I will preface this article by stating that I have not yet finished Bleak Faith: Forsaken. Dammit, I’m trying. My friends have told me to just quit, and to be fair they’ve got a pretty convincing argument. From the shaky controls, horrendous first impressions, subpar combat, and confusing genre-bending sections, Bleak Faith does not do much to keep people moving forward through its desolate post-apoc world. But something has me coming back to it, slugging through areas to try and reach the end of this 3-man made journey. Why though?
Ripping about half the pages out of Dark Souls‘ playbook, Bleak Faith speaks little and lets the player fill in the planet-sized holes in its plot. You’re given a very cryptic intro scene that probably says a lot but translates to nothing to someone just dipping their toes into the game for the first time. The snappy intro scenes end with the sickly looking protagonist(?) on top of a fog-laded roof-bridge-thing and the proverbial door shut behind them. From here you are to take the small, not-quite finished tutorials and a good combing of the key bindings to understand how to play. Then you take a step or two, and you turn, and Holy Shit your feet are made of ice.
Off the rip, it feels like there’s no sense of weight with your character and the world around you. Figuring this out on a narrow pathway above certain death is a helluva way to impose this. When you pull up the menu for the first time, it’s a lot. What feels like a hand-me-down Destiny menu throws a lot of information about armor and attack stats with different styles of damage and upgrade possibilities. While the damage stats are pretty self-explanatory, the armor stats get to pretty high numbers without feeling like anything helps with certain enemies.
Combat is done with a rhythmic style. Attacks take stamina but timing your next attack at the end of another provides a quicker action and spends less stamina, while mistiming will slow the attack and cost more. There is no visual indicator on when the correct time to attack and is. All is done on feel, which changes between each weapon provided. This feels like a process to avoid spamming attacks, but this is already combated by the inclusion of stamina in the first place, so adding a mini-game to your attacking feels tacked on and having no indicators makes learning your groove a tough one.
Lastly, some of the design choices made in the game range from confusing to infuriating. For having movement as slippery as it is, precarious platforming sections mark themselves as a brick wall to progression and will only garner a sigh of relief when finished and not a moment of confidence. From what I’ve played, your character only really levels up when defeating a boss as this unlocks extra upgrade slots for your weapons and armor, but the lack of a leveling system or basis of where you should be based on your equipment can make it very hard to gauge difficulty without slamming head first into somewhere you’re clearly not supposed to be. Except for the potential for a new weapon/armor or crafting drops, there’s no real reason to fight any enemies. I’ve just run past enemies to get to another part of the game because the range of damage enemies do is all over the place. When one enemy that does 15% of my HP on a hit can stand side by side with another that does 90%, Lord knows if I’m supposed to be here or not.
And don’t get me started on the Giants. Normal-sized enemies can be locked onto to help with the footsies dance that comes with the Souls-like territory, but Giants cannot be locked onto. In order to initiate the second part of combat you must hit their legs with no lock-on, and with how precise the hitboxes can be it’s very easy to whiff multiple shots and lose track of attack patterns that will cause you to lose health fast. What’s the second part of combat you ask? Think Shadow of the Colossus, only you’re at risk of dying at any moment. Big damage can happen when you climb upon a Giant and stab them repeatedly in the back, but with all the visual and audio cues happening when you backstab a Giant it’s very easy to lose your bearings and get swiped by the enemy, causing you to lose around 75-100% of your HP. Generally I’ve been avoiding every Giant except, you know, the mandatory Boss that is one.
So…why do I even bother with Bleak Faith? Why not just slap on a low number and call it a day? Well…
The world is genuinely very interesting, and the Con of knowing near nothing of what’s going on is the Pro of finding a new piece of the world and any crumb of information I can find to piece things together. Each section connects together, intertwining with the main hub world (I’m sure there’s more I haven’t seen yet), and the desolate world riddled with a vast cast of enemies and potential allies are a treat to look at.
It might be the reviewer bug in me, but the concept of taking a game that is hard because the core design is tough or the elements of game design work against the player, then overcoming that obstacle makes me go, “Oh fuck off, that’s not happening,” then doing it anyway is an endorphin rush that’ll never cease to please. The Giant boss I alluded to above? Took me days to beat. I chewed on tactics, potential weapons that would better suit the fight, where to go faster or slower, and when I finally, finally beat that sum’bitch I’m telling you it felt so fucking good. That, that is worth the price of admission: even if the outside is tough and stale, that chewy inside bit of taking down something that’s had your number will forever ring brilliantly in this genre.
And it shows that these developers care about their product. As someone who’s shipped a self-made title, I was able to take a very small glimpse into the innards of game development and learn how rough it really can be to make everything go well. This team could’ve dropped this game, taken the licks, and just succumbed to the torrent of negativity running through the internet, especially after the whole Asset Scandal. But this team has been pumping out hotfixes and patch notes daily since the game came out. They are true to form in making this game as close to their dream as possible, and that kind of effort only makes me want to try even harder to see what they’ve put their hearts into the often-cruel world of the gaming market and its inhabitants.
So I’ll grab my two-handed weapon, hang out with my wiggly checkpoint-buddy for a brief moment, and press forward into the unknown. Because a team is working every single day to make that unknown as steady but challenging as possible, only for the right reasons this time through.
Sometimes, that’s more than enough Faith for me.