Graven Review (PS5) – That Graven For The Old School

Boomer shooters, DOOM clones, whatever you want to call them, there was an abundance in the late 90’s. But if not shooters, then that uncanny valley effect of the 3D Realms/PC FPS graphics that we’re all familiar with in hybrid/similar games (if your birth date starts with 19XX, at least). Thief, Hexen, Blood… ringing any bells? Well, that’s the aesthetic that Graven is aiming for.

What feels like a PC action-adventure game of that era, Graven is as “old school” as they come. Those chunky, Build engine graphics, no real clue as to where you’re going, it’s got all the hallmarks of that “we’re not helping you” style of fantasy PC game. Anyone ever play Eye of the Beholder and get lost?

So, is Graven something welcoming, something nostalgic, or instead a game that’s almost too old school to be enjoyable? Let’s cast some revealing magic on it and find out.

Graven review

Expelled-iarmus

The story in Graven, to be banging that drum again, is about as… well, generic as a game of that era can be. I don’t mean that as a positive, nor a detraction, it just is “a standard 90’s PC plot” in the simplest terms. Can’t fault Slipgate Ironworks for sticking to what they know.

You, the player, not the spod reading this, are a former priest of a cult-y sect. Once devout, things tend to go awry when his adopted daughter is sacrificed for “the greater good”, resulting in expulsion. Now exiled, our nameless hero instead begins a pilgrimage to rid the lands of heretical cults and the beasties they’re conjuring.

Armed with a mysterious staff, an equally occult book and a vague notion of where to point them, it’s up to us to guide this broken cleric into a righteous path and uncover the deviousness behind cults and such.

Graven review

The Dark Ages

As I mentioned in the introduction, Graven is of that old school bent of gaming. Whilst it has updated itself with the use of checkpoints, everything else is that of the olden times. By that, I mean the game doesn’t really tell players where to go. Well, it does in journal entries, but that’s it.

Whilst it may sound like a detrimental whinge, it’s not. It’s more an observation on how games have come on, for better or worse, in terms of handholding. Instead, Graven starts with “Clear some piles out of the sewers” as its first objective, and that’s all you get.

Big glowing arrow over the head of the quest giver? Any real indication where the handle needed to raise the gates to access the exploding barrels are? Absolutely not, bar a few highlighted icons when you’re in the vicinity.

Now, that’s more a glib observation on the kind of games that PC gamers generally had to put up with back in “the day”. How does Graven actually play?

Graven review

Spell-And-Key Binding

Now, for all the knowledge I tout of older PC titles, I’ve never really played much PC. Well, that is to say, I’ve never played much keyboard and mouse gaming, so I can’t offer an opinion there. I can say that, reviewing on a console and controller, Graven runs rather smoothly.

The controller mapping is simple enough, I’d say your more “standard” FPS mapping. Items and weapons are lined up akin to a PC layout bar across the bottom of the HUD, and are easily accessible. I found myself hopping about a lot, like I was playing Quake with a Lord of the Rings mod.

Combat is nothing fancy. There’s no Rage-style physics engine, so enemies don’t react so much as grunt when struck. There is also no adaptive AI or anything fancy, so players will just get bum-rushed as they flail their staffs about. As previously mentioned, items are barely highlighted so it becomes more run-and-cast as you hop about over say, any real tactics.

Again, not a disservice to the game, it just plays reminiscent of how those era of DOOM-alikes were.

Keeping The Faith

This would normally be the part of the review in which I’d discuss graphics and audio. Whether they’re good or bad, how authentic they sound or if they’re just ugly monstrosities throughout. But as previously mentioned: it is a game made from the Build engine. If you’ve played Deus Ex original, you’ve seen what this has to offer.

Instead, I’m going to commend Slipgate Ironworks for keeping that niche style alive. We’ve reviewed a couple of their titles now, such as Ion Fury by yours truly. I remarked then at the style, and in four years nothing has really changed.

Again, that’s not a backhanded compliment or damning with fine praise, etc. It’s genuinely an impressive testament to a studio that wants to keep that spirit alive, jank and all.

By jank I don’t mean it’s broken or buggy, at least my time with Graven wasn’t. It’s just… well, retro now, I suppose. A snapshot of a time many have moved on from, but some still enjoy. In that respect, the same way I still go back to SNES games on the Switch.

What A Bunch Of Cults

In summary, Graven is going to be a subjective conclusion from me. From a technical standpoint, it’s a nice little blast from the past that Slipgate Ironworks are getting renown for. However, it wasn’t doing it for me.

That’s the caveat, I suppose. That because I didn’t personally grow up with PC gaming, it’s not going to have the same nostalgic effect on me. Ion Fury ticked more boxes for me, as I’d played DOOM and Duke Nukem. But I haven’t played anything technical like this, least anything that hasn’t been ported to console. Yeah, I’m one of those weirdos that played Half-Life when it had a PS2 port.

That being said, if old school-aesthetic PC games are your bag, Graven is at least functional in that respect. I didn’t get very far, I’ll admit, because the scaling difficulty was taking advantage of me and it just wasn’t clicking with me. But you might like it, if you cut your teeth on the Scrolls of Elders.


Graven is another slice of the nostalgic pie that Slipgate Ironworks have been dishing out. A fantasy game crafted from the engines of old, it’s functional if you’re craving that old flavour. But its taste may not be alluring enough to new players.

Graven is available now on PlayStation 5 (review platform), Xbox Series S|X and PC via Steam.

Developer: Slipgate Ironworks
Publisher: Slipgate Ironworks, 3D Realms

Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.

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