thymesia splash art featured image review
Content Type: Gaming Reviews
Date: August 16, 2022

When Thymesia’s initial trailer dropped many immediately pegged it as a Bloodborne clone; their interest in the game was therefore based on whether or not more Bloodborne was something they wanted. I too assumed it was yet another AA soulsborne clone, in the vein of Ashen or Mortal shell. Yet Thymesia is both more than – and less than – another soulslike.

You’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise. At first blush, it has all the telltales: you drop your currency when you die; the world is dark and dying; you have a limited number of refillable healing potions; there are bonfires beacons where you can replenish those healing potions at the cost of respawning all the normal enemies; the story is vague and told primarily through scraps of lore you find throughout the world. 

Despite all these similarities, Thymesia does many things differently – or even better than – Fromsoft’s massively influential games. The most noticeable difference is in the combat, which introduces a system that as far as I know is unique: When player character Corvus does damage with his primary weapon, his sabre, it inflicts a small amount of damage to the opponent’s health, but also deals a significantly larger chunk of damage as “wounds” – these appear as a green section of the enemy health bar. If the enemy isn’t damaged for a few seconds, these wounds will rapidly heal. However, Corvus can use his secondary attack, his claws, to remove these wounds, permanently inflicting the damage. 

thymesia claw

This system creates an interesting dynamic in which you’re encouraged to keep the pressure up on your enemy before their wounds heal, giving the combat a fast-paced, fighting game kind of rhythm. There is also the standard dodge and parry, plus a ranged feather attack that does a small amount of damage but is used to parry enemy attacks that can’t be parried normally (or it can be used to keep wounds up on an enemy). You can also steal enemy attacks for one-time-use, and wield similar — but permanent — Plague weapons, which use energy to inflict massive damage and frequently knockback as well. 

Parries inflict wounds, so it never feels bad to be on the defensive. The timing on the ranged parry was a bit weird, and I struggled to get the hang of it, mostly sticking to dodging unblockable attacks instead. Still, I found the combat satisfying. Overall, it feels more akin to something like Sifu or Sekiro than Dark Souls, with an emphasis on parrying and fights that generally involve you and your opponent trading long attack chains. 

The other way that Thymesia improves upon the soullike formula is with its talent tree. It’s fairly expansive and allows for an impressive range of upgrades and improvements, including changes to your base abilities. Some talents give the standard 5% damage buff to a specific attack, while others can modify your parry window – some even change your ranged feather attack into a melee attack, modify the kind of attack you do after dodging, or make it easier to regain energy. 

thymesia plague weapon

There are enough options that synergize that you can create a few different types of builds; what’s more, you can freely reset and reassign your talents at any save point. This feels especially good when you’re facing a boss for the third or fourth time and realize you can get rid of useless talents (like health regen when killing an enemy) and put them towards something that will help you take down your current foe. 

It’s a well-designed system, and one of the better talent trees I’ve seen. Unfortunately, the regular leveling system only has three stats you can upgrade: Vitality (Health), Strength (Saber Damage), and Plague (Claw/Plague Weapon damage). Given that you need both damage types to inflict meaningful damage on foes, it feels like you’re forced to upgrade them fairly equally, leaving you with a binary choice of more damage or more health. 

Another area in which Thymesia has new ideas is with its healing potions. You start with a fairly standard healing potion, but killing mini-bosses gives you a generic potion upgrade material you can choose to spend on more uses, more HP per use, or more ingredient slots. This final option allows you to further modify your potions with things like even more HP or temporary damage buffs. As you progress through the game, you unlock two additional potion variants: one that heals you for a massive amount over a period of time, and one that heals you less than the standard potion but can be used much more rapidly. 

I found myself switching to different potions, and changing their ingredients, depending on the boss. This in turn made it all the more exciting to find new ingredients or more upgrade materials for the potions, rewarding exploration – which was important, since unless you want to learn more about the story, there isn’t much motivation to explore Thymesia’s levels.

thymesia level design

This brings us to one of the areas in which Thymesia fails to live up to the games it draws inspiration from: its environment. While it isn’t outright ugly, and none of the models or textures are bad, you can tell that the team spent its budget on character design and animation, not on the levels. There’s no denying that Corvus moves gracefully, but he does so against a decidedly boring backdrop. 

While they loop back on themselves nicely – you’ll run into at least three or four “does not open from this side” doors per level – the levels lack notable landmarks, and rarely do they have more than one area that’s even distinguishable from the rest of the level. The potential frustration this might cause is mitigated by the choice to include signs that indicated the main path and optional paths throughout the level, but even if it never gets frustrating, it does make exploration more of a chore than it should be. I wanted to turn the corner and find something interesting – or at least a new enemy – but Thymesia’s nooks and crannies never offer anything other than some Garlic or another small tidbit of lore. 

This problem is exacerbated by the fact that the game really only has 3 zones and a final boss room. After you finish the first mission of the first zone, you’ll unlock both a new mission in that zone, and unlock the next zone (the zones have X, Y or Z missions). Subsequent missions in the same zones seem to include some new areas, but also sometimes have you retreading the same ground you covered in the zone’s previous mission. While the bosses at the end of each level were all fun to fight, it was often a slog through (or sprint past) too many familiar foes to reach them. 

thymesia combat

Given how generally bland the game’s environments are, I really wasn’t excited to venture back into them repeatedly just to get a few potion upgrades or ingredients. The other reason to do these optional levels is to face new or upgraded versions of bosses, or for the lore – getting the game’s best ending requires you to collect specific information that is presumably found in some of these optional levels. However, the game’s vague story didn’t grab me; it felt too much like a mish-mash of ideas, with lots of proper nouns but no compelling characters to tie me to it, and so I often found myself skipping the optional missions.

The lack of variety extends to the enemies as well. The foes that you meet in the game’s tutorial level are the same ones you’ll face in the final mission, and it’s rare that an enemy forces you to rethink your strategy. Each level has a different base color, and so in the red level you’ll face shield knights with red crystals growing out of them, and in the next level green shield knights with green crystals in the green level – but this color change doesn’t give them new abilities or resistances, just a little more HP and damage. One of my favorite things about action RPGs is adjusting my build or playstyle to new challenges, but Thymesia pretty much plays the same the whole way through.

Still, I was impressed with Thymesia, despite its limitations. Even if the game’s world failed to draw me in, they’ve created a combat system that I hope other developers take note of. I’m certain plenty of players will find that Thymesia’s action alone is worth the price of admission. If, however, what draws you to action RPGs is the excitement of what’s around the next corner, you may be better off waiting for the first Elden Ring DLC to arrive. 

Thymesia arrives on Steam, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, and Switch via Cloud Gaming on August 18th.

7.9

Thymesia offers an excellent combat system and some clever twists on old mechanics; it's a shame that the story and level design aren't nearly as strong. If combat is your thing, or you're in need of another action RPG, Thymesia fits the bill, but some players may find themselves losing interest after the tenth same-y corridor.

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