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Strayed Lights Preview: Light In The Dark

Even in its early build, "Strayed Lights" — from indie game developer and publisher Embers — feels like its on to something special. There's something about the game that feels familiar, but it comes with a refreshing take on combat mechanics that ends up being satisfyingly addicting. From its dazzling visuals and intriguing story to its even more mysterious player-controlled protagonist, "Strayed Lights" offers an experience that's hard to put down.

"Strayed Lights" takes you on a journey through ethereal landscapes, including mist-filled forests, magic-emitting ruins, and desolate cities, all while being chased by creepy shadow creatures (which are a bit reminiscent of the Heartless from the "Kingdom Hearts" series). But you're not just running and hiding from these apparitions — you'll also face off against the colossal beasts, each embodying intense emotions, in epic boss battles.

The interesting thing? These shadow creatures are more or less the product of, well ... your own doing. You begin the game as a young, and seemingly innocent sentient ember navigating your way through a dark and chaotic world. Upon seeing your reflection for the first time, a shadow creature manifests itself from your own reflection. You're then pitted against this monster who eventually steals your light, splits it into multiple shards that create even more shadow monsters, with each new monster making its way into a separate realm for you to eventually visit in an effort to reclaim the pieces stolen from you.

Bright platforming and combat systems

"Strayed Lights" gets two things right from the start: platforming and combat.

Platforming in "Strayed Lights" is straightforward and surprisingly tight. Everything feels fluid as you make your way through each world, whether you're jumping from one ledge to another or sprinting your way through the visually striking background. Along the way, you'll encounter various shadow monsters, each with their own moves and abilities, such as conjuring a battle axe or taking on the form and attack styles of a gorilla. And that's where the game's "breath of fresh air" feeling really kicks in.

Combat in "Strayed Lights" is a combination of fast-paced shots, dodges, parries, and powerful energy attacks, with some quicktime events peppered in here and there. Dodging and parrying oncoming attacks is nothing new to combat in gaming, and there is certainly an inkling of a Soulsborne influence here. However, greater emphasis is put on defensive play, with successfully parrying attacks being the most effective way to take down an enemy. You're able to change the color of your ember, and need to do so often in the heat of combat. Whatever color the enemy turns, your ember must match in order to have a successful parry. Doing so builds up your special ability bar that ultimately puts an end to the monster you're facing. You can also use a melee attack, but it's far less effective than parrying.

The mechanic is unique and requires fast reaction times, since enemies will string together attacks all while changing their color. It's an easy combat system to learn, but hard to master, making it satisfying when you get the timing just right.

Keeping the light on for this one

As you progress through the game, your tiny light will grow, gaining new abilities and increasing in size until you evolve into a mystical entity overflowing with shadow monster-crushing powers. Along the way, you'll uncover the secrets of the surrounding world, encountering other strayed lights, and mysterious creatures that will help you piece together the game's enigmatic story.

As mentioned, the world is beautiful and grandiose, made all the better by the game's atmospheric soundtrack from Grammy award-winning composer Austin Wintory, known for his work on titles such as "Journey," "Abzû," and "The Banner Saga Series." Clearly, a ton of effort was put into making each environment distinct and memorable, from the hauntingly beautiful ruins to the vibrant forests brimming with life. There's no dialogue or other in-game text, relying solely on an expressive soundtrack and visuals to tell the game's story and allow players to come up with their own interpretations.

Overall, "Strayed Lights" is an exciting and unique adventure that nails its platforming and combat mechanics already, even in its early state. The story is intriguing and its environments and overall aesthetics are breathtaking, with likely plenty more to be discovered when the game launches later this year.

A PC code was provided to ZaaZ for this preview. "Strayed Lights" will be available April 2023 on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch, and PC.