Graven: RPG Shooter Odyssey

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3D Realms, the luminary behind the pioneering days of first-person shooters, has embarked on a new venture with Graven – a retro-styled shooter with RPG elements. The prospect of this hybrid intrigued me, promising a nostalgic journey reminiscent of the golden era of gaming. However, my initial enthusiasm encountered turbulence as technical gremlins began to emerge, threatening to cast a shadow over the promising landscapes of Graven.
Graven RPG Shooter - A Retro Adventure with Ups and Downs
Image Credit: Steam

Picture this: you, a faithful priest of the Orthogonal order, cast into exile for a crime committed in defense of another. Drifting in a small boat within the eerie confines of a swamp, a stranger ferries you ashore, bestowing upon you vague instructions, a mysterious staff, and an enigmatic book. Thus begins your journey in Graven, a game that dabbles in the mystique of a Louisiana bayou, akin to transplanting Yharnam from Bloodborne to the heart of the swamp.

The narrative, however, was obscured by an immediate encounter with a pesky FMV (Full Motion Video) that stuttered every three seconds, completely out of sync with the audio. A bit reminiscent of old-school charm, but more of an annoyance that whisked me away from the core essence of the game. Press releases and Steam page descriptions had to fill in the narrative gaps, revealing that I was now controlling an exiled priest, condemned for a crime and left to navigate a murky town on the outskirts of a swamp. A sort of Gothic atmosphere blended with a retro shooter, offering an intriguing, albeit slightly confusing, premise.

The primary emphasis on storytelling, conveyed through walls of text, seemed peculiar for a game stylized as a retro shooter. Graven, it seemed, was determined to balance the action-packed gameplay with a narrative weight that felt heavy, if not cumbersome. The challenge lay in balancing this dichotomy effectively, ensuring that players felt immersed without being overwhelmed by lore.

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Despite the initial narrative hiccups, Graven's gameplay emerges as a delightful blend of a 90s shooter, reminiscent of the offerings from 3D Realms, and a mid-2000s PC RPG. It conjures a peculiar yet tantalizing fusion – think Duke Nukem meets Gothic, but let's keep that comparison in the loosest sense possible. Traversing the map, you obliterate enemies with a visceral sense of purpose, collecting health pickups to ensure your survival. Yet, Graven's world expands into a vast interconnected hub, teeming with quests, side quests, NPCs, puzzles, and dungeons, all forming the labyrinthine tapestry of this intriguing medieval fantasy.

In theory, Graven promised an enthralling experience, a delicate interplay of retro-shooter sensibilities intertwined with RPG depth. When the game flowed seamlessly, it lived up to this promise. There were moments when Graven felt like a tantalizing first-person demake of Bloodborne, featuring well-designed areas and hordes of enemies to vanquish. However, these promising facets of gameplay were stifled by a myriad of design and performance woes.

The most glaring issue emerged from the realms of performance. Graven stumbled and faltered with colossal framerate and frame-pacing problems. In a bizarre dance, the game froze incessantly, inexplicably transitioning from 120 to 40 frames per second, leaving players grappling with a disjointed experience. Considering the visual aesthetics mimicked the early 2000s, Graven's performance issues seemed perplexing and inexcusable.

Yet, the gameplay challenges didn't stop there. Graven, despite its retro charm, decided to tread the path of a first-person "shooter" with an unexpected emphasis on melee combat, reminiscent of Witch Rise. This choice invited a host of issues – camera woes, depth perception challenges, and erratic collision detection. Determining the safe distance for an attack became a gamble, and engaging enemies left players questioning the effectiveness of their strikes. Ranged attacks felt scarce and underwhelming, with spells draining mana at an alarming rate, making them seemingly ineffectual in dispatching foes.

The design choices extended into the level layouts, presenting a mixed bag of experiences. At times, Graven's level design proved to be a labyrinthian triumph, evoking a sense of challenge without inducing frustration. Yet, this brilliance was offset by a lack of a comprehensive map feature, transforming what should have been a challenge into a test of one's patience.

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Frustration aside, these challenges unfortunately overshadowed some of Graven's most commendable aspects. The game remarkably captures a retro aesthetic, despite grappling with a repetitive color palette. Drawing talent from Duke Nukem and Half-Life, Graven's visual authenticity is a testament to its roots. The sound design, particularly the soundtrack, showcased moments of brilliance, injecting life into the atmospheric journey. In a world where visuals often draw players in, Graven seemed to be doing something right.

Nonetheless, there's a silver lining within the turbulent clouds that shroud Graven. It boasts immense potential, especially in its creative amalgamation of retro elements and RPG mechanics. The atmospheric allure and presentation, coupled with enjoyable combat sequences, provide glimpses of a promising game in the making. The question lingers – can the development team learn from these pitfalls and mold Graven into a compelling experience in future iterations?

The journey, though marred by framerate woes, freezes, an uninspiring plot, and questionable design decisions, isn't necessarily a foregone disaster. Graven could emerge victorious if the team takes these critiques to heart, addressing technical issues and refining the gameplay. The ball is in 3D Realms' court – an opportunity to transform Graven into a resounding success, rising from the ashes of its initial stumbles.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) - Graven: A Dark Fantasy Adventure


1. What is Graven?

- Graven is a dark fantasy adventure, a first-person puzzler with RPG elements developed by 3D Realms. Set in the medieval fantasy world of Cruxfirth, players take on the role of an exiled priest on a mission to uncover mysteries and battle eldritch horrors.

2. How does Graven blend retro-shooter and RPG elements?

- Graven melds the fast-paced action of a retro shooter, reminiscent of 3D Realms' classics, with RPG depth. Players explore interconnected hubs, solve puzzles, engage in melee combat, and embark on quests, creating a unique hybrid experience.

3. What is the storyline of Graven?

- Players assume the role of a faithful priest exiled for a crime committed in defense of another. Stranded in a swamp, armed with a mysterious staff and book, they must navigate a plague-ridden town, battling heretical sects and eldritch abominations to restore peace.

4. What sets Graven apart in terms of visuals and design?

- Graven boasts a marriage between modern development tools and a stark late '90s aesthetic. Character designs by Chuck Jones (Duke Nukem 3D, Half-Life) and voice talent by Stephan Weyte (Blood, Fire Emblem, Dusk) contribute to its unique visual and auditory experience.

5. What challenges and enemies can players expect in Graven?

- Players face over thirty distinct enemies across various biomes. The world expands with each update, providing new weapons, spells, and upgrades. Challenges include solving puzzles, altering the environment with spells, and exploring deep chasms.

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6. Tell me about the Early Access roadmap for Graven.

- The Early Access roadmap includes the Brine Muskeg and Clotted Avenues regions, five weapons, seven enemies, two spells, and various updates, including new regions, enemies, weapons, spells, and improvements across multiple areas.

7. How has Graven evolved through updates?

- Updates, such as the Cruxfirth Archives and Black House Bog regions, introduced Alchemist NPCs, weapon and spell upgrades, new potions, armors, and enemies. Co-op, new weapons, side quests, and gamepad support were added, enhancing the overall gameplay experience.

8. What are the plans for Graven's full release?

- The full release promises additional content, including Hub 2 (The Granite Watch) and Hub 3 (The Subnatural Desert). Gravedigger Mode, full localization, and console releases are part of the development plan.

9. How can players engage with Graven?

- Graven is available in Early Access on PC. Players can explore Cruxfirth, provide feedback, and follow the development roadmap. Stay tuned for the full release, which will offer a comprehensive and immersive experience.

10. Where can I find more information about Graven?

- Visit the official Graven website, follow 3D Realms on social media, and join the community forums to stay updated on the latest developments, announcements, and discussions surrounding Graven.

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