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Estencel (PC)

Estencel (PC) - Review

by Paul Broussard , posted on 05 February 2023 / 4,703 Views

Bloodborne was one of my favorite games of 2015, and despite still being locked to consoles (curse you Sony), it seems to have inspired a myriad of other fans and game designers across the globe. The most recent developer to fall into this category is Rone Vine, creator of Estencel, a game that couldn’t be any more Bloodborne unless it started with a crotchety old man in a wheelchair telling us to go stab some people.

The story of Estencel is pretty barebones, and frankly that’s putting it charitably. We play as a typical nameless, voiceless protagonist who is... in a Victorian era setting for no particular reason, on a quest to kill some monsters… also for no reason. What brief bits of narrative that can be construed from the odd chat with the occasional NPC don’t do much to provide context for proceedings. There doesn’t seem to really be a narrative beyond: here is a city with monsters, go kill some.

Which I’m not inherently opposed to, but I do think one of the more intriguing elements of Soulslike games is often their lore. The decrepit hallways of Dark Souls’ Anor Londo, or the rainy plazas of Hollow Knight’s Kingdom of Tears would probably both be interesting to explore in their own right, but they would lose something without the broader context of the world. It’s the backstory and the lore of these locations that incentivizes us to explore them in the first place; without a narrative of some sort to provide context and get us going, the gameplay has to pick up all the slack.

Which might as well bring us to said gameplay. It can probably best be described as Bloodborne-lite. Light and heavy attacks, dodges, stamina meter, limited number of healing potions that stop you from rolling/sprinting while using them, and even a firearm with a limited number of bullets. You explore large interconnected environments, rest at fires to restore your health/potions/reset enemies, and level up with currency gained from killing enemies (albeit there are only three categories to level up). 

As an offline exclusive game, one element of Bloodborne that you can’t bring with you is summoning online players. Estencel has an odd solution to this, which is to scatter various summon signs around that let you summon an additional version of yourself with the exact same gear, weapons, and stats, just controlled by an AI. These follow you everywhere, and you can summon as many as you can find signs for, which can break the game at points if you’re determined enough.

Then again, boss encounters are pretty punishing as it stands, so perhaps there’s good reason to make use of any benefit available. Bosses are larger than life but attack very quickly and have little in the way of start-up animations. Normally I try to handle the entirety of a first playthrough strictly by myself in Soulslikes, but I’ll admit a few enemies here got me to drag a bunch of clones in to wail away at it, like a schoolkid grabbing his friends to gang up on the local bully.

Level design is pretty reminiscent of Bloodborne as well, with a variety of interconnected pathways and shortcuts to discover. It's certainly satisfying to come to the end of a long stretch of exploration and find a shortcut linking back to a checkpoint discovered earlier, but it’s equally odd and somewhat frustrating to find one of the many, many dead ends that exist for seemingly no reason other than to fill some space. Not every path is going to go somewhere, obviously, but it’s strange to see a variety of pathways that stretch on for a very long time and lead to absolutely nothing. 

I haven’t talked much about the individual qualities of Estencel yet, and there’s a reason for that. Everything here is functional, but it’s all functional because it’s stuff we’ve seen before. I appreciate games being inspired by other titles, but there needs to be more to them than just being “popular AAA game, but indie.” There needs to be something that sets them apart. A new setting, different mechanics, an interesting and unique narrative, or something else that differentiates it from its parent game. Estencel needed something to make it more than “Bloodborne, but on a lower budget,” and that just isn’t present.

A couple of minor issues sour the experience a bit too. Estencel appears to have been designed exclusively for M/K; there are only 8 movement directions. This can result in your inputs not quite lining up with how the game interprets them if you're playing on controller, which can lead to some annoying movement quirks at times. The few lines of dialogue that do exist seem pretty poorly translated too, as if they were run through Google translate.

Is it worth a buy? Even at a relatively cheap price of $15, it’s tough for me to recommend. If you’re desperate for another game that’s similar to Bloodborne, then it might be worth a look, but for anyone else I would suggest just… playing Bloodborne. There’s nothing that sets Estencel apart, and the things it does do well were already done better by Bloodborne. It’s mostly competent, but hard to praise beyond that.


VGChartz Verdict


5.5
Acceptable

This review is based on a digital copy of Estencel for the PC

Read more about our Review Methodology here

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2 Comments
Machina (on 05 February 2023)

This has such a strange art style.

  • +1
coolbeans (on 05 February 2023)

Eh, maybe I'll pick it up when it's on Esten-sale. ;)

  • 0