Note: This Cloud Version of Thymesia was tested on 100Mb Superfast Broadband using both a 5G WIFI and wired LAN connection.
The Kingdom of Hermes has fallen into an age of calamity. In a world where the use of powerful alchemy was once widespread and welcomed, things have gone terribly wrong. The now blood-soaked streets are filled with plague-ridden monstrosities and it's up to you, Corvus, to take out the mutated trash.
OverBorder Studios' Thymesia is the latest in a long line of Soulslike experiences that attempt to capture FromSoftware's magic whilst adding a few of its own twists and gameplay wrinkles for good measure. As is de rigueur with the genre, we've got the same basic ground rules as usual at work here. Bonfires, now known as beacons, dot the landscape and provide a chance to rest and increase your stats whilst also regenerating all nearby enemies. Death sees you leave behind your collected memories, giving you one chance to return to collect them, and there's a central nexus, here known as Pilgrimage Hill, that you can return to when you want to wallow in the game's brooding atmosphere or have a disappointingly short chat with the one NPC who resides there.
Yes, if you've played any Soulsborne, you already know the general gist of how things play out in Thymesia, but this is a game that has managed to garner some extra attention in the run-up to its release because, well, it looks the business. There's a nice art style at work here, Corvus is a fast and flashy protagonist, and at first glance, the haunted forests and bloodstained streets that you claw and slash your way through give off a little bit of a Bloodborne vibe which, let's face it, is a vibe well worth giving off.
Further to this, the game's combat has got enough fresh ideas to warrant investigation. Corvus attacks foes with a combination of fast saber slashes and a slower, heavier claw attack. The general idea is that enemy health bars have got two elements that you need to work on destroying. Slash at them with your saber and you'll see the white bar turn green, indicating that you're inflicting wound damage. The white will regenerate and reclaim all of the exposed green area unless you then strike out with your claw, permanently removing the green portion and doing actual lasting damage on top of temporary wounds. Whittle the bar down to zero and your enemy will be opened up for a finishing move that's indicated by a glowing red spot robbed right out of Sekiro.
It's a system that encourages you to keep on the front foot, getting stuck into enemies with combos — there is no stamina to worry about here — in order to stop their wounds regenerating. On top of this, Thymesia introduces a neat plague weapons mechanic that sees you steal whatever weapon skill your current enemy is in possession of by charging up your claw attack and then unleashing it, sending Corvus driving forward to pluck the essence of their weapon from them for a one time use.
The plague weapons on offer give you plenty of options to play with, there's a total of 21 to collect, and they cover great big hammers, whips, swords, axes, scythes and more exotic blood-leeching fare, that add a layer of strategy as you blast through levels, collecting memory shards to beef up your stats and skills with an eye on the boss that lurks at the end of every area.
After a time you'll also unlock plague weapons permanently in your inventory, giving you the opportunity to set them to a second slot and affording Corvus a mix of permanent and one-time use plague weapons to play with. As you claw at foes you'll receive random drops of weapon-specific upgrade points which can then be used to strengthen the attack stats of your collection. Use your claw to attack a hammer-wielding foe and they'll drop hammer upgrades, sword foes drop sword upgrades, and so on.
With regards to upgrading Corvus' core stats, you only need worry about pumping your memory shards into strength, vitality and plague attributes and each level that you gain rewards you with a talent point to use in the game's talent skill tree. It's here that you can freely unlock and then reset various skills at your convenience in order to build a Corvus that best suits your playstyle. You may want to pump all your points into your saber, for example, ensuring it gives you lots of energy back as you attack — energy is what you'll need to pull off plague weapon attacks after all — and there are also upgrades for your claw, dodge, deflection skills, feather darts, and more general stuff like buffs to your attacks when your health falls under a certain level.
The core combat system here really is pretty solid and unique stuff, at least on paper. However, you may have noticed us mention feather darts, dodges and deflections in that last paragraph, and this is where things begin to fall apart somewhat. Thymesia has got far too many systems in play for its own good, some of which feel utterly pointless and most of which feel like they need some refinement and adjustment due to how annoyingly tight their windows of opportunity are.
Take the game's feather darts as an example. These are used to stagger an enemy's charged attacks and delay wound regeneration, and are deployed with a quick press of the left trigger. After being introduced to this mechanic in the tutorial we completely forgot about it. It just feels unnecessary, does very little damage — at least until you level it up — and simply dodging out of the way of charged attacks and then moving in for some saber and claw strikes feels like much the better option.
This same issue extends to the game's deflection system. Time your block with the left shoulder button and you'll deflect an enemy's attack. Fair enough. But the rewards for doing this aren't worth how difficult it is to master the extremely tight and tricky timing. There's no opening up the enemy for a fancy riposte here, and so you're much better off simply dodging out of the way.
However, even dodging has its issues, feeling unrefined — especially in this Switch Cloud version, which we'll get to discussing in just a bit — and for the most part we chose to hammer the dodge button rather than trying to get into a rhythm of perfect escapes.
It all results in combat that feels loose and baggy on the defence side of things, never reaching a place where it makes the player feel they're in total control, weaving in and out of enemy attacks and delivering ripostes when the opportunity arises. In short, on offense, Thymesia feels fine for the most part, but outside of this it's a messy mix of mechanics that could, and should, have been streamlined. Take out the feathers and the deflection and just give us plague weapons, saber/claw attacks, and a dodge and this may have felt much slicker overall.
Outside of combat, well, you have to take Thymesia's indie nature and budget price point into consideration here. There are just three distinct areas in the game, with a small hub and a final small boss region to bulk things out a tad. Not too much in the way of variety all in all. You'll run through an area once and face off against its boss, then you'll be offered a series of sub-quests that see you return to a slightly different version of that same area to collect something or battle a secondary boss. This amounts to a lot of backtracking and repetition in both scenery and enemy types and it's an issue that's exacerbated early on by a first major boss we needed to grind for a good few hours in order to beat. Not an ideal start.
This early-game grinding didn't just leave a bad taste in the mouth either, it also resulted in us feeling entirely over-levelled for the rest of our adventure, making for run-of-the-mill enemy encounters and boss battles that felt much easier later on in the campaign than anything we encountered in its opening hours. Or at least it would have done had we not been in a constant struggle with terrible input lag, image quality issues, artifacting, and other issues related to this being a cloud version.
We've had good experiences in the past with the likes of Hitman 3 - Cloud Version, and yes, we've had serious issues (Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy: Cloud Version), but here things are at their worst. Due to the fast, combat-heavy nature of Thymesia's gameplay and the tight windows of success for deflecting, dodging and attacking successfully, the input lag and image quality issues here result in an experience that really is borderline unplayable on Switch. Consider making your way through Dark Souls for the first time with very heavy lag, unresponsive controls, and attack animations with completely messed up timings and you get the general idea of how this one works out.
Of course, we're aware your experience may vary depending on your internet set-up, but we tested this game on a very capable 100Mb 5G WIFI and a wired connection with very little success. You only need glance at the screenshots throughout this review to get an idea of how blurred and unreadable this game looks in combat. Muddy image quality and compromised inputs in this type of exacting, action-heavy game, just isn't something we can live with, unfortunately.
In the end what you've got here is a very poor version of a game that's already a pretty average experience, even when playing on hardware that can run it perfectly. Thymesia's combat is a mixed bag, its level design is fairly bland and its lore underdeveloped. Had it run well on Switch we'd have recommended it only to the most ardent of Soulslike fans. However, with the performance of this cloud version proving so intolerably poor, this is a version of OverBorder Studio's indie adventure that we advise you steer well clear of.
Thymesia has all the ingredients necessary to make for a solid indie Soulslike, but falls short of greatness due to messy implementation of mechanics, bland level design, weak lore, and issues with difficulty balancing. Add to this the fact that we experienced serious performance issues with this Cloud Version — problems which fundamentally hampered our timing and control input during combat, ruining the most promising part of the game — and you've got a Switch experience that's best avoided at all costs.