There Is No Light is a hack-and-slash action adventure game from Zelart and publisher HypeTrain Digital set in a bleak subterranean world. Humanity has been forced underground by monsters on the surface; at least, that’s what the church says. Those who defy the church are either executed or banished to abandoned tunnel systems few ever return from.

You play as an unnamed hero forced to confront these worries when church guards attack and kidnap your infant child. Your attempt to prevent this supposed great honor and blessing gets you killed and subsequently resurrected by a shadowy creature named Samedi, who trains you over the course of a year to get revenge.

Why is just one of many mysteries. There’s a lot going on in the game’s story; a myriad of characters, factions, and events play into the overarching plot. You can speak with NPCs and take side quests that may change the story or award you positive or negative karma depending on your answers. There’s a tangible sense of history when speaking with NPCs and reading old documents that slowly explains the tensions and behaviors you see while exploring. The world is dark and tragic yet manages to inject bits of hope and levity throughout.

Pacing suffers slightly though as the narrative payoffs for several of the interconnected stories require you to comb every inch of the map for people to talk to and notes to find, and there’s a lot of map to comb. Luckily, fast travel is available among save points, and shortcut doors can transport you past large hostile areas you’ve already cleared before at the cost of some positive karma.

Your core combat capabilities involve your sword, Omen, and an i-frame dash. Omen allows for quick attacks and, once a meter is filled, a lighting-infused strike that stuns enemies. It can also grant healing orbs should you counter with the right timing. If you don’t continue to attack enemies or breakable objects, your meter will drain, costing you the chance for the lighting strike. Other attacks are tied to three later unlockable weapons, all of which are subjected to cooldowns when their special skills are used. While the dash is speedy and responsive, sword attacks seem to need multiple inputs in quick succession to register a full combo. Hitting the attack button 3 times rapidly would consistently produce only 2 attacks. I needed to mash 5 times or more to get 3 sword swings to appear. But this was only the start of my annoyances with combat.

I never got used to the restrictions of the special meter. It often would not be ready when I needed it most, and that sentiment carries over to other abilities. I unlocked a teleport dash that only triggers after I’ve dashed once and then immediately dash again through an enemy attack. I’d much rather just be able to teleport on command. A weapon ability allowed me to prime bombs on enemies, but I could only trigger the explosion with a special attack that costs meter. Several cool combat ideas are hamstrung in practice by decisions like this, which allows the enemy ranks to punish you consistently.

Enemies hit hard and in some encounters swarm your position. They are varied and distinct in their attack types, movement, and designs, but many tougher enemies and bosses have an annoying habit of regenerating health the second you let up on your assault. This encourages aggressive and frenetic play, which coupled with the imprecision of offensive options led to exhausting combat both mentally and physically. The game does have an easier difficulty, where it throws more healing options and less enemies at you, but it will make you restart your game, which was not clear at the start.

Aesthetically There Is No Light is an amazing work of pixel art. Some of its environments and creatures are as grand and unsettling as you can imagine, with a wonderfully morose soundtrack to match. However, its cutscene art is a lot rougher in comparison.

I wish I enjoyed There Is No Light more than I did. So much of its deep combat system feels counterintuitive, and that’s a shame because it’s a dreadfully gorgeous world with a gripping story that it seemingly doesn’t want you to experience. The game is out now for $24.99 on PC with a 10% launch discount. A release for consoles is planned for the future.

Watch the Review in 3 Minutes for There Is No Light.

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