Soulslikes have become a crowded genre, most recently undergoing a shift away from straight Dark Souls clones with different worlds to fully different systems, combat styles and even genres. The soulslikes that appear today have to do something to differentiate themselves in a crowded space. Elden Ring has also changed the game again and inspired imitators still to see release.
Bleak Faith: Forsaken has been in development longer than Elden Ring has been around, so there’s inspiration, but there’s also the dovetailing zeitgeist of the industry. Clearly, there is harmonious thinking happening between video game devs. Bleak Faith takes its inspiration from all over; Death Stranding, Soulslikes, Control, Elden Ring, Returnal, Shadow of the Colossus and Dark Souls.
If you like those titles, and you like the style of hands-off discovery and brutal punishing combat, you will find an absolute feast here. For those converted by Elden Ring, this is the next step, into an even tougher, bleaker sci-fi landscape, that will not help you work out its systems. It’s an incredible achievement, created by just three multi-talented and dedicated developers. And its bleak world just begs to be explored.
As with many Soulslikes and the games that inspired them, narrative is a different beast in Bleak Faith Forsaken. There’s no moment-to-moment plot, no purpose given to your journey and no character or relationships to hang a narrative off. What there is instead is a world to explore full of strange and terrifying beings, full of mysteries and questions.
Rather than the stock human, cursed to reincarnate, in Bleak Faith Forsaken you are an automaton, a robot with only eye slits in their otherwise featureless face. Every death leaves your broken metal body on the ground and sleeves you in a new one at the last shuddering Humunculus figure (Bleak’s version of bonfires). You will meet a handful of NPCs, rogue automatons, some trying to kill you and a few with things to say about the world, but far less so than even Elden Ring. And you will find wonder, and suspense and epic set-pieces. They just exist within the void – the void of an otherwise nonexistent plot, and the void of the Omnistructure.
Bleak Faith Forsaken is a hard thing to get into and it’s designed that way. You need to be the type of gamer who needs only the thrill of combat and exploration to compel you onward. If you know yourself to be one who needs quests, narrative and destinations to aim for, you will not find them here. Elden Ring was commended for its lack of quest markers, its deliberate aversion to telling you what to do or where to go, enhancing the feeling of exploration and discovery. Bleak Faith Forsaken takes that philosophy even further, leaving you alone and rudderless in a twisting Inception dream of a vertical world. There is no map, there are no quest markers on the HUD or otherwise.
Due to some incredible draw distances and its vertical folding world, Bleak Faith Forsaken is able to employ Elden Ring’s lauded feat of guiding you or at least enticing you via the design of the landscape. You can see places where enemies reside, ladders in the distance, broken-down ruins on the horizon line, doors and walkways that you can likely reach, if only you could find the route there. In Dark Souls fashion, caves, lifts and gates often link back up to areas you’ve previously been, creating shortcuts for another run at a boss.
The art direction should be commended if nothing else. The Omnistructure is a science fiction world, organically growing up and out in all directions, combining rock, metal, machine and manmade structures into a constantly surprising morass. It’s intensely vertical, requiring you to climb sheer rock faces, indeed you face an insurmountable cliff almost right at the start, the void on either side of you and jutting piers of broken columns forming paths through the space. Much of the early areas are tunnel, walkway or corridor-like spaces, due to the nature of the world, but there’s plenty later on where you emerge into wider spaces, forests and ruins.
It somehow makes for a claustrophobic, yet expansive world. All the cliffs, structures and remnants of previous civilisation are massive and imposing, creating a great sense of scale, and yet because it towers over you, because the world often has a ceiling, or a folding dreamlike edifice, it all feels like it’s going to crush you at the same time. Claustrophobic yet expansive.
Bleak Faith Forsaken is the most Souls of Soulslikes – as close as it can get to the no tutorial, no information template that From laid down. The world demands exploration but barely tells you how to control your automaton let alone a direction to travel.
Combat is the same, on the hardest end of Soulslike difficulty, with the harshest punishments and the most unforgiving stamina constraints. You can roll and dodge, block and parry (if you’re good). Swinging your weapon starts a combo that is timing based, only continuing if you hit attack as the previous swing connects with your enemy. Enemy hits to your sword or shield will rinse through your stamina gauge without remorse, meaning you need to play in that stop/start baiting and moving fashion of the early Souls games. This is not like Bloodborne, aggression is only encouraged for a moment at a time.
The first boss, Konrad the Traitor, is an incredible test of skill and perseverance, demanding you learn the pace and timing of combos, the lulls you have to allow in battle for your stamina to replenish, the spacing you can allow to just sidestep past attacks without wasting stamina at all. It teaches as much as it punishes, which is the mark of a great first boss. But it teaches through brutal unforgiving death, over and over again until you master it. I have Konrad’s opening words when you enter his gated square arena, ‘I have not slept…’ ringing in my ears.
Many bosses are of this same type, but still others are horrific beasts, crazed automatons built up to monstrous size, some even allowing you to climb them Shadow of the Colossus-style. This can be incredibly taxing and difficult, as the climbing UI is not sticky enough and prone to bugs, but they are quite spectacular when they happen.
Bosses don’t seem to be behind the clouded doors, as they are in Dark Souls, but more they guard the next clouded door. Each victory opens up a new area, rather than being the end of one, in a kind of reversal of the Souls formula. Again Elden Ring is the inspiration, and what better for this type of experience. It makes victory a little more of a reward, as you have a whole new area to explore in most cases.
Where Bleak Faith: Forsaken differs dramatically from its inspirations is in not having any kind of ‘soul’ or accumulated upgrade currency. Which also means there’s not really anything to lose when you die. It may be punishingly hard, but the risk and punishment of losing your points is lessened here.
Levelling up and increasing strength etc, or moving towards a particular build is done through Gear – items, armor and weapons you find, although don’t be scared that it’s a bonkers looter of items. They are few and far between. You can attach a type of mod liquid to weapons and armour, and you can upgrade them at the central automaton female for ‘splinters’ – the only real replacement for souls, which thankfully you don’t lose by dying.
Bleak Faith: Forsaken’s music is intense and memorable, a kind of atmospheric industrial ambient, full of appropriate glitches and swells to Zimmer-like crescendos. It’s more in keeping with something like Control or Returnal musically, than say Dark Souls. Sound-wise, there’s not much else to talk about – a few very tinny From-style NPC voices and the clash and clang of combat.
Graphically Bleak Faith: Forsaken can be pretty, and has some nice lighting, but up close, and in respect of using its world, it’s quite janky and feels a little unfinished. Hitboxes often don’t register, armor and bodies and clothing phase through each other regularly. The verticality and ambition count against it here – the Omnistructure is very buggy. I lost count of how many times I fell through walls and floors. I fell forever at one point, and had to respawn; I got stuck in a wall, and had to respawn. That was when I realised the reason there was a respawn/kill yourself button, and the loss of upgrades was so lenient, was that people would forever be losing everything they’d built up due to bugs. Elden Ring players can be so confident of bug-free play that they walk about with a million plus points just for the thrill. Not here.
It was also easy to fall from ladders and while using the climbing function on bosses. I experienced disappearing and reappearing health items, I had a fun period where the enemies and I could fight but we couldn’t hit each other, resulting in a dance-like kata until my stamina depleted. I had missing video assets not in place, and just a border saying a video should be here.
I’m sure everyone has a different controller they use with their PC and Steam games – I generally have used a PS4 Dual Shock 4 over recent years and mostly found success. This generation I have tried to use a Dualsense when I can. This was what I used in my first attempt with the game. Bleak Faith did not recognise the Dualsense properly, mapped buttons to all sorts of odd places, and because of the nature of the game, told you none of these. The combat was all but impossible, lacking fundamentals like lock-on, and I found the game almost unplayable.
When I swapped out to my brand-new Xbox Series S controller, all was reversed. Suddenly every button worked and made sense, I could lock-on to enemies, and a horrid first impression turned into something altogether more user-friendly. Or at least as user-friendly as a hard sci-fi Soulslike tries to be.
Bleak Faith Forsaken manages the From formula with some skill and success, giving players a fascinating-looking world to explore even if ultimately there’s not much to say. Combat is fun, brutal and punishing, but just the right side of impossible. If you like your soulslikes, there’s plenty on offer here to keep you entertained, as long as you are a little forgiving of the odd jankiness, bugs and glitches.
It’s a shame that despite all the exploration I did, I’m still none the wiser about the Omnistructure, its mysteries or origins. Bleak Faith’s art direction and boss designs make it look better and more interesting than it ends up actually being. It also goes too far along the route Elden Ring paved recently of eschewing tutorials, explanations and even controls. It can often be too esoteric and explanation-less for its own good, leaving you floundering for hours at a time, either lost or desperately trying to find out why your build suddenly feels different. Any information there is, is hidden away in very un-user-friendly stats menus and difficult UI. It also doesn’t really feature the lore-heavy history that From Software made their trademark.
Is it Bleak? Yes, it’s cold, stark and unforgiving. Forsaken? Yes, the Omnistructure is a forsaken place. And Faith? Truly you will need faith to proceed, and to persevere.
Bleak Faith: Forsaken is a competent sci-fi soulslike with a beautiful and brutal new world to explore. It’s combat is serviceable, but its lack of explanations, narrative or even lore will leave many floundering without anything much to grab onto. This is one for the really dedicated Souls veteran who leans far to the extremes of the From Software design school.
Bleak Faith Forsaken is out now on PC via Steam (review platform).
Developers: Archangel Studios
Publishers: Archangel Studios
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional code from the publisher. For our full review policy, please go here.
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