Graven is the latest game from resurrected publisher 3D Realms. Like its recent releases Ion Fury and Wrath, Graven is a throwback to 1990s PC first-person shooters, this time being a spiritual successor to Hexen and Heretic. It’s a visual delight to run around the world of Graven, kicking bad guys and exploring a creepy swamp. But Graven, which is in Early Access, suffers from a bad intro and some real boring combat.
Developed by Slipgate Ironworks, Graven tells the story of a mage-like priest who’s betrayed by his fellow priests and sect. Once exiled, now returned to track down the leaders of his old religious sect, killing them before they can bring more plagues and death to the world. You know, that old chestnut. To save the world and get some revenge, the main character of Graven is able to use swords, crossbows, spells, and even his own mighty kick via first-person combat set in gorgeously hand-crafted levels.
Graven looks like it was built in a highly modified version of the Quake engine or some other retro game engine of old. But in reality, it was created using a modern version of Unreal. However, the devs have done a fantastic job recreating the look of an older first-person shooter, while creating their own style in the process. Graven mixes low-res textures and simple models with high-quality lighting and physics. The result is an odd but compelling mashup of new and old. It often looks like how I remembered old games looking.
Sadly, while Graven’s style is impressive, I found the combat to be less so. Part of the problem is how the game starts. Within a few minutes you’re told to go kill zombies in a sewer, Which is not a very exciting or original start to a game. And the only weapon you have at the start is a crappy staff. The game does include spells, but oddly, these don’t damage enemies. Publicly available development notes suggest that this might change in the future, as many players seem confused by it. And I hope it does. Having a fire spell that can only be used to solve puzzles or blow up barrels is disappointing. If you’re going to make me slog through zombies, let me set them ablaze!
Once out of the sewer the game opens up appreciably, even in this limited Early Access build. After that terrible staff, it was amazing to find a small wrist-mounted crossbow and sword. These weapons actually did damage and killed things quickly. Yet even with better weapons, combat is often still a bore. Enemies can be easily stunlocked and move too slowly in general. But, like the spell issue I mentioned, Slipgate Ironworks mentions these combat problems in its public dev notes. So I’m hopeful, with some tweaks, the combat will become more engaging and fun.
Currently in Early Access, Graven is clearly not finished. 3D Realms and the developers aren’t hiding that fact, and are actively asking for and taking feedback from players. But even in this early state, with its sometimes boring combat and bad intro, I found myself wanting to play more. So I’m rooting for Graven to improve, to get more features, and to generally fix a lot of its obvious issues. It’s tough to recommend in its current state, but I can sense a great video game buried in here, and I hope I get to play it.