Anybody that knows me well can tell you that I'm not an action-combat gamer. I do not like games that kill me repeatedly, purporting to "teach" me through death. The word "parry" is an anathema to me, as is the concept of timing said parries to match the attacks of enemies. Hell, I only started dodging in games because Monster Hunter and Dauntless forced me to do so. Do I like complex combat in games? It should be clear that I do not.
And yet, something about Strayed Lights - which is full of parries, dodges, and complex combat - pushed a grudging sense of admiration from my bitter soul. The combat system at work here is so audaciously brain-breaking that I found myself leaning into it. I found myself dying in combat against the game's ruthlessly aggressive bosses, and reupping, running eagerly back for more. It didn't hurt that my six-year-old son decided that he enjoyed watching me play Strayed Lights, which had the dual effect of making me feel less alone in my trials and tamping down the endless stream of curse words that would have otherwise flown forth.
I think I should clarify something. When I say "complex combat", I don't mean that the combat uses nine different buttons, and has you jumping and whirling around like a spitting dervish. No, I'm referring more to the "patting your head and rubbing your stomach" type of complexity. Strayed Lights asks you to do some things that just didn't feel natural to me with a controller, and it was that discordant retraining of my brain that I found myself most engaged with. I liked that it was pushing me.
It's possible to fight early battles in Strayed Lights with just two buttons, the L1 and R1 bumpers (I played on PlayStation). The R1 is the dreaded Parry button, which causes enemy attacks to bounce harmlessly off the player character. The L1 button changes your character color, shifting them between orange and blue. Here's the key to success: the enemy also shifts color. If you block an orange enemy attack with an orange parry, you do damage to the bad guy and you heal yourself. Likewise with parrying blue when you are blue. Ahh, but there is a rub. The enemies can also turn purple, which means they are going to unleash an unblockable attack which must either absorbed, outrun, or dodged. And when an enemy is purple, they can quickly turn themselves orange OR blue, which means that the player has to either try to anticipate what color the attack will be, or be awfully swift with that L1 button.
This changing in color-coded "stance" might be old hat to experienced combat game players, but for me it was a juggling act of the highest difficulty. Sure, it was manageable in the early fights. I wouldn't even bother dodging the purple attacks, secure that I could quickly heal up from the damage inflicted with a few well-timed parries. But as the game progressed, the combos became more complex. The color swaps became more rapid and unpredictable. The parries became harder to time. And I began swallowing even more curse words to prevent my six-year-old from wandering into the first grade and telling his teacher to blank his blank, you blanking blank.
My two-button method didn't last long, by the way. I eventually had to cave in and start dodging, and attacking back. The enemies in the game are far more varied than I initially expected. You can see them hanging out in the distance sometimes, giving you that sinking "Oh no, what is that thing?" feeling. Yes, I did have to fight most of these things several times, and some of them I had to fight a lot of time. Some I even had to walk away from and come back later, lest I start hurling the controller at my television.
I should also mention, lest anyone thinks that Strayed Lights is a dedicated Soulslike, that there are few penalties for dying. The worst you have to endure is a short run back to the bad guy that killed you, which helped me get past some of my aversion to games of this sort. The sting of death was a lot less stingy than I expected.
The story in Strayed Lights is very abstract. Watching the opening cut-scene prompted my older son to say "Oh, this game is philosophical", which, yes, I have to agree with. There is something going on here regarding dual identities, or perhaps the duality of the spirit. There's an ancient civilization to be explored, and some rubble laying around that suggests events long past might still be haunting the swaying, sparse population.
The visuals here are gorgeous, with bold, bright colors, and smooth, charming animations. This is a very nice-looking game. The stylized nature of the graphics fit in well with what the game is doing, I think. The first game that came to mind to compare Strayed Lights to visually was Pathless; though the color palates are different, the vibe is pretty similar. The music is also quite lovely, conveying surprising moods in moments where they aren't expected.
I also enjoyed the rather lengthy periods of Strayed Lights that didn't ask me to fight anyone. There is a fair amount of exploration to be done, and some minor puzzle solving to engage in that lets you catch your breath a little bit after finally defeating a giant orange boulder-hurling ape-thing. The game design in these sections is intuitive. Like the rest of Strayed Lights, it doesn't do much to hold your hand (there's no map, for example), but that's because the game is so well-designed that it doesn't need to.
So yes, I enjoyed Strayed Lights (and my six-year-old enjoyed it even more). Some players might find it easy; I did not. This is not my specialty, but I enjoyed spending time here nonetheless. I can't say that it has converted me over to spend a ton of time on Soulslike games, because it isn't exactly a Soulslike. But the bits that it borrows from that genre work well enough here, and the world and creatures are unique enough that I felt pretty good about the time I spent bashing my head against Strayed Lights.
Strayed Lights surprised me into liking it, though the action/combat genre isn't regularly my jam. The interesting mechanics kept me coming back - sometimes against my better judgement - and the beautiful visuals went a long way towards keeping me engaged. The combat in the game is deceptively straightforward, but the ways you are forced to use it continuously ramp up the difficulty in an enjoyable way. This game might feel simple for some, but it was difficult enough for me that I felt pretty proud when I would down one of the bigger baddies. Recommended.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Howdy. My name is Eric Hauter, and I am a dad with a ton of kids. During my non-existent spare time, I like to play a wide variety of games, including JRPGs, strategy and action games (with the occasional trip into the black hole of MMOs). I am intrigued by the prospect of cloud gaming, and am often found poking around the cloud various platforms looking for fun and interesting stories. I was an early adopter of PSVR (I had one delivered on release day), and I’ve enjoyed trying out the variety of games that have released since day one. I've since added an Oculus Quest 2 to my headset collection. I’m intrigued by the possibilities presented by VR multi-player, and I try almost every multi-player game that gets released.
My first system was a Commodore 64, and I’ve owned countless systems since then. I was a manager at a toy store for the release of PS1, PS2, N64 and Dreamcast, so my nostalgia that era of gaming runs pretty deep. Currently, I play on Xbox Series X, PS5, PS4, PSVR, Quest 2, Switch, Luna, GeForce Now, (RIP Stadia) and a super sweet gaming PC built by John Yan. While I lean towards Sony products, I don’t have any brand loyalty, and am perfectly willing to play game on other systems.
When I’m not playing games or wrangling my gaggle of children, I enjoy watching horror movies and doing all the other geeky activities one might expect. I also co-host Spielberg Chronologically, where we review every Spielberg film in order, which you can find wherever you get your podcasts.
Follow me on Twitter @eric_hauter, and check out my YouTube channel here.View Profile