Knight vs Giant: The Broken Excalibur is one of those games that wears its influence not just on its sleeve, but its entire garment. This game is quintessential Hades – which, for the record, is one of my favourite games ever made. It’s somewhat of a risk to throw all your eggs into one rogue-like shaped basket, but that’s exactly what Knight vs Giant: The Broken Excalibur does.
Instead of the Greek underworld and fearsome lord of the dead however, we’re thrust into a destroyed Camelot. King Arthur is reborn, his knights have been scattered and there are massive trolls causing havoc across the land. Can the new setting and typical rogue-like action match up to the extraordinary inspiration?
Ready your armour, draw your Excalibur from its rock-formed slumber, King Arthur ventures out once more. Let’s find out if it’s worth the toil.
Is It Knight Time Yet?
Knight vs Giant: The Broken Excalibur is based on the myth of the legendary King of Britain himself. King Arthur awakes, incredulously, from death, thanks to the sorcery of his loyal wizard Merlin. As a hero of yonder times, his mission in the present is to restore a now-decimated Camelot and return the citizens to their homes.
Now of course, in this fantasy world, there’s an Astral Plane and a Void Giant, who unceremoniously booted Arthur from existence. He broke Excalibur too, the miscreant. Thus begins your journey to eradicate the threat of the giants and become a hero once more.
Which is about as exciting as the story gets. Unlike Hades, Knight vs Giant: The Broken Excalibur is as porously written as its title. NPCs and Merlin in particular will drone on with mindless abandon, to the point I was half-skimming most dialogue before skipping. There’s no meaningful relationship system and the interactive options with characters is limited to one set of dialogue per person.
As such, the characters are a means to an end, as they’re nothing more than glorified vendors (and even that’s at a push for some). There is a certain childish charm to some of the story and the idea of King Arthur resurrected and fighting across space is… cool? However, it’s not the main driver for being here, that’s for sure.
First and foremost, Knight vs Giant: The Broken Excalibur is an action rogue-like. Dashing is abundant, hammering the attack button is rampant, while death and retrial are constant. Once again, it’s almost impossible to escape the Hades comparison, as Knight vs Giant plays almost identically. Just like how reproducing a picture leads to a loss of quality however, so too is the gameplay diluted.
Enemy AI is fairly basic and while there are a few different creatures, they all fundamentally approach the player in the same way. You’ll dash and hit a lot, until everything in a room is dead and then move on. Some I-frames and attacks from off-screen can feel a bit cheap and due to the cluster of colourful animation effects, I sometimes couldn’t even tell what was damaging me.
Despite these issues, I had a good time playing Knight vs Giant: The Broken Excalibur. It feels more unrefined than the best of the genre, but the underpinning mechanics are satisfying. Different weapons provide some variety to repeated runs, though of the starting two, the ranged one is far superior to wreak havoc with.
Each run has you clearing rooms of the jungle, desert and volcano biomes, punctuated with a mini-boss and main boss fight. These can vary from ridiculous push-overs (the three-headed hound comes to mind) to wildly difficult gatekeepers (looking at you, volcano boss). Nonetheless, they’re well designed fights with well choreographed movesets.
Upgrade or Downgrade?
One area where Knight vs Giant: The Broken Excalibur pales in comparison to Hades or say, Dead Cells, is its equivalent of the boon system. You select a primary weapon and one primary power, based on the knights of the round table. Throughout a run, you can select a buff for each of these via statues. While some provide tangible differences to how the power or weapon works, most offer simple stat boosts.
Moreover, Knight vs Giant: The Broken Excalibur seems to more incentivise pure damage output than using a well-crafted build. A lightning power boon for example will spawn pools of electricity, yet they do next to no damage. Similarly, poison and burning buffs are negligible compared to straight buffing standard damage by 40%. Consequently, it stifled some of the thrill of trying out new powers.
This issue, while not massive, also permeates through the game’s progression and upgrade systems. On your runs you’ll collect coins and crystals, used to rebuild this astral Camelot. The system itself is fun enough – as you watch buildings be restored and new vendors appear in the hub. Unfortunately, it’s all a bit too grindy and uninteresting.
Take the blacksmith for instance. While he can upgrade your weapons, each level raises one of four stats by 0.1% or 0.001%. When I’ve spent 20-30 minutes garnering 600 coins, am I really going to care about wasting them on point one of a difference? No, no I am not. It also takes an age to gather up all the residents of Camelot, which hugely hinders your progress.
The biggest issue is acquiring each of the knight’s statues to access new weapons. You’ll unlock a vendor very early who, in theory, can restore the honourly figures. Problem is, she won’t. You have to grind through a stupid number of runs first to unlock the ability to find the items in further runs to take to the vendor. It’s a needlessly arduous process, one made worse if you progress deep into runs from the outset like myself.
Having said all of that, there were a good few runs where I found myself min-maxing really effectively and learning enemy abilities with ease. When it clicked, I got relatively sucked in and I’d lose half an hour to an enjoyable run. Then I’d return to Camelot, realise my rewards were but a tuppence, sigh and hit the portal, hoping I’d have a semi-decent run again.
On the plus side, Knight vs Giant: The Broken Excalibur has a quirky art style which is easy on the eye. Enemies are varied based on the biome you’re fighting in and the late-game bosses are a visual (and difficult) treat. Seeing Camelot come back to life as the hours ticked away was relatively pleasing and seeing a mini King Arthur dodge roll spamming around an earth-shattering troll is just fun.
While it has a bit of a mobile game esque vibe to it, the visuals, animations and colour scheme are nice. It’s the one definitive positive of the game that I liked without any caveats or buts. I just wish the upgrade and gameplay systems had managed to be less stubborn than the rock Excalibur found itself entrenched in.
When all was said and done, the main point I took away from Knight vs Giant: The Broken Excalibur is just how good Hades really is. In some ways, it’s almost unfair to compare the two. Yet, Knight vs Giant has based so much of its DNA on Hades’ initial blueprint, it’s impossible not to compare them.
It’s a solid and decent action rogue-like with a cool theme and quirky presentation, but there are numerous small points which it just doesn’t quite nail. From a frustrating off-camera enemy move to a disgustingly fast, unavoidable AoE boss attack, I cursed every time it stumbled over its own flaws.
I think there’s genuinely a fun and engaging game locked away in here. Much like Excalibur and King Arthur themselves though, it feels like a hollowed, reanimated version of a much greater legend. The appearance and inspiration are still wonderful, but the soul and finer details have been lost along the way. Plus, the upgrade system is a chore and the grind eeks out much of the motivation.
Knight vs Giant: The Broken Excalibur is a fun action rogue-like that wears the armour of Hades proudly. Unfortunately, that armour is weighed down thanks to tedious progression and upgrades systems, a less interesting story and some minor gameplay issues. Despite the problems, there is a visual flourish and the odd run that comes together into something altogether enjoyable, in spite of the flaws.
Knight vs Giant: The Broken Excalibur is available now on PS5 (review platform), Xbox Series S|X, Nintendo Switch and PC.
Developer: Gambir Studios
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy from the publisher.