll be disappointed.
Now, returning to my major criticisms, the inconsistent challenge comes from a) the gulf in difficulty between basic foes and some variants of mini-boss, and b) a small selection of mandatory and optional bosses that, maybe with the exception of the finale, are all easier than the first one you face.
Basic enemies are easy to dispatch and primarily used for ambushes or complicating fights against tougher foes. With a few upgrades, they even serve as a means to quickly restore health, gain energy, or extract single-use plague weapons. The mini-bosses, however, are significantly harder to wound and kill, always pack hard-hitting weapons, and walk through your attacks. Suddenly you’re chipping away tiny slivers of health while dealing with combos that can strip most of your health if you miss a parry or block late. Those with reach – think great swords, spears, and halberds – are a particular pain in the arse, able to dash around despite their massive weapons, track you, and land blows when you think you’re well out of range. You encounter all variants in each region, so there’s no steady progression towards tougher encounters.
The ultimate challenge should, of course, be the boss fights but these are also all over the place when it comes to difficulty, with several less of a challenge than the mini-bosses I defeated on the way to them. The first boss, a two-phase fight against a fast-moving target with a myriad of melee and ranged attacks, was tougher than most subsequent battles and took me an hour of grinding and around dozen attempts to defeat. The second boss, in contrast, was heavy-hitting but clearly telegraphed their limited number of attacks and could be defeated quickly if I kept up my sabre combos. A mutated form of the first boss – one of the optional sub-mission encounters – was tough but still easier than his first form and has only a single phase. And this is all without spending time grinding to boost attributes or unlock new skills. Some gimmicky bosses have insta-kill attacks or force you to run a gauntlet, but there’s no consistent escalation of difficulty.
My second issue will, of course, be refuted by skilled players but, coming from someone who plays a handful of 2D and 3D ‘Souls-like games each year between other genres, I found Thymesia’s combat mechanics weird and frustrating when going up against tougher foes.
Bosses and mini-bosses rarely get stunned, they recover and attack faster than you, dash away further than your follow-up attacks carry you, can parry at any point in your combo, track you with unerring accuracy during their combos, and strike through all your attacks. Hell, if you manage to interrupt a critical strike and induce a brief stagger state, it’s unwise to engage with anything other than a plague weapon attack as they can recover instantly into a parry. To deal damage in Thymesia, you’re often going to take damage.
Action games typically have a strong focus on staggering or juggling combos, whereas Thymesia has enemies that show complete ambivalence to your attacks, an opaque counter gauge system, and inconsistent timing for critical strike interrupts. It’s no exaggeration to say 90% of my deaths came from enemy combos ripping through my remaining health bar while I was trapped in an uninterruptible plague weapon attack that they simply shrugged off.
A balance overhaul is needed
Once I had cleared that initial roadblock, I started enjoying Thymesia a lot more – though I think a big part of that was the satisfaction of growing increasingly powerful and venting two hours of pent-up rage. Before I could give Thymesia an unreserved recommendation, OverBorder Studio needs to re-balance the experience with some post-launch patches. A smoother, escalating difficulty curve would have made for a more satisfying experience, rather than ramming my head into a brick wall for two hours and then tearing through the remaining content (well, aside from the odd mini-boss that was a more significant challenge than several boss encounters).
A review code for Thymesia was provided to gameblur by the publisher.
Thymesia (Xbox Series) ReviewThymesia (Xbox Series) Review
- Combat is fast and responsive
- Upgrade system has surprising depth
- Environments and enemy designs can be visually striking
- Atmospheric soundtrack
- Inconsistent difficulty
- Combat mechanics can feel at odds with the genre
- No voice acting, thin narrative, and minimal world-building