Despite the franchise’s visibility, Gauntlet seems like it often gets left out of discussions about the classics. Sure, the likes of Pac-Man and Donkey Kong are great and all, but do either of those titles boast the same iconic multiplayer of the hack and slash legend? Perhaps it has to do with the fact that while those series have managed to live on over the decades, the same cannot be said here. Gauntlet Legends and Gauntlet Dark Legacy kept it afloat for awhile, but even those titles eventually fell out of favor.
Following the release of a failed reboot in 2005, it seemed that the franchise was doomed to slip into gaming’s past. Lo and behold, though, Arrowhead Game Studios (Magicka 2) was able to bring the series back to life last year. Now, after a year of being relegated to the world of Windows, the studio has brought the revamped and rechristened Gauntlet: Slayer Edition to the PlayStation 4.
Staying true to the franchise’s roots, Gauntlet is your traditional dungeon crawling experience. As per usual, players can select their protagonist from one of four character classes. The Warrior and Valkyrie are your hand-to-hand specialists, while the Wizard and Elf are content to deal damage from afar. Dividing them into just two groups, though, does a disservice to how diverse each class feels. The Valkyrie and Warrior may both be adept at swinging sharp objects, but each one feels different from the other. The Warrior is a lumbering, but brutally efficient killing machine, while the Valkyrie is speedier, but lacks the heavy hitting of her male counter-part.
The differences between the Wizard and Elf are even starker in comparison. The Elf is the traditional long-range specialist, as he can deal either low or high damage from a safe distance from his foes. The Wizard, while also content to blast away from a distance, has a few more tricks up his sleeves. Similar to Arrowhead’s previous work, he can cast a few different spells, including shooting fireballs and firing off bolts of lightning.
It’s a unique spin on the traditional Gauntlet formula, because I think most people always assumed the best course of action was to charge right in and do battle. That could have just been me, actually. Regardless, by putting a greater emphasis on long and short distance attacks, Arrowhead was able to make each class feel unique. Fighting over which class to be no longer feels like it will be done over simply who looks the coolest.
Since this is a Gauntlet game, story is really a non-factor for our heroes. Technically, you are thrown into the titular area by the wizard Morak, and are tasked with locating the Tyrfing, a sword that will grant the wizard freedom. The real goal of the game, though, is to amass as much treasure and gold as you can hold. Gold is strewn about in each area, and can be found in everything from pots to a fancy golden crown you can wear . Collected gold is then used to purchase upgrades, abilities, relics, and outfits for your hero.
You’ll need all of the upgraded abilities you can get your hands on, because Gauntlet can be a brutally tough affair. Not only is it easy to get surrounded and overwhelmed by the typical goons you come across, but there are also extremely dangerous enemies found in each level. Sometimes you have to escape Death, who can kill you with a single touch, and other times ghosts attack from all directions. I originally tried to go through the main campaign by myself, but quickly found myself dying over and over again. With no friends near enough to join, I decided to take my adventuring online.
Multiplayer has always been the hook for the franchise, and this time around is certainly no different. No matter what difficulty I played on, I had a blast going through caves and dungeons with my fellow warriors. Sure, we would often butt heads over who was going to get the last sliver of gold, but we always managed to work together just well enough to make it out alive. The secret sauce of the franchise has always been about making players look out for their friends, just as much as they would look out for themselves. I was pleasantly surprised that Arrowhead managed to find a good middle point between the different ideologies.
As fun as playing online with strangers is, I did come across a few troubling online issues. Lag was a problem in some areas, specifically ones filled to brim with enemies. That’s to be expected I suppose, but it still should be pointed out. What particularly bothered me, though, was the frequent dropping of games. There was several times where I would be getting into a good groove with my fellow treasure seekers, only for the connection to drop everyone from the game. You get to keep all of your winnings up to that point, so it’s not too bad, but it’s still frustrating to have it happen repeatedly.
For the most part, I’m happy that Arrowhead did their own thing with this iteration of Gauntlet. If there was one area where I wish they took inspiration from past games, though, it would be the art style. The procedurally generated levels are nice, but they all look and feel rather similar after a while. While more recent entries such as Legends and Dark Legacy weren’t exactly overflowing with color, the levels generally felt different from one another. The dark caves fit the world of the game, yes, but as I said before, who really plays these games for the plot? A splash of color here and there is not going to kill anyone.
If you have already invested time into the PC version of the title, you may be wondering what’s different about the Slayer Edition. For starters, each of the heroes has been given additional abilities, as well as their own unique potions. The use of relics has also been changed to a cool down system, which really helps when you are getting walloped by enemies. The Colosseum Arena now switches everyday, while a new Endless mode lets players fight through an infinite amount of levels until they die. Other changes include tweaks to the campaign map, enemy types, and a complete re-balancing of the difficulty. To put everything into perspective, this is a pretty sizeable upgrade over the original release.
As someone who had the displeasure of playing Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows, I knew this release couldn’t possibly be as bad as that. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t surprised by how much fun I was having with Gauntlet: Slayer Edition. It’s a perfect mix between the classic hack and slash action I grew up with, and the more modern dungeon crawling the genre has evolved into. The only real issue is that the art style is so brown and dull that it takes away from the fact that the levels are supposed to feel different from one another. Most games would kill for a problem that insignificant, though, so I’m willing to look past it in order to get that sweet, sweet loot.
This review was based on the PlayStation 4 version of the title, which we were provided with.
Retooled and improved, Gauntlet: Slayer Edition is the perfect dungeon crawling adventure for you and three buddies to undertake.