Blasphemous 2 Early Impressions: Ecce Ludus!

Blasphemous 2 pulls no punches and from the very start screen I’m straight-up smote. The sequel resurrects the series’ subtle yet impeccable sound design, sublime art — both pixel and hand-drawn — and a narrative style that gallops unflinchingly into the anachronistic. And that’s both its strength and weakness. If intense concepts, visuals, and combat light your fire, the Soulslike is a wonder. But even as one of the genre’s most zealous devotees, I see a lot of rage-quiting in my future.

I pause to admire the screen before hitting start. In the background, I hear solitary church bells ring out like a wail over tones so low they’re almost imperceptible. It’s like a monster in the dark I know is there but can’t see. A reddening pixel sky is crowned by a beating, anatomically correct, heart. Below it, three stone titans strain to bear the weight of a gothic church held aloft over a dense, archaic city.

I’m so in.

Then in an astonishing feat, the developers pull me in even harder with an incredibly animated opening cinematic. Too-realistic blood smears the otherwise pristine illustration and the impression sticks in my mind even now. However, nothing else makes anything resembling sense. It’s like the team saw Dark Soul’s notoriously murky narrative as a challenge.

Religiosity runs rampant. But despite not being able to explain half of what’s going on, I understand what I need to. That’s a wild achievement. The opacity is certain to turn some players away, but I respect a developer willing to commit this hard.

The game makes my first action into a choice. Confronted by three statues wielding sickly glowing armaments, I must pick my weapon. My options include an impossibly large flail, a rapier/dagger combo, and a curved greatsword. I always appreciate a swift character, so it’s the rapier for me. But I appreciate how each of these weapons — which I’ll later be able to boost for different skills — will dramatically change the play style.

Perhaps it shouldn’t have been a surprise I stumble on the first boss just moments later. The encounter isn’t a challenge, though. It’s more meant to help me try out my new moves and teach players that watching for patterns and being patient will end more successfully than button mashing.

Stepping out into the Ravine of High Stones — a desolate rocky plain ringed by mountains and hosting a crumbling, once-impressive aqueduct — a heavenly character literally delivers my objective to me. I’m again struck by how sublime both of the game’s art styles are, especially as they’re juxtaposed against each other so noticeably here.

My journey really begins at this point and I start to pick up on elements of the game I’m not totally sold on. My biggest concern lies in the vast array of things to keep track of. Taking inspiration from 2D Metroidvania’s, the map is a tangle of paths — some walled off until I get a skill. On top of this, I need to keep track of boosting altarpiece figures, rosary beads, spells, guilt, and collectables. I’d be surprised if I’m able to gracefully juggle all of these throughout the game.

The non-traditional control scheme and button combos also keep combat from feeling instinctual, robbing it of the smoothness other games in the genre offer. I suspect my muscle memory will begin to adapt, but it might take some time for everything to click.

Despite these concerns, I’m eager to see what Blasphemous 2 has in store for me. It’s already difficult to get some of my discoveries out of my head and I’m ready to get to the point where my character is loaded with buffs and abilities so I feel I can get through any situation.

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