You like swords? You like sticking those swords in other people? Do you especially like not getting stabbed by other people’s swords? Oh boy, does Johnny Dale Lonack have a proposition for you. Just one thing before we get started though… who is that guy? He has a strong name, that’s for sure. But is it a person? Is it an obscure naming choice for an indie games studio? Google doesn’t bring anything back – besides Griefhelm and an admittedly snazzy portfolio website.
Yeah, it’s a good name, but I spent a solid fifteen minutes trying to figure out what the relevance was. Is JOHNNY DALE LONACK some industry legend I’m too dumb to recognise? Is this game’s full title actually just GRIEFHELM A GAME BY JOHNNY DALE LONACK?
As it turns out, no. And I am probably being a little bit of a jerk right now because Mr. Lonack has made this game all by himself, and I’m sitting here criticising him with breakfast biscuit crumbs all over myself. At half three in the afternoon. Griefhelm is a sidescrolling duel simulator that pits you, a vaguely medieval knight, against an onslaught of enemies.
The control system is… unique. Unique for a side-scrolling game, for sure. It’s similar to For Honor‘s stance based combat, where your character will parry attacks coming from a direction that matches your position. Stance is everything in some of the harder battles, but for the most part, you can just run headlong into your bog-standard enemies waving your sword about like a fairy wand and achieve victory. I tried to read my enemy’s telegraphed attacks, I really did, but from the side, on viewpoint, the animations are too fast and vague to make it interesting.
Visually, everything seems to be oversaturated in a way that screams “Please believe that this is a stylistic choice, not an overcompensation for anything else.” There are times where it really works, especially when contrasted against rare splashes of colour, but on the whole it makes many environments feel quite similar. The campaign mode basically rushes you from encounter to encounter with little bits of flavour text here and there, keeping everything just vague enough to avoid committing to any troublesome historical accuracy.
It all feels a bit thrown together last minute, to be honest, and I wonder why the venerable Mr. Lonack didn’t do some cursory research on some specific medieval history and tell a story based on that. It wouldn’t have to be fancy, just enough to elevate Griefhelm from the generic knight story it currently is.
Griefhelm is essentially the multiplayer classic Nidhogg without a sense of humour, and though the goofy ragdoll physics might wrest the odd giggle out of you, it’ll quickly be dampened by the bland taste everything else leaves in your mouth. There are times where I feel like I can see where he was trying to go with this game. Slick visuals, tight combat, punishing tactical mechanics.
Unfortunately the first two things never really shine in the way they want to, and for punishing mechanics to be satisfying, we really need to feel like there is some worthy reward. From Software have already taught master classes in striking that balance, and Griefhelm rarely feels like it’s worthy of your effort.
Griefhelm overall thoughts
A decent amount of respect goes out to Johnny Dale Lonack for making this game by himself. Nobody can deny that it is an achievement, but selling it for fifteen quid and plastering your name on the front like you’re Jamie Oliver is a bit pretentious for what it is. Griefhelm is at once ambitious and moderately lazy, boastful yet underwhelming, and something I would really struggle to recommend. Mr Lonack clearly has some talent, and I hope the next time I see a game with his name so prominently featured, I’ll remember it.
Griefhelm is developed by Johnny Dale Lonack and published by Thorrnet Publishing. The game is available now on PC via Steam. Whilst you wait for it to download, why not check out some of our other game reviews HERE.