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At the start of the “Soulsborne” genre, a certain formula was established. Resources could be lost upon death, every enemy could be a challenge, and combat was methodical and deliberate. Then Sekiro released, eschewing the standard waters with more linear progression and a combat system that was fast-paced. It relied much more on deflects than dodges, turning every combat opportunity into a deadly rhythm game. No other Souls-style title dared pit a comparable fighting system into the mix with lightning-quick combat and all-or-nothing rhythmic parries. None have dared, until Thymesia.
Thymesia, published by Team17 and developed by OverBorder Studio, is an entry in the Souls genre that attempts some mad alchemy. Seeing as its story is centered on finding an alchemical formula that will rid the world of a mortal plague, it is fitting that the game itself mixes a unique gameplay brew of its own. That brew is quite compelling, indeed, mixing the classic RPG stats and levels of a typical Souls game with the incredible combat that made Sekiro legendary. However, instead of relying almost solely on timing deflects, Thymesia makes sure dodging is imperative as well, much more than Sekiro ever did, ensuring every enemy encountered becomes an epic, and fair, game of rock-paper-scissors.
Each enemy is almost fair to a fault, proudly telegraphing every move with a colorful and graphical cue, or lack thereof, that triggers the player’s response. The baddies may simply wind up an attack, letting the player know they must time the deflect. Or a green glow of doom may appear, advertising a “critical attack” that cannot normally be parried, but can be interrupted with fine timing of a feather, Thymesia’s version of a ranged projectile. These moves can often be dodged, too, but it is not always clear if that will be the case. Finally, a few particularly nasty foes can glow red, letting you know it’s time to reset your game if you happen to be too close when they do.
Red moves, deemed “ultimates,” seem insanely unfair at first and are the only moves I would say go against the “fair to a fault” mentality of the combat. They cannot be deflected, interrupted, or dodged. If you are in range, you will get hit, the game tells us. We’ll get back to this in just a second. In the mean time, players will quickly figure out two things. One, by keeping just a bit of a distance during the enemy phases that have these moves, players can quickly dart backwards, away from the danger. And two, it hardly ever happens.
I’ve done everything in Thymesia, and off the top of my head, I can think of just a handful of enemies that even have red moves. And only one of them is the kind where you need to have your last will and testament ready to go in case you see it. Beyond that, at least two of them can absolutely be dodged, countering the advice given by the game. To be fair, the description does say that Corvus, the main character, must simply avoid the range of the attack, but when the “range” of the attack is straight forward, it seems like dodging to the side means the move can, indeed, be dodged.
Anyway, with these semantics out of the way, red moves, like the green and colorless attacks, can be dealt with once properly learned. And getting back to the “fair to a fault” statement, Thymesia mostly lacks the feeling of utter dread where the odds seem impossible. This isn’t a bad thing, of course, but it means most of the focus is on figuring out the timing and move sets of each opponent. As such, the combat needs to deliver.
So with the basic overview of the combat out of the way, let’s dive into what makes Thymesia so special. In blending the Souls style of dodges with the deflection system of Sekiro, Thymesia adds another concept to the mix. It is something that I swore I would despise when I first learned of it, but I quickly realized the brilliance of it: each enemy in Thymesia has essentially two health bars that must be dealt with by different means.
These two health bars marry on top of each other, and depleting them requires you to use your two main weapons in tandem. Your first weapon is a saber, which deals surface damage, depleting an enemy’s white health bar and leaving “wounds” on the enemy. These wounds are represented by a green health bar that is left over from the white one, and Corvus must use his second weapon, a claw, to deal damage directly to the wounds. It sounds like a lot on paper, but once you play with the game’s systems, you realize how everything works together like a perfect concoction.
When you level up, you choose basically saber (Strength), claw (Plague), or health (Vitality). Each of these comes with its own perks, as well. Strength, for instance, not only affords the saber more damage to the overall health bar, but it causes more wounds, exposing more green bar. While you could technically only use the saber to defeat an opponent since it also slightly depletes the overall maximum health bar, it does so little overall damage that it isn’t really feasible. Instead, the claw will quickly mop up the green portions of the enemy’s health bar as it does an insanely huge amount of damage to it. If you wait too long, however, the enemy’s white bar will fill up the green portion as they heal their wounds. By changing up attacks between saber and claw, you’ll start to feel the flow that has you managing each color of the bar like a masterful art.
While the saber, claw, and the aforementioned ranged feathers do grant an interesting amount of combat variety, there is an extra component that further deepens the system. If you hold the claw button down, you will charge it up, unleashing a “Reave” ability. This pulls a “plague weapon” from the enemy you’re facing. There are twenty one different types of plague weapons, and these are your sort of “magic” in the game. In Thymesia, you use “energy” (governed by the Plague stat, which also governs the claw) to use your equipped plague weapon. You may also store one plague weapon as a free, one-time-use item, but you’ll mostly be using the one you have equipped.
Each of the plague weapons can be upgraded by pulling multiple weapons from the enemies. This adds perks, such as costing less energy to use, powering their damage up, and adding optional ways to use them. Plus, each gains additional perks if your stats (Strength, Vitality, and Plague) reach a certain threshold.
Figuring out what stats you need to upgrade is part of the fun, but you must be meticulous. In Thymesia, the level cap is 50. If your plague weapon gets a cool perk at Plague level 20, but you only reach 19 by the time you’re at the 50 max, you will need to use a “Forgotten Feather” to respec your stats and get that perk.
Also, for the first 25 levels, you will gain a talent point. These are used in the various talent trees which can drastically change how you play the game. In combination with your plague weapons, the talent trees are how you will differentiate your play style build from all of the rest. Down each talent tree, which include items like Saber, Deflect, Feather, and several others, there are branching paths that will have you make a choice. Once you choose one path, the other is blocked off, locking you in to a particular style.
That “lock” can easily be picked, however, as talents can be changed any time you wish at a “Beacon” (Thymesia’s version of bonfires). You can change your talents as much as you like without any item needed or penalty, so you may explore your options to see what style best fits you. One thing you must be careful about, however, is that you only have 24 possible talent points. Once you reach level 25, you’ll basically have your full build as far as talents go, and with 75 possible options to unlock, you certainly will not be able to unlock everything the talent trees have to offer.
Finding the best combination of talents and plague weapons is a true joy, however, as the talents work in perfect harmony with not only each other, but with the standard weapons and plague weapons. Discovering combinations that fundamentally change the flow of combat got me excited to face more foes to exact some alchemical justice on their hides. Of course, combat is only one part of the game.
Should you embrace Thymesia as a new action-RPG with a heavy emphasis on action, you’ll find a lot to like. If, however, you go into Thymesia expecting a new and fully realized Souls experience, you may come away a bit disdained. It certainly plays like a Souls game, but it doesn’t have nearly the options that most of the games in the genre do.
Outside of the talent trees and plague weapons, there are very few items you will discover throughout the game. You will find plenty of plague weapons, granting you new ones along with upgrades. There are plenty of keys to find as well, allowing you to access previously locked-off portions of an area. And then, given that Thymesia is all about the alchemy, you’ll find potion upgrades and ingredients.
Potions work like flasks from the Souls series, giving you health when you drink them. You have a set amount of potions that you carry, and every time you rest at a Beacon, your maximum amount is replenished while most of the enemies in the area are revived. Three different types of potions are encountered in the game, and you must choose which one best suits you. One gives instant health, another grants health over time while providing more overall health, and a third is quicker to use while granting the fewest overall health, but more of these can be held at a maximum.
Throughout Thymesia, you will face certain enemies that are not bosses, but are more challenging than most other enemies. The first time you defeat each of these enemies, you’ll receive an item that will upgrade your potions. You upgrade each potion type separately, and you may choose to increase the maximum amount of potions, increase the amount of health each swig will grant, or unlock up to three ingredient slots.
Ingredient slots represent the bulk of the other items you’ll discover throughout your time in Thymesia. By unlocking these slots, your potion will not only give health, but also the effects of the the ingredients as well, working much like the Wondrous Physick in Elden Ring. It has many more options than that, and when all three of the ingredient slots are unlocked, if you choose the correct combination of ingredients, you will discover various formulas that unlock additional benefits.
That wraps up all of the items you will find. Again, if you go into Thymesia like the action-Souls hybrid it has formulated, this isn’t a bad thing. But some may have expectations that will not be quenched. It doesn’t help that the game is relatively short, with only a handful of main areas to boot.
Each area has one main path that leads to an awesome boss. After that, there are several sub-levels that will rework the pathing of the level and even open up new areas. Some also contain new bosses, whose slayings are needed for the type of ending you receive.
At the end of the game, you will be asked to choose 2 of the story items you receive from bosses, and depending on which two you choose, you will receive one of five different endings. I took the liberty to beat the end boss a couple of dozen times to discover each of these endings, and two of the endings are dependent on the order in which you choose the items, so that matters in those instances as well.
After this, your game ends. There is no new game plus mode, which is a major bummer considering the work that was already brilliantly done in changing the pathing and enemy locations in the stages. It seems a major miss as Thymesia is lacking a lot of replay value.
Another miss, in my opinion, is the complete lack of multiplayer. Given the incredible combat system, it is a shame that there is no way to face off against other would-be alchemists. Also, there is no asynchronous aspect of multiplayer, either. Not every game needs to have multiplayer, of course, but it’s a minor miss for me because the fighting is just so fun, here.
So Thymesia is a game that will affect gamers differently depending on expectations. It lacks variety in items, locations, and even enemy types. But fighting them never gets old. It can be very challenging, but once you learn the enemy patterns and tells, it can seem almost too fair at times. It is the only Souls game where I felt too powerful at the end. There is a very fun journey to be had in the process, but know that it’s just a different blend than usual.
Those expecting a comprehensive Souls experience will likely be let down by the lack of overall depth found in Thymesia. This is a game that clearly focuses on combat, but it does so in a manner that truly surprised me. Besides the amazing Sekiro, there is not a more fun combat experience in a Souls game than what is experienced in Thymesia. Though it may be lacking in some areas, it is always fun to best baddies throughout the game. And even if there isn’t a new game plus, I am still eager to go through the game again with a completely different combination of talents and plague weapons. Thymesia absolutely has it where it counts, and when fun and engaging gameplay comes first, that is always a winning formula.