Die by the Sword (Windows)

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Written by  :  George Shannon (115)
Written on  :  Feb 09, 2000
Rating  :  4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars

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A typical fantasy action game with a plot older than gaming itself... and one of the most memorable and fun games I've ever played.

The Good

Die By The Sword (DBTS) features a new interface style, called VSIM (Virtual SIMulation) that lets your mouse control the torso of the main character, including the weapon he holds in his hand. This means one can control direction and character motion on the keyboard, and his fighting moves with the mouse. As the game's very apt MobyGames description says, fighting is totally unlike a normal fighting game, with a 'punch' key, 'kick' key, etc.. VSIM allows you whatever move you want, taking out the click-fest middleman. It adds an amazing level of immersion. I loved just sitting in a quiet area and practicing different moves.

Does this work well against the game's enemies? DEAR LORD YES. Fighting the enemies in DBTS - which are typical, but superbly well-done - is incredibly fun. The virtual reality created by the VSIM system creates a kind of visceral immersion, where button-punching no longer exists, and you're allowed whatever moves fit the terrain, enemy, and your style of play. Fortunately, for those who can't handle the VSIM system, a more typical fighting-style interface is available, bless those clever designers.

Graphics-wise, Die By The Sword is pretty nicely done. Character modeling is great, allowing locational damage - which means you can select what extremities you'd like to remove from your enemy. The terrain engine is decent, and does its job, featuring excellent textures that fit the appropriate area. The traps are surprisingly well done, and even include rope traps that lift you right off the ground and suspend you in mid-air - and still let you fight off the coming ambush. Sounds are also well-done, with great grunts and howls appropriate to each enemy. Music is absolutely great - this guy/girl should be making albums. The music, featuring Star Wars - style classical background music, never got repetative and never got in the way of the action, yet added a lot to gameplay. Very nicely done.

One last thing I should mention - the main character, Elric. Elric is a very angry Scottish swordsman, and is played... well... to the hilt. His comments, synchonized to battle events, are absolutely great. The actor who played him is to be commended, as well as the designers who built his character. Also included is a long monolouge by Elric after the game is done, describing his quest in detail - a wonderful addition.

The Bad

Man and woman are together. Woman is carried off by monsters for evil wizard's nefarious purposes. Man chases woman. Man fights off monsters, pushing levers, getting keys, evading traps. Man confronts evil wizard, says cool one-liner, kills wizard, saves woman.

The plot in DBTS is cliche. It's old. As a stand-alone element, it'd be another lame fantasy story. But this isn't the point, surprisingly. (sorry to warp the topic) DBTS handles this plot amazingly well, breathing new life into an otherwise tired story. No, I didn't like the plot itself. But I loved the way it was handled. If you buy games for plot alone, I doubt you'll like DBTS.

Another problem with DBTS is that it's hard. Really hard. Even playing on the easy level, I had trouble with the early parts of the game, not to mention the hordes of creatures that come later. The enemy AI is a little frustrating, if simply because when two enemies are present, they both charge you, making defending yourself quite difficult. VSIM seems more suited to a dueling system, and multiple enemies, which happens often, kind of takes away from the gameplay.

The Bottom Line

Die By The Sword, for me, is a classic. Not because of the plot (which most of my personal classics are based on) but because of the gameplay. DBTS almost seems like a proof-of-concept game at times, and the concept works great. It has gotten me to replay it several times, often all the way through in one night. I'd be trying to calm down my heart, listening to Elric's endgame rant, turn my head, and see morning peeking through my window. I sincerely hope VSIM isn't lost to the sands of time and big business. Applied to another game, with better plot, the addition of RPG elements, the next incarnation of VSIM could be the next step towards a virtual reality gaming system.

And it'll be a screaming Scottsman leading the charge.