Arthurian Legend isn’t exactly new ground for video games, but just as Hades took Greek mythology and forged it into something unique and exciting, Knight vs Giant: The Broken Excalibur intends to do the same with the Camelot mythos. Some of it works, and some of it doesn’t, but there are some glimmers of gold in here for roguelike fans.
Having retrieved the Holy Grail, the Knights of the Round Table are decimated by a terrible Void Giant released by their own meddling. Merlin the Wizard, here presented as a scheming sorcerer with his own agenda, traps the giant, forcing it into the Astral Dimension. Unfortunately, he also sends the whole of Camelot in as well. With just enough magic to resurrect one knight, he chooses Arthur, still armed with the shattered blade of Excalibur. As the Once and Future King, your job is to eradicate the giants and restore the sword – and your kingdom – to its former glory.
Right away, there’s a lot to unpack. Not because the plot is complex, but because there’s so much dialogue to sift through and little of it is relevant. The writing is constantly trying to be funny but rarely is, with crude or overdone jokes popping up in every other sentence. The tone suits the art style, but there’s a definite sense that the devs saw Hades’ success and figured they’d have a go. It just lacks Hades’ subtlety and nuance in almost every department.
While Excalibur is broken, you can imbue it with the powers of several of your former knights. Their souls are locked inside magical statues in the central courtyard, and interacting allows you to take either the main weapon or one ability from each statue. Initially only Bors and Lancelot are available, but Galahad, et al, are waiting under sheets. It’s an interesting system, but like everything in Knight vs Giant, it takes far too long to unlock the new weapons and abilities.
Each run sees you pick a weapon and spell and head out into the wilds. Combat is fast and responsive and by far the best thing about the game. Arthur’s dodge roll is quick and doesn’t suffer from a cool down, and the simple combos offer immediate catharsis. I preferred Bors’ weapon initially, as it has a ranged attack that kept me out of trouble. There’s not a great monster variety, sadly, but that means you’ll at least learn their moves and tells easily. You’ll need it too, as the action occasionally cleaves close to bullet hell.
Each “room” you clear will reward you with either money or xp, or a special node. There’s a fountain that restores health, a Pied Piper who will give you special horde-mode challenges for large cash rewards, or statues. Find a knight and receive one of three blessings, Hades-style, for the corresponding skill. Find a grey altar and you’ll get one of three blessings for Arthur himself, such as increased attack speed, more HP, or the ability to leave behind poison patches as you evade.
There’s also a merchant and the Sorceress Morgana, who will impart a gift and a curse should you accept. You’ll periodically find new NPCs in the wilds, such as a blacksmith and construction… spirit? I don’t know what it is but it let’s you rebuild your home base and unlock facilities for the other NPCs, such as a forge. It’s a gameplay loop that is always rewarding you, but sometimes far too slowly. Also, the upgrades offered by the blacksmith are ridiculously tight. Plus 1 damage when your base damage is 50 is almost not worth the hassle. In fact, most upgrades and buffs are just as incremental and rarely feel like they’re meaningful.
Campaign progression also follows Hades’ example. When you die, you must go back through all previous areas and bosses. You should get better as you go, of course, but the random nature of the buffs means you might be blessed with considerable stat boosts in one run, only to be given useless boons for the next. It’s the nature of the genre, of course, but it’s not presented here in any new or exciting way.
Knight vs Giant: The Broken Excalibur is an enjoyable enough hack ‘n’ slash roguelike. It’s bright and fun, but drips-feeds new skills and weapons far too slowly. There’s a lot to like, but repetition will set in before you see the end, and the dialogue will certainly grate on you long before then.
Combat is fast and fun
Lots of abilities
Tries to be funny
Progression is slow
Feels a bit samey