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Song of Iron Game review

Game review 02 September 2021, 16:00

author: Giancarlo Saldana

Song of Iron Review: An Axe in Need of Polish

Song of Iron is the result of one solo developer’s hard work and determination to turn his ideas into a video game. This is Joe Winter’s first solo project and it is truly a labor of love.

The review is based on the PC version. It's also relevant to XSX, XONE version(s).

A side-scrolling action adventure, Song of Iron follows a Viking who seeks revenge after his village is pillaged and his loved one is killed. It has all the makings of a great adventure and looks and sounds amazing, but some bugs and combat choices keep it from truly shining.

PROS:
  1. Impressive foreground and background effects and visuals;
  2. An immersive soundtrack;
  3. One cool boss battle.
CONS:
  1. Combat isn’t rewarding and can mostly be skipped;
  2. Abilities don’t have a purpose;
  3. Picking things up is a pain;
  4. Bugs ruin the experience.

Minimalistic in nature, the game doesn’t tell you what to do besides some introductory control explanation. You can swing your sword, pull up your shield, or shoot arrows with your bow in addition to jumping and running. It’s also very much a platformer so you’ll be jumping on ledges, climbing up and walls, and crouching to go through tight spaces.

Combat Woes

Controls aren’t a problem when you’re moving around, but when you get into fights with enemy humans and monsters, things start to go downhill. Swinging your ax or sword sometimes feels delayed and it doesn’t always register when you hit the key or button. Foes also will crowd around you so your attacks will be interrupted often or you may not be able to get a hit in if you don’t make enough space between you and your enemy.

In fact, sometimes it’s probably better to just skip fighting altogether and just run. Unfortunately (or fortunately), only certain battles in the game are required so you can actually run away from nearly all encounters by rolling past an enemy or jumping over them. It’s a shame there are only a handful of “bosses” that you need to beat as even some of the more menacing monsters can be easily skipped if you run past them.

What’s worse, running away opens up some glitches or bad design choices when entering cutscenes or conversations. If there are enemies in your surroundings, they will continue to hit you even while the cutscene is playing, and you won’t be able to attack or skip the cutscene either. You are basically stuck there until it finishes or until you die. If this was put in the game on purpose, it’s an unfair punishment for players who like speed runs.

There aren’t any menus either so you will never know how many arrows you have left until you hear the twang of your bow meaning you’re out. Getting more arrows involves picking them up from fallen enemies or on the ground, but the problem is that enemies also drop shields and swords. You can swap weapons by picking up different ones, but say you only want to pick up some arrows. Chance are you will pick up the sword instead meaning you just lost the axe you were holding. Luckily, it doesn’t seem like weapons vary in damage so maybe it doesn’t really matter. It’s annoying nonetheless.

Nordic Wonders

Despite lacking in the combat department, Song of Iron makes up for it in the atmosphere it creates throughout your journey. Your Viking will venture through forests, caves, and even snowy mountains that are accompanied by some beautiful visuals and lighting effects in both the foreground and background making its settings feel dense, robust, and mysterious. Enemies can also be seen coming from all directions, giving the game a very 3D feel despite its 2D format.

Its soundtrack also features some intense music that matches the mood of your journey and the landscape around you. Its battles may not be that climactic, but its Nordic-inspired music makes it feel like every fight or climb up a cliff is an epic endeavor.

Puzzles and Traps

Its level design also gives the game some exploratory elements as you will need to travel through various corridors and levels to locate switches to open the way forward. It’s no Metroidvania per se, but there will be moments you need to backtrack to certain spots after acquiring new abilities.

It’s a shame these abilities aren’t more useful either and are only required in certain areas. An increased in speed is great wherever you are, but a fire sword or lighting arrow probably only help if you engage in combat a lot, but we know how that turns out by now.

There are also various simple block and platforming puzzles to solve that require some bit of thinking. If anything, these moments help change the pace from simply running from point to the other and offer some welcomed challenge along the way albeit very simple in nature. These traps aren’t impossible by any means, but make one wrong move and get hit even once and you need to start over. Their patterns are easy to learn but will help keep you on your toes.

To be Continued…

Lasting about 3 hours or less to complete, Song of Iron is a short-lived adventure. Its narrative is told through short conversations so everything else that happens in between is up to you to figure out. The last part of the game provides a nice twist in the story and its ending makes it seem like your journey is far from over.

And that’s good.

Like a weathered axe, Song of Iron needs polish. Its combat needs refinement, its bugs are frustrating, and its ability and item system need to be fleshed out more. Where it shines is in its soundtrack and presentation that showcase the ideas one person had to create the game he envisioned. And with its credits hinting at a sequel, there is no place to go but up.

Giancarlo Saldana | Gamepressure.com

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