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Indie games are giving triple-A games a run for their money these days. With the popularity of games such as Journey and Hades, it’s easy to see why there’s such a large market for independent games. They’re often creative, beautiful, well-crafted games.
Such is the case with Song of Iron, which was released for Xbox and Steam on August 31, 2021. Developed by a single developer, Joe Winter, creator of Resting Relic development studio, and former Animator with 343 Industries, Song of Iron is a linear side-scroller with incredibly beautiful environments. The game’s story is subtle, yet based on the title, Song of Iron, it’s clear this is a tale told with weapons. This is a tale of revenge.
You begin the game as an unnamed, Nordic Viking armed with an axe and shield. You have the option to play as a female or male. As you walk towards your village, you see the village has been set ablaze and the villagers have been slain. You notice your loved one lying on the ground near death. You run towards her, and hold her in your arms, as she tells you Wolfrick did this, and asks you to save the villagers. In your possession is an ancient relic, a necklace that opens the door to the gods. To save the villagers means finding the Great Temple of the Gods, but you’ll encounter many road-blocks along the way.
As you stroll through your journey for revenge, you’ll encounter a multitude of enemies, a god, and a number of puzzles. In Song of Iron, there are no RPG elements, no skill trees, nor any leveling up. The combat is physics-based and took a bit of time to master. It is not easy.
There are various ways to take out enemies including drawing lightning arrows, to swinging swords swathed in fire. My personal favorite was the ability to throw weapons at enemies. It’s the most overpowered ability in the game, though admittedly, a very satisfying way to take out foes. You can roll forwards or backwards to avoid enemy attacks, but you also have a shield to block strikes. Your weapons and shields are easily replaceable as you can pick these items up from fallen enemies. Your shield will also break down over time, so you’ll replace it often.
Your character will find armor pieces left by the gods in various chests strewn about. These pieces will offer you magic skills such as electrical weapons and a speed boost. Your magic meter will drain as you use these skills, though there are stones you’ll find that regenerate your mana. Magic is useful in taking down bosses you encounter along the way.
Aesthetically, there is no voice acting in Song of Iron. The story is told with a few text boxes and keeps you immersed in the game. Whilst enemies approach you from the foreground and background, your character is situated in the center of the screen, or what I’d call the middle-ground, only moving forwards, backwards, up, or down. The game is filled with incredible music full of chants and drum beats that pick up as the combat intensifies.
I found the combat and puzzles to be both challenging and frustrating at times. There are no hints or hand-holding. When your character dies, you are set back to your last checkpoint, requiring you to repeat certain areas of the game. Your character’s stamina drains quickly, leaving you vulnerable to attacks from enemies, especially when faced with a horde.
I’m not particularly a fan of timing-based puzzles in video games, and Song of Iron has quite a few. Using your speed ability, you’ll jump over large areas and underneath Indiana Jones-style swinging hammers where I died often. Some were interesting however, such as a puzzle which requires you to light runes to open a door to the next area. This was my personal favorite puzzle in the game as it really required critical-thinking skills whilst exploring the area.
As difficult as the game can be, the environments are where Song of Iron truly shines. Artistically, this video game is stellar. From ascending a snowy mountain, to traversing forests and killing goblins in caves, the seamless and ever-changing environments give you the sense that your character has been on a long journey. I was most impressed by the mirrored-effects in the water, and the use of lighting, silhouettes, and shadows.
The scenery is quite realistic and I found myself taking photos often. The screen has minimal HUD so as not to detract from the beauty of the game such as an epic encounter with a dragon which was my favorite scene.
There were minimal issues within Song of Iron. I noticed a few spelling and grammatical errors throughout the game, but I forgive the sole-developer for being an artist and not a writer. Though, if he needs someone to help edit, I volunteer as tribute. Additionally, some of the controls were unresponsive, leaving my character standing in place taking damage from enemies. I also had to restart once due to an error I made in getting a box stuck in the wrong direction. Lastly, I felt aiming the bow to shoot arrows was a bit tedious and slow as well.
If you’re interested in experiencing the story again, there is a new game plus feature where you can retain your armor and magic, and play another round. There is also an achievement/trophy for completing the game without dying. While this offers replay value, it’s something I know will not be attainable for someone like myself who easily gets frustrated with timing-based puzzles.
It’s worth mentioning the story is the weakest part of the game (though, that’s not saying it’s bad), and though the story is at times unoriginal and confusing, the ending will leave you with more questions than answers. I have hope our questions will be answered in the sequel. That said, the combat in Song of Iron is enjoyable and the artistry itself is worth the playthrough. I personally had fun with Song of Iron, and despite the challenges, I am looking forward to seeing what a sequel will bring.