Tainted Grail: The Fall of Avalon has been compared to The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, but as far as introducing me to its world, it’s one-upped Bethesda’s effort right off the bat. Both games cast you as an anonymous prisoner, but much as I love Skyrim, Tainted Grail excels at setting the mood.
Forget underground rivers and giant spiders — I crossed a pit where two titanic creatures were turning a gigantic wheel. They weren’t there to kill me; they were just there. And as revealed by the journal I picked up, they had always been there.
That was after I’d been thrust into a strange otherworld, where I was forced to ally myself with an amnesiac presence who only wanted out. I’m sure that won’t bite me in the backside anytime soon.
It stops short of going full grimdark and it’s not as miserable as Dark Souls, but there’s a real atmosphere of gloom pervading this Steam Early Access action RPG. That’s why I didn’t expect my encounter with a ghost to be anywhere near as uplifting as it was.
It was relatively early on in my Tainted Grail journey. I was grumbling and shaking my fist at the Quartermaster who refused to let me see his captain, despite my holding the game’s version of an Access All Areas Pass.
He insisted I de-zombie a local graveyard, so on principle, I was doing everything to avoid undertaking that task. I was seriously considering divorcing his stupid head from his equally stupid shoulders, so I busied myself with some sidequests.
I ended up speaking to Keeper Sigisbald, who’d been sitting on his bench for… well, a while now. Tainted Grail’s NPCs don’t roam, unlike Skyrim’s. He’d pulled a Randy Pitchford and left some important Keeper documents in the local tavern, and rolling my eyes, I headed off to retrieve them.
I wasn’t rolling my eyes at his forgetfulness, however. Gearbox’s CEO aside, documents and other security-critical items do get just left in places. What concerned me was that, if this was a taste of things to come, I was going to be doing an awful lot of tedious fetch-questing.
Things seemed to be heading in that direction when, finding nothing in the local pub, I asked the landlord if he’d stumbled across any documents. He informed me that Sigisbald, a good friend of his, had died some time ago.
That threw me off guard, leaving me with the possibility that he’d been mistaken or that I was heading for a jump scare. I wandered back, bracing myself for a Five Nights at Freddy’s-style greeting. What I got was, instead, weirdly wholesome.
He was indeed dead; he’d just forgotten. He thanked me for my help, shifting from his “normal” appearance of flesh into a more traditional see-through look. I’m not going to paste the dialogue verbatim, but he was so upbeat and matter-of-fact about his own demise, the polar opposite of what I’d expected from this plague-ridden world of Tainted Grail: The Fall of Avalon.
I’d walked past the corpses of the tortured, found my would-be compatriots drowned, and fought off shambling plague zombies. And after that cheerful little excursion, I’d been turned away by some self-important jobsworth.
Here I was, talking to a dead man, and he turned out to be the one bright light in all that gloom. Of all the NPCs I’d spoken to, Sigisbald turned out to be the most alive. I would have liked to take Sigisbald with me, but he remained in that one position, watching people go by without a care in the world (or the next).
But perhaps that was the point. With his death behind him, he didn’t have to deal with the plague, or the zealots, or the entity that, by bonding itself to me, Venom-style, had allowed me to see him. This was a world, or at least an island, where death wasn’t the worst thing that could happen to you.
Still, I have my fingers crossed I’ll have further spectral encounters in Tainted Grail: The Fall of Avalon, thanks to the being piggybacking on my protagonist. Helping the dead with their unfinished business, whether it’s solving their murder or helping them find peace with their family? Those are sidequests I can get behind.