Bleak Sword DX is full of stunningly realised dioramas and satisfyingly savage combat

Say what you want about Apple Arcade but many of our favourite indie games of the moment started life there.

Such as this latest from Devolver Digital and more8bit. Bleak Sword, a brutal, slash-em-up set across multiple dioramas, was a mobile hit just a few years back, now it’s back in DX form on PC and Switch.

So you could say this is the definitive edition of the game, and it certainly comes with its fair share of new and improved content. On top of the newly added boss rush and arena modes, is an expanded and improved campaign experience with all the available DLC and refined visuals and controls.

While the additional modes do exactly what they say on the tin and will be familiar to just about every gamer, some Bleak Sword infused twists include no items to help you in the Arena mode, and boss rush doesn’t let you level up or use items either. Eesh.

But the campaign is the meat and bones of this whole thing and is where you’ll likely be spending the most time. Twelve chapters that just steadily get more brutal and challenging. Which might just sound like music to the ears of Souls-like players.

It starts simple enough, fighting a dummy and then taking on flying bats and wolves, but things quickly escalate following the first boss battle. You’ll soon be traipsing through waters, deflecting projectiles while trying to fend off flailing tentacles, riding on horseback to evade spike traps, and even fighting through enemies as quickly as possible before walls close in on you.

That’s the thing that impressed me the most about Bleak Sword – the game does a good job of reinventing itself in each chapter. Whether it’s new terrain which, in turn, can create new environmental hazards or offer new aesthetical insights, the different enemy types – all of which have their own quirks and patterns to learn – and the levelling up and item system that keeps you invested.

But the reason I call out Souls-like players here is the importance of evasion and blocking as much as hacking and slashing. It’ll feel familiar to those who’ve taken on the challenge of Gwyn, or Knight Artorias. It’s on a more simplified level, for sure, but the essence of staying focused, not getting too eager with your strikes, and even hoping for a bit of cheap luck as enemy projectiles can hurt friendlies. That can be the difference in you surviving the wave or succumbing to your injuries.

Further still, our character chills out at a campfire between stages and if they do fall at any point, they have one chance to reclaim their lost items and experience by replaying the level, otherwise it’s lost forever. Sound familiar?

Bleak Sword DX has this unusual, but aesthetically pleasing Virtual Boy esque look to it. The game isn’t in 3D, but the way the dioramas are positioned within the screen, with slight rotations as you move and even activity happening around it like thunder storms and blizzards, it’s really smartly designed and actually quite beautiful to look at.

Also the way the environments themselves sometimes are presented to you at a left or right angle to really enhance that 3D perspective, and it even plays into the individual stage as sometimes enemies can hide behind pillars or even you could be the one to do that. Very clever.

It certainly makes for a significant upgrade from the mobile version as lighting is more pronounced, the 3D effect is more clear to see, the sounds of the strikes and deflections are more crisp and defined, and the game runs so smoothly. Plus the experience really benefits from using a controller.

That said, I had a couple of odd instances on PC where the game just suddenly lost connection to the controller in the middle of a fight and I had to force a hard restart.

I would also say the limitations of just using one attack do get a bit repetitive overtime and I did sometimes find my blocks were cut through despite timing them precisely. Considering how tough enemies get late on and even how much damage they can deal, it can definitely be the difference between life and death.

All that said, Bleak Sword DX was suitably punishing and enjoyably cruel in its never-ending pursuit of putting you in the hot seat. Compiling your bestiary and experimenting with different item combinations, making the tough calls on what to take and drop between levels definitely gives a bit of pause and adds an additional layer of thought to a game some might disregard as one-dimensional.


Bleak Sword DX is a good challenge with a wonderfully designed retro 3D aesthetic, a steadily paced, increasing difficulty of enemies to keep the content feeling fresh, and some nice gameplay changes to ensure you’ll stick with it through the fun times and the rough. Odd disconnection issues, combat and control repetition and responsiveness do add to the frustrations a bit, but not enough to deter you from this satisfyingly savage slasher. 


+ Wonderful use of diorama and 3D visual effects
+ A nice gradual change of objectives, pace and difficulty as you progress
+ Good value and amount of content for the price


– Minor controller disconnection issues on PC
– Combat can feel a bit repetitive overtime 

Bleak Sword DX is out now on PC and Switch

Code Kindly Provided by Devolver Digital for review purposes

Played on PC

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