Graven review

by on January 23, 2024
Release Date

January 23, 2024


Graven begins like a lot of other fantasy adventure games. Your protagonist sits bundled at the back of a boat as it sluices through a murky river, surrounded on all sides by towering, moss-grown trees, illuminated by dozens of funeral pyres that burn on floating rafts. An old man steers the boat on its journey to the town of Cruxfirth, and his ominous words add to the macabre atmosphere.

It goes on just long enough to get a bit dull, but eventually you arrive at a jetty where the old man tosses you your staff. You’re a fallen priest, see, who was sentenced to death for a murder in self-defence, and you’re seeking atonement and absolution in whatever form you can find it.

In Cruxfirth, that means performing a few jobs for the townsfolk before you can get into the town proper. So you head down into the sewers with your staff in hand, finding a fire spell on the way. You’re to clear the sewers of bodies by exploding barrels of peat, but unfortunately they’re overrun by the undead. I much prefer tutorials that allow you to just play and learn, and Graven has a strong start.

Graven review

You’re able to switch quickly between staff and spell, and there’s a handy kick and shove to mix in with your standard melee swings. You’ll soon find that magic in this game isn’t necessarily an instant kill, too, since some enemies are immune to certain types of damage, and you’ll need to bring out the staff quite often in the early game.

Once you move beyond the opening areas your arsenal expands, as does your list of available spells, and Graven begins to more closely resemble the classic FPS games that it pays such careful homage to. As a spiritual successor to Heretic and Hexen, Graven evokes just the right level of nostalgia for someone like me who played the hell out of Hexen back in the day.

It’s strange to play in such a clear fantasy setting without heaps of RPG mechanics, but Graven cleaves much closer to the fantasy Doom-clones it apes. Yes, there are weapons that strongly resemble guns, and even a powerful grenade launcher with a satisfying kick later on, but you’ll get much more bang from your spellbook. Magic is element-based, with classics like the aforementioned fire spell mingling with chain lightning and blasts of chilling frost.

Graven review

But the deliberate choice to create a modern game with those classic sensibilities can be a little hit and miss. Games have moved on a long way from the 90s, and while the retro aesthetic will appeal to many with an eye for that kind of thing, I always struggle to get fully on board with deliberately retro movement and mechanics, unlike a game like, say, Warhammer 40K: Boltgun that better married the retro look with weighty, modern mechanics.

For example, Graven is a very floaty game. Your protagonist lacks a sense of weight, sliding around the place like he’s on skates. Ladders feel finicky on a controller as you can easily find yourself strafing for no reason. Likewise, the melee attacks do the job but don’t feel impactful enough to be called “satisfying”. The movement is incredibly fast and smooth, though, which no doubt will be a benefit to some.

Having everything on an action bar is also fine for mouse and keyboard gamers, but the reason so few games do this is because in action game a hot bar sucks. It’s much easy to just assign weapon changes to the D-Pad or a radial menu – but obviously this is a preferential thing, and many will likely disagree.

Graven review

What we can probably all agree on though, is that Graven looks great. If you’re going to go for a retro aesthetic like this then it’s better to go all out, and 3D Realms have done just that. Of course, this has been their bread and butter for 3 decades so they’d better be good at it by now. But even with this choice of resolution they manage to make the environments pop with atmosphere. It’s a refreshing change to finally leave the dreary town in which you start, and once you’re slaying demons in the desert sand or sliding across frozen lakes it’s hard not to be a little bit impressed by the level of detail and atmosphere they convey.

Graven is very niche, though, even more so than most other retro-styled boomer shooters. The fantasy slant and prioritisation of magic over shotguns make it stand-out in a busy market, and that’s no mean feat 30 years after the genre was first made popular. If the combat felt a little tighter it would be an easier recommendation, but there are enough puzzles, secrets, weapons, and spells to make what’s here feel engrossing and compelling regardless.


Looks great
Some inventive weaponry
Superb atnosphere


Combat feels a little loose
Movement is floaty
Feels a bit clunky on controller

Editor Rating
Our Score


In Short

Graven has enough puzzles, secrets, weapons, and spells to keep it engrossing and compelling throughout.