Die by the Blade Review – A Dull Blade

A simple and straightforward 1v1 samurai game.

Posted By | On 20th, May. 2024

Die by the Blade Review – A Dull Blade

Despite the renaissance of samurai experiences in today’s gaming landscape, there aren’t many dedicated 1v1 duel experiences out there. Die by the Blade aims to tap into this narrow market with single-strike 1v1 combat scheme utilizing a stance system inspired by Nioh. It’s difficult to recommend such a game to those put off by hardcore samurai games like Sekiro, For Honor, and the aforementioned Nioh. Nonetheless, the developers at Grindstone have carved a unique enough samurai niche with Die by the Blade warranting further exploration.

The fundamental core of Die by the Blade lies in its 1v1 duels against fellow players and AI opponents. The game’s modes are structured between Offline, Online, and Single Player. None of the Versus or Tournament modes have any story or progression to speak of, instead giving you exactly what it describes: 1v1 duels. Winning bouts against friends and AI opponents rewards you with XP and currency. However, I found the pool of rewards and unlockable content pretty dry, failing to whet the appetite or offer satisfying progression. Single Player mode isn’t any more exciting than the Offline and Online modes, merely containing a tutorial, practice mode, and a very barebones Challenge mode.

challenge mode

"Challenge Mode is just a marathon of one 1v1 fight after another. There’s no set of interesting challenges or a checklist of stuff to accomplish here."

I was pretty pumped to finally unlock Challenge mode. It’s a mode just sitting there in the Single Player tab waiting to be unlocked upon reaching level 7. But alas, after hours of bouts and grinding, I was promptly disappointed by its scant offerings. Challenge is not at all what you initially think it’ll be; it’s just a last-man-standing string of bouts, and that’s it. There are no actual ‘challenges’ to speak of, nor are there any scenarios or varied ways to experience Die by the Blade‘s 1v1 content. It was precisely when I unlocked Challenge mode when I was struck by just how shallow Die by the Blade’s content actually is. Every mode is just the same 1v1 duel wrapped in a different menu. The only real variety present in Die by the Blade are the cosmetic items you can purchase with currency obtained through duels.

customizing character cosmetics

"You can customize the cosmetics of your characters and various weapon skins."

The Customize menu contains all purchasable weapon skins, character apparel, banners, and taunts. Thankfully, Die by the Blade offers a generous variety of outfits and weapons to purchase so you can look cool winning all those ranked matches. Even better, there’s no microtransactions or online purchases here to speak of, which is always something worth praising considering the state of the industry. There’s not much else to say regarding customization, other than this game has it. I just wish character faces had any semblance of emotion or animation to them so I could actually enjoy looking at the cosmetics worn by characters. The team at Grindstone has addressed the facial animation issue, stating that they’re patching it near release, but I’m not holding my breath for a markedly drastic improvement.

But on to the real reason anyone will want to play this game in the first place: the fighting mechanics. Die by the Blade’s battles are 1 versus 1 duels where a single stab or slice spells defeat. You must rely on twitch reflexes and samurai concentration to win these lightning-fast bouts. Switching between the high, mid, and low stances should be seamless in a swordfighting game like this, but it feels a tad clunkier than it should due to stances locking during attacks. You can queue up another stance when it’s locked, but I found this to disrupt triplet links (combos), hurting combat flow as a result.

pulling off a combo in die by the blade

"Combo finishers break through enemy stamina and win the fight with a gory spectacle, but they’re irritating to pull off."

Linked triplets are devastating combos that break through auto blocks, cost less stamina, and strike quicker. It’s yet another technique that should feel seamless to execute, yet rarely is. There’s no indication when to time your attack chains, so it comes down to trial and error. Other fighting games give the player intuitive ways to perceive attack timings that combos require, whether through blinking lights, indicative sound cues, or unique animations; Die by the Blade has none of that to aid you in executing combos. In particular, I found the vertical slices the most stubborn to link with combos. To the game’s credit, each weapon type has its own unique combos; good luck memorizing all their unintuitive timings.

After 5 hours of play, I still found linking triplets to be a clunky risk not worth mastering. The disruptive stance locking, lack of input cues, and general pace of the combat flow make Die by the Blade a bigger hassle than it’s worth at times.

parrying in die by the blade

"Parrying attacks is smooth and reliable in Die by the Blade."

By far the most fun and reliable way to fight in Die by the Blade is countering by matching stances with your opponent. As long as your opponent doesn’t execute a finisher, you can auto-block attacks merely by matching your opponent’s stance. Parries are executed by tapping L1 right as your opponent lands a strike. Just be wary of your stamina; if it depletes, your blocks will get broken and you won’t be able to attack. Canceling your attack mid-swing, also known as a feint, feels pretty good in this game, especially when you’re duking it out against other intelligent human players in PvP.

At the end of the day, I just never found the combat in Die by the Blade to feel particularly fluid, fun, or exciting. Achieving winning streaks after pulling off triplet finishers failed to reward me with a sense of accomplishment and dopamine, at least less than I’d have expected. Let’s analyze why.

The combat in Die by the Blade rarely rises above its rock-paper-scissors DNA. Sure, you can string combos and do things like roll around in four directions, but with how unintuitive and unreliable combos are to pull off, you’ll find yourself sticking to the tried and true reactionary parry strategy. Winning matches comes down to reacting to other players’ movements and whittling down their stamina. This combat pattern is fun to master for a time, but it starts feeling repetitive pretty quick. Even with the different weapon types and combos available, there’s a lack of depth here, making it feel like a glorified rock-paper-scissors game of fast twitch reflexes. It doesn’t help that movement feels slow and stiff, with no way to run or jump and an excruciating walking pace accompanying every move.

character backgrounds in die by the blade

"Die by the Blade may lack story, but character bios hint at some samurai-punk worldbuilding that I wish was in the actual game."

Unfortunately, Die by the Blade doesn’t have any other content that can mitigate its combat shortcomings. There’s no campaign mode to speak of, and the scant amount of story and lore are relegated to brief character and weapon bios written in a shoddy translation. Reading the character bios makes it pretty clear that the developers wanted to worldbuild and give each character unique backgrounds and motivations. Whether due to time constraints or the limited Kickstarter budget, the seeds of worldbuilding within the character bios don’t get used anywhere else in the game. An absence of cutscenes and story isn’t necessarily a bad thing in such a combat-oriented game, but it does put more pressure on the core combat to hold this game up, which it fails to do after the initial novelty wears off.

The most succinct way I can sum up Die by the Blade is ‘lost potential’. The core combat can be fun in quick spurts, but the frustrating combo system and lack of meaningful progression and modes render it incapable of holding up the game by itself. I found myself failing to find any kernel of joy I could out of this game. By the end of such a contemplation, it dawned on me that the local multiplayer novelty is at least something worth celebrating. The best thing I can say about Die by the Blade is that it feels like a cool, slightly more fleshed-out version of the samurai mini-game from Kirby Super Star. Distilled to its fundamental essence, Die by the Blade is a reaction-based 1v1 samurai dueler. It’s decently fun for some quick skirmishes with friends, but the novelty only lasts so long before you leave it behind to play a game with more meat on its bones.

This game was reviewed on the PC.


THE GOOD

Cool 1v1 premise that offers exactly what it says it does; Local and online matches are easy to set up; Decent customization.

THE BAD

Combos are irritating to pull off due to poor visual indication and stance locking; Pacing suffers due to sluggish movement and the awkward combo system; Very little to progress towards in ranked matches; Lack of content is palpable with little to do outside of quick 1v1 duels and no campaign to speak of.

Final Verdict:
AVERAGE
A straightforward 1v1 samurai fighting game with very little content on its bones. Fine if you just want some quick and fun matches against friends, but there's not enough here to hold interest for long.
A copy of this game was provided by Developer/Publisher/Distributor/PR Agency for review purposes. Click here to know more about our Reviews Policy.

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