Dust: An Elysian Tail (PC)

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Dust elysian tail title

Long time coming this one, mostly because I grossly underestimated how long the game would be. I kind of anticipated it would be around 4 hours long or so, turns out it runs closer to 8 – which was nice actually because as it turns out, ‘Dust: An Elysian Tail’ is a really good game. The game has been out on XBLA for a while now, but only in the past month has it come out on Steam.

Dust: An Elysian Tail (hereby just ‘Dust’) is a hack and slash metroidvania style action adventure game by new dev ‘Humble Hearts’ , the events and locations are all event driven with a story and side quest system which keeps you moving from place to place, and then back to aforementioned places once you have unlocked more skills – unlike other metroidvania games however the backtracking is actually mostly just for bonus items, there are very few times in the game where you will be forced to trudge through an already completed area to access a new area, which was great as following the story would constantly lead you to new unseen places and environments. Unlocking new areas is sometimes handled by coloured keystones, or by new abilities like being able to climb vines or being able to crouch-slide, nothing too fancy in that respect but the ability unlocks are nicely spaced and keep things fresh.

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Other than platforming (lots of platforming and adventuring) the gameplay has lots of combat, something which kind of terrifies me in these sort of games as they are often not very fun. Combat in Dust is fast, fluid and is actually probably more fleshed out than some budget fighting games, there are the staple ‘mash X’ combo’s, but then there is also aerial juggles, throws, airthrows, active evade, parry, 3 types of magic and sometimes environmental factors as well – this results in fast, fun combat which does a good job of just about keeping you occupied for the length of the game (I say just about as I was beginning to tire of it by the end).

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Dust also has just about every other good staple for this kind of game, all of which are well implemented and have obviously had some thought behind them: Treasure chests are hidden everywhere, area’s have % completion rates and unfound treasures are shown on the map, secret ‘friends’ (more later), blacksmith and material system, vendor and material cataloguing/stock systems, optional quests/rewards, hidden challenge rooms (with loot depending on rating), equipment system, selective stats leveling, chain combo system (and reward for doing so), and probably more that I’m forgetting.
I was very surprised to see crossovers from other indie game titles in this, in the game they are often very well hidden and are called ‘friends’, freeing them gives you permanent upgrades (eg. +5% maxHP), I wont spoil all the characters, but if you know your games, it’s pretty cool.

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The core story starts off fairly straightforward and predictable, then it sort of throws a curveball half way through, but the game still doesn’t diverge from its conclusion you probably predicted at around the 1/4 mark, it’s definitely not the game’s strongest part, but it does at least get you moving across the game world and won’t have you exploring a single mansion for the entire game. There are only a few main characters, and all of the characters you are able to interact with in the world have full voice acting, which is a nice touch, the script is also decent and has its comedic moments.

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The graphics and sound/music in this game are all well done, the hand drawn art style looks beautiful, and some of the areas are very nice indeed (the caves notsomuch, but meh), the special effects on magic look great, explosions look pretty, and perhaps best of all, everything looks very clean – what I mean by that is you can clearly read the environment, tell what ledges are fall-through-able, what walls are breakable and so on. The music was good, though not so great that you will be able to remember tunes outside of the game, they definitely fill the gap while you are playing though, and it is tricky to balance music in this sort of game where you may be exploring an area for long periods of time (and anything too catchy will emphasize the fact it is looping).

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Problems with Dust? mmm… I had to think a little bit for these as there honestly wasn’t much I truly disliked about this game. The difficulty ramp (on Tough mode) seemed somewhat random, being able to blaze through half of the game because the enemies pose no threat, and then being straight up 2-shot by the other half of the game, the game does provide ‘magic pixel health’ where you’ll be reduced to 1hp upon receiving fatal damage, and this helps, but some segments of the game definitely feel badly balanced.
Im also not quite sure how I felt about the voice acting at times, particularly from animal companion Fidget, half the lines are delivered well and are funny, the other half…. I’m not sure, something just sounded off about the delivery of the lines (nitpicking). Another thing I didn’t care a massive amount for was the fact that all the characters were animals, it didn’t really seem integral to the plot at all, and wasn’t played upon (they never actually act like animals) which leads me to believe somewhat that maybe one of the developers was a bit of a furry lover? I don’t know, nitpicking again perhaps, it just felt a little odd, maybe they couldn’t draw human faces well or something (legit excuse tbh).

Verdict:

Dust: An Elysian Tail is a fantastic indie action/adventure game, whilst the story won’t be winning any awards any time soon, the well crafted and visually appealing world may do so. The game borrows elements from many other games, improves on them, and puts everything together to deliver a brilliant 8 hour experience.

Approximate Game Length :  ~8 Hours with side quests (83% completion) , ‘Tough’ Difficulty
Actual Worth / Steam Price:  £16/ £12 =1.33
Should you play it : Yep. Particularly for fans of the recent Castlevania games, you’ll love this.

Rating: 5/5

Other notes:
– Recommend playing using a controller and on ‘Tough’ Difficulty.

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