Looking to recreate the tense thrills of medieval duelling, Griefhelm will feel strangely familiar to those who have played local multiplayer masterpiece, Nidhogg. It’s a fighting game almost stripped down to the barest essential with 2D movement, simplified controls, and one-hit kills by default. While easy to pick up and play, Griefhelm requires a mix of tactical cunning and razor sharp reflexes to master.
Let’s quickly dive into how Griefhelm’s combat works. You’ll combine timing, reach, and footwork to deliver killing blows using a small medieval arsenal of weaponry, from flails and poleaxes to clubs and claymores. Battles in Griefhelm can be over in a matter of seconds if one knight manages to land their attack perfectly.
When going toe to toe with an opponent, each weapon has three attacks for each stance – high, mid, and low – which you can swap between by simply moving the right stick. This can be done with a mouse or directional keys though Griefhelm encourages you to plug in a gamepad for the best duelling experience.
Hacking away is a tactic that will only suffice for the first AI difficulty tier. You’ll quickly learn to use parries (you’ll automatically parry an attack by matching their stance and remaining idle) as well as throwing in the occasional shove.
Overcoming this early learning curve presents a pretty brutal difficulty spike. Rounds can be lost in the blink of an eye and the only way you can become a Griefhelm parry master is to have lightning fast reactions, learning the different attack animation wind-ups for the various weapons.
Compared to the zanier Nidhogg, Griefhelm is grittier and has more immediate depth to its combat. At the same time it’s not as demanding to learn as traditional fighting games. Each weapon feels different enough for you to settle on a couple of favourites without requiring a radical shift in playstyle to wield.
Griefhelm can be played solo or in groups of up to four, whether sparring online or locally. There’s a campaign mode too (which you can also tackle with friends) where most players are likely to spend the bulk of their time. At least initially.
Diving into a campaign will present you with a branching tree of combat encounters, each bookended by loose snippets of story. Battles can vary from simple head-on clashes to the very Nidhogg-esque Tug of War in which defeated opponents are pushed back towards their half of the screen until vanquished for a final time. There’s also a Horde mode in there too as well as the more challenging leader battles against Griefhelm’s bosses.
What makes the campaign dynamic is its replay value. These battles are strung together randomly in terms of the game mode, who you’re fighting, where, and the rewards up for grabs. Each playthrough will see you amass different weapon and armour loadouts as well as consumable perks which can help give you an advantage, though the campaign will be reset if you run out of lives. The perks are particularly interesting – fights can get repetitive so having these introduce modifiers to a fight can help spice things up.
Griefhelm isn’t exactly pushing for hyper-realism with its visuals. The game’s character models and backdrops have a simple yet distinct art style that seem almost deliberately understated in order for players to focus purely on the arc of each sword swing and hammer fall.