Severance is a hardcore action game with polished and brutal combat that can only be compared to later titles like Dark Souls.

Retrowatch: Severance: Blade of Darkness — The Dark Souls of 2001

Severance is a hardcore action game with polished and brutal combat that can only be compared to later titles like Dark Souls.
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Welcome to another edition of Retrowatch, a weekly series where we take a look at a good game from years long past. In order for a game to be covered on Retrowatch, it must be at least 15 years old and most of all, it has to be good. Any game that scores below a 7 out of 10 will not be covered.

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This week we are taking a break from classic shooters and entering the medieval world of Severance: Blade of Darkness.

Severance: Blade of Darkness is a hardcore action game with realistic and brutal combat. It was developed by Rebel Act Studios and published by Codemasters. It released in America on February 19, 2001 and in Europe on February 23, 2001.

Note: In America, the game is simply known as Blade of Darkness.

Severance: Blade of Darkness is a difficult game with amazingly realistic and satisfyingly gruesome medieval combat, especially for its time. While the gameplay is outstanding, it’s plot does suffer from rushed development. It’s also got a few glitches and bugs.

A Darkness is Coming — Plot in Blade of Darkness

The plot to Severance: Blade of Darkness is a bit messy and hard to follow. This was due to it not being finalized because of the game’s untimely publication. But essentially, the game revolves around a darkness that is beginning to consume the land.

Monsters are awakening from dormancy, leaving the kingdom in ruin. The order of the knights has been betrayed, with most of its members slaughtered. Moreover, the kingdom of the dwarves lays in ruin. The struggle between the lord’s creations of light and darkness has once again begun.

The sacred sword of Ianna, the only weapon capable of destroying the darkness, has become corrupted. A hero must stand forth and find the magical runes to banish the darkness from the sword and obtain the keys to unlock the tomb where it resides.

The plot follows your attempts to obtain these keys and find these ruins to obtain the sacred sword of Ianna. Only then will you be able to defeat the darkness just as a chosen hero did centuries before.

As I said, it is messy. There are lots of names, and the lore and backstory is massive. But making actual sense of it all is difficult. 

Choose Your Hero

One of the big gripes that players had with Severance: Blade of Darkness was that is had no difficulty settings, resulting in the game being quite difficult. However, I like to see the characters available to you as the difficulty settings for the game. 

There are four to choose from, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Naglfar the Dwarf, Sargon the Knight, Tukaram the Barbarian, and Zoe the Amazon. Naglfar and Sargon would be the easier of the four to play due to their higher health and defense, as well as the ability to use a shield. 

Tukaram would be hard due to his power over defense ratio, and Zoe would be the hardest due to her being the weakest, both in power and defense (although she makes up for it with speed and a dodge roll). Both of these characters also use two-handed weapons, meaning they can’t use a shield. Instead, they rely on parrying, which is difficult to master.

Each of the characters is well-balanced and have their own weapons and skill sets, resulting in very different play styles for each of them. This increases replayability. It is definitely worth giving a playthrough with each of them at least once.

Complex Gameplay That is Difficult to Master

There is an awful lot to learn when it comes to the gameplay of Severance: Blade of Darkness, and it can be quite overwhelming when you are just starting out. 

As if the class variety wasn’t enough, the same applies to each and every enemy type too, resulting in you having to learn how your own character works while also learning how your enemies fight. It is here that the difficulty of the game comes into play. If you don’t get the hang of your character or learn the combat styles of your enemies, you are in for an absolute ass whooping.

Each of your character’s weapons has a skill that unlocks upon reaching a certain level. You gain experience from combat and level up, granting you extra health, more stamina, and new skills.

While fighting you must use the left mouse button, along with the movement key, to perform attacks. The same idea applies to the special skills of each weapon. A lot of the skills require timing, too, which stops you from simply spamming keys in hopes of successfully hacking an enemy to pieces.

These skills are extremely powerful but use up a massive amount of your stamina. If you over do it, you become exhausted, leaving you temporarily open for a pummeling.

Without them, though, you will only deal moderate damage, making combat much more difficult — especially against a golem with over 15,000 health points. The more powerful a weapon is the more stamina it also uses. Often you will find a pretty powerful weapon before you are capable of using it effectively, resulting in more than two attacks bringing on exhaustion.

The more powerful your weapon is, the less defense you will have. Choosing the right weapon at the right time can make a huge difference to the outcome of a battle. It’s a fine balancing act.

While complex and a lot to take in, the gameplay of the Severance: Blade of Darkness is amazingly polished, solid, and extremely satisfying. Seeing enemies limbs and heads flying off with fountains of blood spilling out never gets old. 

Huge Levels With Excellent Design

While the game’s development may have been rushed, one thing that’s not made with haste is the levels. They are massive, often taking anything from 30 minutes to an hour to complete. 

From ancient ruins to battle worn castles and snowy mountains, there is a large variety of landscapes  on offer. Very often the levels have a central hub with numerous branching paths that you will have to explore. Each of these paths then eventually return to the hub, resulting in a fluency to the level design and the player never becoming lost of disorientated.

Very often the levels contain hidden areas that hold extra supplies, such as health potions, weapons, and potions of power that temporarily increase your damage and defense.

Let’s not forget the many traps that lay scattered throughout the levels too, including enclosing walls, arrow traps, saw blade traps and much more.

Each level is very different and offers new challenges that must be faced. They are all a delight to explore and fight through and few games come close to how fluent their design is.

I really don’t want to fall down there do I?

Are You Awesome? BoD’s Ranking System

Severance: Blade of Darkness has a small little feature that is quite unique. The save games have a ranking system that is determined by how many times you save the game. The less you save, the higher your rank is going to be.

The highest is “awesome,” while the lowest is “normal.” The feature doesn’t change any aspect of the gameplay or plot. It’s there for nothing other than bragging rights. In order to have an “awesome” ranking, you can only save on average two times a level.

That isn’t a lot considering the game’s difficulty and the length of the levels. If anyone is capable of achieving the rank of “awesome,” they truly are bloody awesome. It is only a small feature — and one that most wouldn’t care for — but it is a nice little addition that gives the masochistic players something more to aim for.

An Amazing Game That is Still Worth Playing Today

The plot to Severance: Blade of Darkness may be messy and there may be a few bugs and glitches here is there, but aside from that, it is an outstanding game. At its time of release, there was nothing else like it and no other game even compared to it when it came to realistic and brutalizing combat.

It is a hard game to learn the ins and outs of, and there are plenty of controls that you will have to familiarize yourself with before becoming a master. But it is a fair game and one that rewards you for learning. And once you come to grips with it, it becomes one of the most satisfying hardcore melee combat games that have ever been created. 

The only modern games that can be compared to it would be the Souls series for its difficulty and realistic combat. If you enjoy difficult games or are looking for something similar to the Souls games, then Severance: Blade of Darkness is certainly worth a try.

I hope you have enjoyed this edition of Retrowatch, and I hope you will join us next Monday, where we will be taking a look at another retro title.

Interested in seeing more Retrowatch reviews? Check out my review of Wolfenstein 3D and “Wolfenstein: Spear of Destiny.”


Retrowatch: Severance: Blade of Darkness — The Dark Souls of 2001
Severance is a hardcore action game with polished and brutal combat that can only be compared to later titles like Dark Souls.

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Damien Smith
Playing video games for over 23 years, love to write and love everything video game related.