×
Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Strayed Lights Review: A Promising Start That Falls A Bit Short

EDITORS' RATING : 6 / 10
Pros
  • Amazing art
  • Great soundtrack
  • Interesting combat
Cons
  • Lacking a real challenge
  • Under four hours long

A PC review code was provided to Zaaz for this review. "Strayed Lights" is available now PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch, and PC.

"Strayed Lights" is the kind of game that will linger in your mind days after you've finished it. The game impresses on so many fronts. Its story is atmospheric without being unclear, its world design is mesmerizing, and its parry-focused combat feels like a breath of fresh air. There's so much to love about "Strayed Lights," but unfortunately, the game as a whole feels like it's only 50% complete.

Running through the entire story, and picking up 18 out of 26 achievements along the way, took less than four hours. For another game, the short runtime might not be a problem, but as a whole, "Strayed Lights" feels like the introduction to something much longer. Working through what amounts to the game's tutorial area will take up half a playthrough, and all the way through its closing moments, the game keeps introducing new mechanics. There's something particularly frustrating about unlocking a super parry right before fighting the final boss.

"Strayed Lights" is in a particularly tough position. If its world wasn't quite so intriguing, or if its combat was a bit less satisfying, the game actually might come out looking better. As things stand, "Strayed Lights" is an incredibly promising start for developer Embers, but the game itself is likely to leave most players feeling let down.

Magic and mystery

In "Strayed Lights," you take on the role of an energy-attuned creature that can change colors to deal with various challenges. The creature is a newcomer to the world, but its tribe has a long history that you will slowly piece together through magical visions and wonderfully implemented environmental storytelling. The game never provides any solid answers about its world, but there's more than enough details for you to imagine your own version of the history that led up to the game's moment.

As you wander through the half-ruins of an ancient civilization, you'll encounter dangerous enemies and distressed members of your own tribe. When one of these little energy creatures gets a bit too agitated, they turn into a giant monster that you will need to take on before soothing the creature back into its humanoid form. Most of the game focuses on these pseudo interpersonal interactions, which allows you to get invested in your current tribe even as you piece together its long history.

Stunning at every turn

The marketing for "Strayed Lights" put the game's soundtrack front and center. Austin Wintory, who previously scored games like "The Banner Saga" and "Journey," is fully displaying his talent here. The score hits all the right emotional beats, which is often what sells the game's understated approach to storytelling.

While Wintory deserves heaps of praise, the real star of the show here is the art direction. From beginning to end, "Strayed Lights" looks gorgeous, and the game is constantly putting you in front of new kinds of dazzling scenery. You will explore crystalline caves and thick jungles. You'll travel through sandstorms and the ruins of ancient temples. Standing on the edge of a shattered bridge, it's possible to see an entire world that's teeming with life and history. The possibilities of what the game presents are endless, but there's only enough time to explore a fraction of what's hinted at.

The strength of the game's artistic design doesn't just show in the landscapes. The various creatures that players encounter and battle are also a joy to look at. The handful of low-strength monster types often look like electrically charged animals, and their slashes and bites burst with swirls of light. The bosses are massive beasts, but elements of their humanoid forms shine through. Whether fighting a bearded troll-like creature, or a four-winged angelic monster that shoots lasers across the battlefield, it's easy to get so caught up appreciating the visuals that you forget to dodge an attack.

Combat with a core concept

Aside from wandering around appreciating the scenery, combat is the main activity available in "Strayed Lights." There are wild creatures crowding the paths through the world and rampaging bosses that need to be taken down a peg. The combat here isn't the most engaging thing that gaming has to offer, but it is a somewhat fresh take on a formula most gamers will be familiar with.

Unlike other combat-focused games where parrying acts as a useful supplement to damage dealing attacks, in "Strayed Lights" parrying is the fastest route to success. Every time you successfully parry an attack, your energy meter will fill up. Once it's fully charged, you can unleash a powerful burst of light that will wipe out all smaller enemies or initiate a damage-dealing quicktime event against a boss.

You have access to a basic attack button, but it's so much less efficient than parrying that it should mostly be ignored. The extra twist here is that at any time, the player character can swap between orange and blue light. Parrying with a color that matches the enemy's attack will restore some HP, and if a monster launches a purple light attack, you just need to dodge out of the way. None of this is particularly challenging, especially because you're never forced to fight more than two monsters at once, but mastering the timing of swapping colors and dishing out a parry feels great.

Role-playing, why not?

"Strayed Lights" also includes a skill tree and some soft RPG mechanics, but they feel beside the point. Every time a creature's defeated, it drops a point that can be spent on minor upgrades like increased HP. Each boss awards a different kind of point that gets used to unlock supplemental combat abilities like a stun attack or the ability to perfectly parry attacks in any color for a short period of time. There are also small ringlets of light scattered throughout the game's levels that increase how quickly the energy bar fills up during combat.

Considering the game's intensely on-the-rails progression, anyone who even lightly explores the various areas will come out with enough points to get every single upgrade. The abilities themselves, particularly the ones awarded from bosses, are very welcome, but the actual process of unlocking them feels unnecessary and only heightens the sense that the game is way too short.

What could have been...

"Strayed Lights" is a good game, but it could have been something great. The world, the atmosphere, the combat, the progression ... it's all there, but it doesn't end up going much of anywhere. If this was a demo for a full release coming in the next year or two, we'd have no problem singing its praises and encouraging everyone to check it out.

As it stands, "Strayed Lights" is still worth checking out for someone who wants some "Souls"-adjacent combat with a twist set in an intriguingly magical locale. There's not much challenge to the game, but the battles will keep you on your toes, and the world will impress you with every new area. The handful of hours it'll take to get through the game will be enjoyable enough, but after the credits start, there's really no reason to start the whole show over. "Strayed Lights" is sure to activate the imagination, but by the end, there's nothing to really hold on to.

Recommended