‘Thymesia’ review: an interesting soulslike plagued by inconsistency

'Thymesia' is reluctant to step out from the shadow of 'Bloodborne', squandering some promising ideas

On paper, Thymesia is an easy sell. Developer OverBorder Studio’s debut title promises Bloodborne‘s Victorian atmosphere and challenging combat, wrapped in Dishonored‘s grimy aesthetic – what’s not to love?

As it turns out, quite a lot. Thymesia makes no secret of its influences, and that’s where it falters. It’s the latest entry in the soulslike genre – a collection of games that draw inspiration from the brutally difficult Dark Souls series – but Thymesia doesn’t do enough to innovate on that formula, or commit to standing on its own two feet. It feels like Thymesia is content to be a shallow reflection of FromSoftware‘s hits, which is a shame because it squanders some genuinely captivating ideas.

Like Bloodborne, Thymesia is set in a gothic Victorian kingdom ravaged by monsters and sickness. As armed plague doctor Corvus, players are tasked with restoring their character’s memory and saving the kingdom. Doing so involves slashing, rolling and parrying through narrow cobbled streets; always a couple of hits away from a bloody death. Combat is Thymesia‘s bread and butter, and it distinguishes itself with a feature known as Wounding: when an enemy takes a hit, most of the damage is retained as a sickly green bar – as soon as they go without taking a hit for several seconds, this missing health quickly regenerates.

Thymesia. Credit: OverBorder Studio.
Thymesia. Credit: OverBorder Studio.

To counter this, Corvus is armed with a supernatural Plague claw that tears that green bar to shreds and, when fully charged, allows Corvus to steal a powerful attack from his opponent. Shorter fights are simple: a couple of saber swings, with a Plague claw to top things off, dispatches most foes. However, this mechanic becomes truly interesting against bosses or more durable enemies – an aggressive playstyle is a must, and players will need to weave Plague damage in with their sword swings to ensure their damage sticks.

However, Thymesia‘s engine doesn’t live up to this feature’s potential. Though later upgrades can make it shorter, Plague attacks are fairly slow to charge, and it leaves Corvus incredibly vulnerable. Rather than a terse tactical choice, this often just feels devoid of texture – instead of being swatted aside or interrupted in some way, Corvus will simply stand there, helplessly animation-locked, as his foe whales into him.

Lots of Thymesia‘s bigger baddies don’t feel like they were made with this feature in mind. In several cases, you’ve got to take a few punches by breaking a fight’s natural rhythm to dismantle that pesky green bar, as there’s no “safe” timing to land a Plague hit before it starts to regenerate – this is more obvious when facing bosses with quicker attacks. When Thymesia‘s combat works it feels fluid, and it feels brilliant to needle away at something before sealing the deal with a supernatural haymaker, but it’s simply not consistent enough to feel as good as it should.

Thymesia. Credit: OverBorder Studio.
Thymesia. Credit: OverBorder Studio.

Likewise, Thymesia‘s overall difficulty is very inconsistent. You can cut your way across long stretches of an area like a hot knife through butter, only to spend the next 20 minutes bouncing off a nameless mini-boss that batters you into humility. These challenges are welcome, but too infrequent: even within these mini-bosses, some will have a rigidly repetitive moveset while others will keep you on the back foot and struggling to make a dent. Thymesia could benefit from more consistent difficulty – as it stands, it feels like you’re being gently shuffled along from one boss to the next.

This all adds up to a poor picture of Thymesia, but it’s not all bad. When OverBorder Studio taps into its creative side, it pays off. One of the game’s earlier levels is a cyst-ridden stilt town that leads into an unsettling circus. Through a smattering of discarded letters and pamphlets, you get the feeling that something’s not quite right with this carnival, and in no time you’re doing battle with a hammer-wielding clown, a hulking mutant, and the show’s sinister ringmaster. This area in particular is a highlight for Thymesia, and shows off the game’s best side – where the developer is willing to explore its own ideas.

Thymesia. Credit: OverBorder Studio.
Thymesia. Credit: OverBorder Studio.

Thymesia‘s main character, Corvus, also feels brilliant to play. Corvus specialises as being a fast, nimble fighter – combo attacks from his saber are light and quick to land, and staying alive means weaving parries, dodge rolls and Plague attacks into that technique. Thymesia also gives players room to reinforce their playstyle through a branching skill tree. Cautious players may opt for skills that reward Corvus with defensive boosts during combat, while others may spend their upgrade points on opposing skills that reward players for being an aggressive fighter. Many of these abilities feel like tangible improvements: unlocking an extra dodge will save your life countless times, while an extended attack combination helps cut your opponent to ribbons in record time. Even while Corvus falls victim to Thymesia‘s inconsistent combat, getting to develop his abilities over time remains satisfying.

But unfortunately, not much else in Thymesia develops as well as Corvus. The game attempts to drip-feed worldbuilding via heaps of lore collectables, but they aren’t written well enough – and  the world isn’t interesting enough – to make them compelling. There’s a sense of detachment to Thymesia‘s story, made all the worse for characters who speak only through subtitles – a lack of voice acting means most cutscenes are delivered with an awkward, empty silence.

All of this adds up to a game in turmoil. Half of Thymesia wants to innovate, the other wants to play things safe. The result is a confused game that feels too much like a mimicry of its inspirations, which casts a shadow over Thymesia‘s more interesting ideas.

Thymesia launches on August 18 for PC, Xbox Series X|S, and PS5. This review was played on PC. 

The Verdict

Thymesia is perfectly serviceable for existing soulslike fans, but the many faults add up. Combat can feel like a clunky bore in one moment, a captivating dance of death in the next; and the game’s close resemblance to Bloodborne invites comparisons it can’t live up to.

Pros

  • Wounding enemies and having to keep pace adds pressure to every fight
  • Corvus is well-designed and feels inherently powerful to play

Cons

  • Much of Thymesia is too easy, which makes coming up against spikes in difficulty jarring
  • The plot isn’t engaging
  • Trying to stay on top of Wounding can be very clunky
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