Naraka: Bladepoint is a melee focused battle royale with Apex Legends-esque hero characters, loot boxes, and a surprising amount of facial customization. It is, like most battle royales, a game that lives and dies by its ability to generate interesting stories via resource restriction and player interaction. Which is why the most generous pitch for the game I can give is a story.
I am in a broken shrine, alone. It is quiet and I am rifling through bones for something useful. After a few moments, I hear the tapping of feet on tiles, and I stand in the middle of a dead and holy place. I am standing still. The end of a grappling hook flits past, the rope hums with tension (for just a moment), and then goes slack as a man flings himself at me. I take a step to the side, and unknown mechanisms set to work in the massive hunk of metal on my back. By the time I reach the hilt, my greatsword has unfolded to half of its full length. The second half snaps into place mid swing. The momentum carries me forward into the side of the man’s body, in flight. Something cracks and he hits the ground hard. I take a second advancing swing, catching him as he stands. He hits the ground again. And then I bring the sword up, the tip of the blade is twice my height now, and I bring it down. I expect the feedback of bone, then dirt. A two-step crack. Instead, metal screams and my arms go numb, as the man catches my swing with the flat of his longsword.
Quick violence happens and my armor is broken and I am bleeding.
Naraka: Bladepoint does not, as many action games from the last five years, feel like a descendent of Dark Souls, instead, it feels more like a fighting game with mouse aim. Each weapon has two main types of attack, horizontal and vertical strikes, which you can chain into different combos. Horizontal strikes are used for fighting multiple opponents, or for getting in on an enemy as they’re usually coupled with a bit more forward momentum. Each horizontal swing of the greatsword feels like your character is trying to control a barely leashed dog, wrenching their whole body forward. Vertical strikes are generally higher damage with a smaller hit box, and often capable of launching or knocking down opponents.
The game also breaks each of these attacks into two categories: basic attacks and focus strikes. Basic attacks are, as expected, fast and relatively low damage. You can do good work with a good combo, but the big numbers come from the focus strikes included therein. Focus strikes are moves you can charge, which also have a bit of super armor (the ability to charge or complete an attack while taking damage). Focus attacks, generally, beat basic attacks. However, focus attacks can be countered, leading to a powerful parry attack and lengthy stun or knockdown—basic strikes can’t. This leads to the sorts of mind games that one generally expects from a fighting game.
The feeling comes back to my arms. I catch his blade with mine once, then twice, then side-step (this leaves him open but I do not notice it), then swing, blade caught, then step back, he begins to dash in close and I know that he will kill me if I do not end him in the next swing. I raise my sword to my shoulder, he drives his own blade into my side but I am dying and angry, so I keep going. I feel a muscle in my shoulder strain, and then the two-step crack. Then, it is very quiet and I am alone in a dead and holy place, again.
It is worth noting how that combat feels, though. Naraka: Bladepoint attacks are, at the same time, snappy and floaty. The longsword, for example, swings extremely fast, leading to a responsive feel, but its hitboxes linger in the air for a moment. This same descriptor applies to the game’s grappling hook, which tethers to specific objects and pulls you directly to them instead of allowing you to swing across the map in freeform ways. This means fights can either feel excellent, or leave you utterly confused as to how you ended up dead on the ground, or why a given attack didn’t come out, or how your opponent started using massive, demonic swords to fling blasts of energy at you in the middle of a fight.
Naraka: Bladepoint is, at its best, feels like a 3D fighting game with unique camera controls. It is about reading your opponent’s playstyle, correctly guessing what their response is going to be to your approach or the next move they’re about to use on you, and then taking advantage of that hard read. Most fights will end after a few clean combos, but those are few and far between on account of the game’s clash mechanic. Basic attacking at the same time as your opponent leads to a weapon clash, where both players take limited damage and are knocked back. Focus attacks, however, will go straight through, unless facing another focus attack which has been charged for the same amount of time.
At low level play, most fights are so scrappy and chaotic as to lose almost all coherency. Players wildly attack the air, focus on sprinting around each other to attack from behind, and rely on a lot of luck to sneak a hit in. Even in low level play though, there are moments where everything comes together and you end up with a truly excellent fight that you can’t stop thinking about for days, which means, as far as I’m concerned, it is a successful battle-royale.
Five minutes later, I am gutted in under 15 seconds as I flail awkwardly for my sword. I don’t even manage to make contact with my opponent, who I do not see for long enough to describe. They do a little jig over my body.
Naraka: Bladepoint is a game of inconsistent grace.