God of Blades is one of my favourite experiences of the year in any medium.
God of Blades takes place in a fantasy universe that the devs have created from whole cloth to evoke pulp fantasy novels of the 20th century. It works. I spent a lot of my childhood on cheaply-upholstered public library sofas next to stacks of Isaac Asimov and Robert Howard. Playing God of Blades made me feel that I’d found a game made by my people. Indeed, one of the most talked-about features of the game will be that it rewards library attendance – some of the game’s swords can only be unlocked when a location-aware feature notes that you’re in a library.
In God of Blades you play the role of The Nameless King, a hero raised from the dead to defend his world from horrors only he can defeat. White Whale Games are confident enough in the world they’ve created to drop you in medias res - like Star Wars begins in the middle of the Rebellion against the Empire, the war in God of Blades has been raging for some time when you arrive on the scene. The Nameless King feels like an imposing character with an epic backstory of which you only catch glimpses.
Mechanically, God of Blades is an endless runner punctuated by Infinity Blade-style combat. Taken strictly as a game, it’s not revolutionary. The inputs are admirably reliable (far from a given with touchscreen action games) and there’s just enough nuance to the physics-based fighting system to provide a sense of accomplishment when you’ve mastered it. It’s simple, almost workmanlike gameplay. But if God of Blades is just an endless running game then Bob Dylan is just a fair-to-middling guitar player and Excalibur is a frequently-misplaced pointy stick: you’re missing the bigger picture.
As a piece of interactive art, God of Blades is like nothing I’ve ever played. It’s involving. Dramatic. It’s a game that isn’t just better with headphones, it deserves them. God of Blades defies the expectations of the platform it’s on. It isn’t for playing on the train, or for a three-minute distraction during a commercial break – it’s a game that you should give over to completely. The synthesiser-driven soundtrack is gorgeous. The fully 3D background scenes react to your actions in the foreground. The dream-like cutscenes that exposit the story are mesmerising.
Not every work of art will create a place that you want to go to (who would want to live in Picasso’s Guernica or Cormac McCarthy’s.. actually, any Cormac McCarthy novel?), but it’s exhilarating when you find one that does. White Whale have created a compelling universe that you want to inhabit. It’s something special.
God of Blades will be released this month for iOS – the trailer is below.