Die With Glory (PC, iOS, Android [reviewed on a Galaxy Amp Prime])
Developer: Cloud Castle
Publisher: Castle Digital Partners
Released: April 25, 2017 (mobile), TBA (Steam)
In the halls of the Hack and Slash Tavern, we find Sigurd the Viking, regaling anyone willing to lend an ear with tales of his long and violent life of battles, friendships, and near death experiences. Sigurd is, for lack of a better word, a badass. Throughout his travels he’s faced many armies and stood against massive creatures, always emerging victorious. He’s good, perhaps too good, and now that his body has grown old and tired he wishes for just one thing: to die an honorable death and ascend to the halls of Valhalla. Over six stories, I got to relive some of Sigurd’s triumphs, helping him make the right choices to successfully see him to his honorable death… eventually.
Die With Glory is a point-and-click adventure that utilizes non-linear storytelling techniques. Sigurd is an unreliable narrator, seeming unable to remember the finer details of his life. Before he went into each story, sending me into its level, I select from a few options on how things would play out. If I say a character lives, I have better make sure I don’t accidentally murder them. This means I experience five of his six stories in different ways, crafting a unique branching storyline. It’s an interesting idea that requires multiple playthroughs of the same levels, but it doesn’t always work as well it should.
The controls do work, however, and they work quite well. Just point to a spot on the map and Sigurd will walk there. Picking up or using a tool, or speaking with an NPC, requires a simple press of a contextual button. There are some platforming segments that feel odd, but once I figured out how to properly proceed it was no issue. What was an issue was how small everything is. On my 5” Galaxy Amp Prime, the contextual buttons were simply too small and my fat fingers didn’t always press the exact spot that needed to be touched. Making the buttons larger wouldn’t hurt the beauty of the game, and it is quite a collection of colorful artwork, but it would have made it more playable on smaller screens. It would also help if Ragnar, his flying skull companion, stopped getting in the way so much.
It’s not a long game, and it wasn’t until I finished it that I realized this title covers just Sigurd’s first chapter. The abrupt ending was a bit disappointing, not because I have something against short games but because the story and gameplay quality was never able to pull out of the decline that set in after level three. Early on, I was having a blast because the game was really mixing it up. In the second level, there is a flying platform segment that apes the rocket barrel levels from Donkey Kong Country and I thought this was a sign of things to come, that it wouldn’t simply be all point and click. In a level set amongst giant mushrooms, there is a WTF moment that completely caught me off guard and once I figured out what was happening had me genuinely laughing. These moments are good, very good, but after that, it was all kind of downhill.
The idea that Sigurd is telling his life story in different ways, creating marginally different situations in each level, is commendable in its concept but not its execution. None of the levels play all that different no matter the scenarios I set up at the start. A character living or dying doesn’t really make a difference. It does matter to the story, yes, but not with gameplay. It eventually leads to the final level of this first chapter that had me literally doing the same thing four times in a row so I could reach the end of each story branch.
It would have helped if the writing here was a bit more vivid and comprehensive. Most of the characters I met in this chapter didn’t make an impact. Part of this is nobody besides Sigurd, Ragnar, and Hilda, the beautiful Valkyrie, is fleshed out. Characters are introduced without pomp, disappearing without notice. Also, and this may be particular to this reviewer, it was hard for me to give a damn about some of them when the writers decided that reference humor is the best way to name them. There is a Captain Kirk, two characters named after people from Firefly and a Biggs and a Wedge. That humor bleeds into the dialog as well, making for a silly but ultimately unengaging narrative.
There is a solid concept at the core of Die With Glory. The idea that I’m playing through the life of someone who can’t quite remember the facts of what happened is interesting, but going forward the gameplay needs to be able to match that interest, and the branching storylines really need to set themselves apart. I don’t know if the next chapter of Sigurd’s life will be worth the effort I put in here, but you know what, for a three dollar game with no ads and a single joke microtransaction, I got a couple of good hours of entertainment out of it and that’s more than I can say for most apps.