Indie soulslike Bleak Faith: Forsaken is a cautionary tale written in jank

Bleak Faith: Forsaken baddie with a head tilt
(Image credit: Archangel Studios)

If you follow game devs for long enough, you'll eventually hear them say that it's a miracle any game gets made. Whether it's ambition or hubris, there's something admirable in a three-person indie team choosing a 3D soulslike as their first game release. Less admirable, however, is when that produces a $30 full release for a fundamentally unfinished game—and that's not even considering illicit animation assets. After four years in development, Bleak Faith: Forsaken might look and move like the model if you squint, but it's a paper-thin illusion that tears as soon as you touch it.

A dense tapestry of jank, woven from bugs of every scale and size

Let me give you the quick Bleak Faith pitch before I start grousing. Broadly speaking, it's standard Souls dodge-hit-block combat, with a few tweaks of its own and a world that's a gloomy collision of gothic cathedrals and brutalist concrete. Rather than the genre's usual RPG progression, your cyborg hero's stats are all determined by the gear you equip, customized further by slotting in additional stat upgrades. Because there's no leveling up, dying just costs you progress—there's no experience currency to lose. I liked the idea: Soulslike combat without the occasional shame of dropping a pile of souls.

If you do a quick survey of Bleak Faith: Forsaken's Steam page, there's a compelling vibe there, like if Nier Automata was reduced down into a concrete, rust, and robot depression glaze and poured over a FromSoft aesthetic. And as a known lover of nouns, I have a weakness for placenames like "The Omnistructure." I was hopeful—this all fits with my palate somewhere. Maybe the trio at Cyprus indie dev Archangel Studios could pull off their own little miracle? Stranger things have happened.

Hope's a tricky thing, sometimes.

Firing the game up for the first time, I'm greeted with three sentences of exposition text: something about a crusade, a rogue commander, and an anomaly. "In the depths of the Omnistructure," I'm told, "things are rarely as they seem." Which is good to know, because the ensuing intro cutscene seems mostly like a montage of a weary cyborg's daily life of sitting around in an asphalt nightmare. Suddenly, conflict! One of the bad guys from those Killzone games appears, determined to kick cyborg ass—until he's summarily stabbed through the temple when the cyborg realizes they have a very large knife. Another identical cyborg, who's apparently been nearby the whole time, stares with what I assume is the blank face of approval, and walks away. Cut to black.

While I'm trying and failing to parse what I just watched, the game's already decided to start: I'm suddenly elsewhere, looking at a cyborg's nude ass on a rooftop in a foggy concrete void. There's no context, goal, or direction given. All I have is a lead pipe and the suspicion there are guys somewhere to hit with it. Seeking foes and some pants to cover my cyborg's terrible iron cheeks, I move my controller's analog stick, and immediately regret it.

The movement's the worst combination of too much speed, too much sensitivity, and not nearly enough precision. I send my character plummeting to an early death, and then another. Digging into the settings for a solution, I find an interface that's half-implemented and options that are half-explained. After tabbing over to Steam to confirm that, no, the game's not an early access release, I switch to mouse and keyboard. The next day, before overhauling the character's movement, Bleak Faith's devs would make an official announcement to express their joy about the game's launch—and to recommend avoiding controller play entirely.

Bleak Faith: Forsaken proved to be a game out of its depth dozens of times over my next few hours with it. It's a dense tapestry of jank, woven from bugs of every scale and size. Maybe your UI insists you always have two health potions—sorry, "restorative fluids"—regardless of how many you use. Maybe you'll find an NPC with a non-functioning talk prompt, who disappears before you learn what he has to say. Maybe you'll drop one of the game's placeable checkpoints, only for it to respawn you inside the ground, forever.

And of course, the jankiness extends deep into where it's most maddening: combat. Fighting in Bleak Faith is plagued with inconsistencies. At times it's like my weapons are choosing attack animations at random, meaning I'm regularly tripping over the rhythm of my own swings. Hitboxes and attack volumes, especially on bosses, are baffling to pin down. During my first boss fight, whether it was me or Konrad the Traitor attacking, our weapons would pass harmlessly through each other on hits that seemed guaranteed to land, while attacks that were clear misses would end up clipping sections from our health bars.

The feeling of unreliability is almost antithetical to the style of gameplay. How do you git gud when you have no idea where there's room for improvement?

Bleak Faith's run-of-the-mill enemies got the heaviest dose of dysfunction, to the point that I wanted to help them more than hurt them. The robots and various wretches spend as much time fighting the geometry as they'll spend fighting you. They'll tangle themselves on elevators, ledges, staircases—even flat terrain. You'll enter a room to find them already dead, or embedded halfway in the ceiling. For enemies in Bleak Faith, basic existence is a traumatic experience.

One of my earliest fights ended in confusion, when an enemy (which looked suspiciously indistinguishable from a Dark Souls 3 Abyss Walker) paused mid-fight, screamed, and sank to its death somewhere beneath the floor. Later, I spotted a knight moonwalking backwards across a distant battlement; when I approached, it scampered up to me with an absurd stutter-step, entering greatsword range only for its attacks to swing uselessly through me. Enemies of all kinds would lose the ability to attack mid-combat, forcing me to finish them off as they followed me with helpless passivity.

To Archangel Studios' credit, they've been churning out regular hotfixes and patches since launch, sometimes multiple times a day. But even at that pace of improvement, Bleak Faith: Forsaken is a long road from what anyone could reasonably call a finished product. If only it'd been listed that way. And, y'know, if it was me? I would probably take the Eva spear out.

Lincoln Carpenter

Lincoln spent his formative years in World of Warcraft, and hopes to someday recover from the experience. Having earned a Creative Writing degree by convincing professors to accept his papers about Dwarf Fortress, he leverages that expertise in his most important work: judging a video game’s lore purely on the quality of its proper nouns. With writing at Waypoint and Fanbyte, Lincoln started freelancing for PC Gamer in Fall of 2021, and will take any excuse to insist that games are storytelling toolkits—whether we’re shaping those stories for ourselves, or sharing them with others. Or to gush about Monster Hunter.