There is a sense of longing, a loss felt by the entire world as it falls slowly into decay; the longing for hope as all seems to be on its last legs. The atmosphere hanging over everything in Hyper Light Drifter is thick, you get the feeling of a world filled with people just clinging to life.

Sickness grips everything, even the most powerful of warriors seem to be gripped by it. The world is one that is crumbling around everyone, hints of a time gone by when everything was greater and stronger litter every space. The environment is constantly out to get you, traps stab and crush, floors crumble, and wildlife is relentlessly aggressive.

Playing Hyper Light Drifter reminds one of Shadow of the Colossus, with hints of Metroid, Zelda, Dark Souls, and even the complete world-building of Fez. You are very quickly drawn into the world of Hyper Light Drifter, thanks in no small part to the affecting and haunting soundtrack by Disasterpiece, a striking and spine-tingling soundscape that helps to fill each and every crevice of the world with wind.

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This is a game that excels in wordless environmental storytelling, even in conversations with NPC characters it relies on pictograms and abstract symbols to convey a message. It takes a willingness to immerse yourself in the world to truly get as much as you can from the experience. This could be an unfriendly experience for some new players, along with a very punishing in-game experience, the abstraction of information is one that forces commitment.

It’s important to state here, Hyper Light Drifter is a very challenging experience. At times it can feel unfairly challenging. The in-game combat is a mix of melee, limited long range shots, and dodging. To see real success, you need to become versed with mixing these skills up. Very quickly the world fills with opponents, each capable of killing you in quick order, but all the more deadly when mixed up with two or three others. True success comes from a mix of enemy management and timing. With practice the drifter becomes a death-dealing machine, dashing in for two quick slashes, dashing away, popping off a shot from his gun and dashing back for another strike once it’s safe.

This juggling act can become very challenging even for the best of combatants, with it being very easy for you to become swamped by several overly aggressive foes.

In the local town, it’s possible to upgrade your skill set, obtaining new sword strikes and dash manoeuvres, but these are skills that offer as much risk as they do reward, holding you in one spot for a charge attack that could easily kill several around you, but also leaving you open to a death strike.

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The world’s dungeons are also filled with often very cruel trap placements, instakills that often feel unavoidable. This wouldn’t feel too bad for the most part as you re-spawn quite quickly, but far too often spawn points are much further back then entirely fair. One death can put you back at the start of a long corridor filled with very tough fights and instakill traps. Each fight through these sections feeling more soul-draining than rewarding.

That’s not to say that Hyper Light Drifter isn’t rewarding. Mastering the combat here is very much so. It just feels like a very hard slog at times to continue making your way through.

There is a truly beautiful and haunting world here to explore, one filled with worthy challenges that may put some of those looking for something lighter off. Commitment is required for completion. Hyper Light Drifter is a very tight challenge and a great throwback to classic adventure gaming, just be prepared for a challenge going in.

{Note from the writer: In the interest of transparency, the reviewer originally paid towards the Hyper Light Drifter Kickstarter campaign. This game was reviewed on PlayStation 4 and the copy paid for by the reviewer}  

Robin Smith is a freelance journalist and contributor to PN2. He’s on Twitter @seiibutsu

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