Review: Elderborn redefines genre

First person action mixes intense combat with amazing score


The first enemies players encounter are long-dead warriors in an ancient tomb. Courtesy of Hyperstrange.

Elderborn, released on Thursday, Jan. 30, is an intense, fast-paced roleplaying game (RPG) created by the developers Hyperstrange. It starts with the simple pick between two warriors, one male and one female. This has absolutely no effect on the rest of the game and it is a nice feature to choose if the player wants to be Conan or Queen Amethea, but a little more customization in how the player’s character looks like would have been nice. Afterward, it shows a hand-drawn cinematic of the two warriors battling out and whoever emerges victorious is the one the player chose. So begins the journey to Jurmum, the city of doom.

The game’s biggest strength is the combat. Normally, first-person melee combat has been a bane for game developers. Games like Skyrim have no substance and others like Mordhau have to dedicate the entirety of the game to in-depth melee combat, sacrificing other elements like story. Elderborn leans closer to the latter, as the game’s core is the adrenaline of a fight. Players will kick, dash and swing their way through hordes of withered zombies, fiery scorpions and legendary Jurmum warriors as the buttery smooth controls help with the incredibly fast pace of the game.

It is also obscenely brutal. Players should expect to die in droves as they understand the nature of Elderborn. The main character is like a wasp, deadly but fragile. Enemies hit with the force of trucks and every life is precious. Similar to the Dark Souls games, players carry experience points (XP) with their current life. If the player is killed, they must go to that spot where they last died to reclaim all of their lost XP; however, if the player dies before they make it to their death spot, they lose everything. This, combined with the fast-paced nature of fighting makes every life a dog fight as players inch farther into the city.

Players start in the deepest pit of the city and the goal is to work their way to the top. This means for the first chapter, which is roughly four hours long, a majority of the scenery will be of blue-tinted caverns and flowing lava pits. This later turns into drab tombs of fallen warriors and the equally dull overworld city. This is one of the game’s weaknesses; it needs color. The lava pits are some of the most beautiful sections of the game as the oranges contrast with the neutral background to make every battle feel like a ballad in a metal song. Perhaps in future installments, Hyperstrange will improve on this section but for Elderborn, it falls shy of OK.

In contrast, the score is downright amazing. It is a magnificent fusion of tribal hymns and heavy metal that makes players feel as if they are Conan the Barbarian in the lost city of Atlantis during the zombie apocalypse. What is interesting is the soundtrack pairs nicely with the dinginess. It builds a sense of hopelessness that instills the idea “I am alone in this chaos” that pushes players forward. Because there is no story, the music never has a reason to settle into lighter songs, it is near constant metal in the players’ ears. This can be a downside if players dislike it, but cleaving through the warriors of Jurmum to a heavy guitar solo sends gamers into a trance of carnage.

While players can find lore through hidden tablets, it is nearly totally removed from the main path of the game. The bosses aren’t too well explained and too little exist in the game. This is something that will hopefully be improved in future installments as there is heaps of potential for a game of its kind. The ruthless combat has gamers frothing for a reason to be fighting their way to the top. Instead, players are fighting for the sake of it.

Along with the dull setpieces, Elderborn is on the cusp of what could be considered digitized Valhalla where there is nothing but glorious combat. It is instead the Hyborian apocalypse and it has come in washed-out colors. With a rage-fuelled adrenaline of dying far too often against scorpions, Elderborn earns 3.5 out of 5 stars.