When word from our editor reached the office that GIZORAMA had a copy of an action RPG inspired by none other than Avenged Sevenfold, I all but wept in ecstasy as I hurriedly scribbled a pentagram on the rug beneath my desk, eager to show I was metal enough to review such a gem. Having proven myself, I loaded up the game and set about exploring a world created by M. Shadows, all too late realizing the folly of my unchecked excitement. Suffice to say, Hail to the King: Deathbat left every expectation unmet, instead earning only disappointed sighs and incredulous looks. Precious time was forever lost, and I now owe the landlord for the damage done to the carpet.
The game’s story, supposedly based on the origin of the band’s mascot/logo, Deathbat, focuses around a king named Andronikos. Three gods create a land of good and evil, giving complete power to anyone who controls a sacred talisman. Andronikos, pure of spirit and stupid of name, unites the forces of good and seizes control of the talisman, but his victory is short lived as one of the three gods replaces him with an evil doppelganger, intent on ruining the lands Andronikos strove to protect. The rest of the story is about as shady as the alley behind my house, and the only necessary tidbits are that you’ve been resurrected and The Rev (R.I.P.) is your spirit guide as you fight your way through hordes of demons to reclaim your throne.
The game supposedly falls under the category of action-adventure RPG, but for all intents and purposes, it truly only fits the first word by just enough to not be considered false advertising. The entire experience plays out as a busy, linear hack-n-slash through various album-themed levels, but while a key element of RPG games is both the ability to interact with the world and the growth of a character, the only dialogue you encounter is from a handful of NPCs deadpanning their lines straight from the script, while the only sense of character development comes in the form of purchased weapons and slightly increased health options (which you also have to buy). There’s no leveling up or perk systems, just the simple task of collecting dropped coins, all the while hoping you live long enough to make it back to the shop so you can buy overly expensive consumables and slightly better weapons.
The combat, while plentiful, is about as dull as wallpapering your living room. There is but a single melee and ranged attack apiece, and absolutely no form of blocking save for consumable shields that you’ll only buy once before realizing the futility of it all. What the game then boils down to is how well you can run at your opponent, swing your weapon, and turn to run before they start their telegraphed riposte. Sometimes even swinging your sword near the opponent does the trick, because while your melee attack looks like the product of a limp-wristed toddler with a chopstick and palsy, the diameter of each swing seems to envelope the surface area of a small continent. Your ranged attack, whose effect is dependent on the type of weapon you have equipped, is about as accurate and useful as shooting cotton balls out of your belly button with your eyes closed, serving only to drain your magic meter faster than a liter of beer at Mardi Gras. This blatantly obvious inequality between the two forms of offense means your character really only has one attack; invading and stabbing the personal space of hundreds of demons before gaining the title of Most Socially Inappropriate corpse-king, thus winning the game by default (no, not really).
The overall balance of gameplay further damages whatever tattered vestiges of the game’s worth still remained. Your health drains as fast as your magic, and pickups in each level top off at a meager ten points of regeneration per piece. Not even advancing to the next map by way of boss-murdering restores your health meter, and you’re instead forced to trod back to homebase (homecrypt, shut up), and spend all your hard earned coins on consumables with a price tag that may as well include your firstborn child. It becomes almost impossible to purchase a new weapon this way, as you’re constantly cleaned out when trying to restore your vitality. The slightly noticeable stat increases per each purchased weapon hardly make up for what would then be a lack of healing ability, and you’re forced to grind previous levels to earn enough dough to have both. To that end, let me just say that forced repetition doesn’t count as genuine replay value.
If a game has to fall short on certain aspects, whether due to short budgets, lack of talent, or physical limitations, it must in some way make up for the discrepancy somewhere else. In many cases, the story of a game is used to pad out the rest of the faults. Sure the gameplay may suck, but a good story is at least as entertaining as a movie, so there’s something that can be salvaged from the whole experience. Hail to the King: Deathbat seems to have missed this concept, opting instead to deliver a dizzyingly vague storyline that had me killing Death by the second level. Yes, I killed the incarnate concept of the end of all life, and I was less than thirty minutes in. What happens next? What creature could I possibly fight that equals the might and esteem of freaking Death? I understand Dante’s Inferno did something similar, but I called them out on that too. What’s the point of continuing on when I just murdered the most eternal, abstract concept in the universe? Yeah, write a song about that.
Deathbat boasts graphics that would have amazed the first generation of PlayStation gamers, but I didn’t buy a video card capable of rendering Dovahkiin’s nose hair simply so I could play games with textures that even today’s handhelds would turn their nose up to. This isn’t a killing blow, and I’ll get to that at the end, but up until this point there has yet to be something worthwhile about the experience, so forcing me to grind through it in a low-res, copypaste environment with the A7X logo plastered anywhere feasibly possible is just salt in the wounds. The one good thing I can think of that’s worthy of your attention is, of course, the music. The first forty seconds of each level are great because the soundtrack is a unique product from the band itself, and while one song sounds suspiciously like the Imperial March from Star Wars, the overall quality matches what I’d come to know and love about the band in the first place. Once you hit that forty-first second, however, you best prepare yourself to hear the same loop till you beat the damn level (or your head…against a wall), because that’s all you’re going to get.
I understand that my take on this game may rub a few of you the wrong way, but let me assure you this is not meant as a slight against Avenged Sevenfold. My overall point is one of boundaries. Yes, this game is only a handful of bucks on Steam, so I’m obviously not expecting the next installment of The Elder Scrolls, but if your defense consists solely of the argument that it’s of lower quality because it’s cheap, then what exactly is there to appreciate and why is it worth my time? The fact that a really decent band designed the whole thing means absolutely nothing if the experience is horrible.
While I was taken at first by the hype, I understand now that I wouldn’t want Avenged Sevenfold dipping their toes in the game-development sphere again (unless they had something to contribute) any more than I’d want Yamauchi releasing a rock album unless he was genuinely a kickass rockstar (here’s to hoping). Overall, the game’s poor design, tepid gameplay, and lack of any form of cohesion leaves Hail to the King: Deathbat dead in the water, hopefully serving as an example of why certain mediums need their borders.