Phantom Blade: Executioners Closed Beta Gameplay Impressions

Phantom Blade Executioners Impressions

Today I want to talk about and showcase Phantom Blade: Executioners, an upcoming game that recently held a closed beta and we were invited to give it a look – since the game looks terrific, we jumped at the opportunity. The first thing that makes this game stand out from the crowd is the alluring visual style, reminiscent of watercolor art. It’s all drawn and animated with uncontested talent and this creative Wuxia world is a true feast to the eyes – especially if you like your action RPGs with a hefty dose of creepiness, delirium, and shockingly cruel characters, because that’s what this world is about. You have all the resources you need for Phantom Blade: Executioners in the video description, but sit tight and relax because in these Phantom Blade: Executioners gameplay impressions I’m going to show you a lot of its inner workings and some of the nasty creatures that you’re happily going to pummel into the ground.

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So, Phantom Blade: Executioners is a grim side-scrolling action RPG with roguelike elements and high-speed customizable skill combos. The randomized levels provide different layouts and enemies each time that you enter the same location, and you can choose to go straight to the end of the level by following the white arrow, or discover side-stories – or anecdotes, as they are often known in the world of gaming – that introduce quirky, mysterious, and often dangerous characters.

Before that, here’s a bit of context to Phantom Blade. This is the third title in a series that started as a passion project by a single person, slowly gaining visibility and awards over the years. Now, with extra hands on deck and a more focused vision, Phantom Blade: Executioners is aiming at the global market and coming to PC, Android, iOS, PS5, and PS4 during 2022.

Phantom Blade: Executioners is set in a creepy and despairing world that can give you chills if you immerse into its ominous story. The main plot is spread over eleven chapters and each one comes with a stunning cinematic animation to get you into the mood for horrid creatures and dark tales. If you take the time to read the stories that the devs have created for each boss monster, NPCs, and Phantoms, you’ll get your head around an insane amount of lore that usually has no business being in a side-scrolling beat’em up. But it’s there and it’s nasty, in a good way. But I digress: the story tells you about people who are being modified with Sha-Chi and becoming mindless and monstrous killing machines. As a member of the mysterious Organization, you receive a letter to investigate this situation, why it’s happening and who is behind it all.

The closed beta offered two characters of the four that are planned for the official release. One is called Soul and he is all about strength and skill flexibility. He can evolve into two classes: the agile Dark Raider and the powerful Infernal Blade. The other character is Mu Xiaokui and she veers toward agility and speed and a skillset that is focused on traversal. Her two advancement classes are Jade Dancer, primarily a shield breaker, and the Iron Princess, perfect for crowd control. The remaining two characters are Zuo Chang and Xianzhe, also with two advancement classes each.

I’ll start by talking about the deceptively simple combat mechanics, which have many layers of complexity that only become apparent as you progress through the campaign. You start with basic moves such as attack and jump, soon followed by dodge and parry. These two straightforward moves already harbor some tricks to them, and it’s highly recommended that you don’t skip the many quick tips that fellow automaton Utilitina has for you. For example, dodging twice can be used to extinguish the fires when you’re burning, and perfect parries may stun your enemy and increase your Sha-Chi points.

The control ease and smooth animations bestow Phantom Blade: Executioners with extremely fluid and pleasant gameplay. You perform your moves on the ground and in the air with grace and swift reactions, it feels intuitive and goes absolutely crazy when you start chaining combos, the very same that you have manually created yourself. Besides upgrading skills, you can create two combo chains using skills of various types, resulting in a myriad of combinations that the experts will be able to optimize to its fullest. You have complete freedom to combine ground and aerial combos, thrusting the enemies into the air with a first move and delivering a succession of blows that will drain their health in no time.

Phantom Blade Executioners Gameplay Impressions Combat Iron Princess class

There’s a lot more to skills and combos, as Phantom Blade: Executioners comes with a familiar summon feature where you can recruit Phantoms. These Phantoms are fragments of fallen warriors who will now come to your aid by boosting your skill attributes. Some boost your attack stats while others decrease your skill cooldown time, and so on. You can level up Phantoms by devouring units of lower grades or materials that are specifically used as consumables. You can assign one Phantom to each skill, improving the overall rating of your hero. It’s another factor that adds to the skill customization options, resulting in a deep and intricate system that offers many possibilities.

As I’ve mentioned before, you can follow the story through the stages and complete the various difficulty levels in each region, from normal to hard and master. Sometimes this is a requisite to unlock more stages, but you would be missing out anyway if you didn’t try to finish every possible option. It’s not just the loot that is potentially superior from enemies in harder stages, it’s the side-stories that are great distractions from the relentless actions. These anecdotes expand on the game lore and make you face choices that may bring consequences to your actions.

Following the purple arrows is going to lead you into rooms where some sort of character with mysterious intentions awaits you. It could be a little girl who was left behind by her father and you need to break the harsh truth to her or lie and say that he will return soon, or a sick man who is asking you to take some food to his wife, who has gone to the temple to pray for his cure. These are just a few examples of the many anecdotes that await, all noted down in your journal so that you don’t lose track of the initial clues and where you are expected to go to get to the bottom of the matter. This often requires you to move between regions in search of your objective, delivering a nice change of pace and location that comes as a nice break to the fast-paced combat.

I have to say that the creepy design of some of these NPCs, with their pitch-dark faces and soul-sucking eyes are great at conveying an uneasy feeling, and I felt chills down my spine when I found this ominous little girl in a cave singing A-tisket a-tasket, a green and yellow basket… Is she innocent or not? I’ll let you decide when you find her, but I can tell you that not every story here has a happy ending.

One of the things that I found particularly clever in Phantom Blade: Executioners is the hub. You know, the place where you have access to everything that you need in your journey, from tutorials to crafting, cooking (yes, there’s cooking in this game), resource dungeons, inventory, gear, summons, and more. Instead of taking you back to a regular hub after each level, it’s the hub that comes to you in the shape of a one-horse carriage. Immersion is often underestimated in games and it’s a little touch like this one that makes the world feel more cohesive and well thought-out.

While the main campaign in Phantom Blade: Executioners is crafted for a lone wolf, there are multiplayer options as well. When you unlock the Mirror Realm at level 30, which is a great place to earn valuable loot such as gear and phantoms, you can hire the mirror image of a player of your choice. Using in-game coins you get the help of a stronger player than yourself, lessening a task that could prove challenging. This is an asynchronous mode, so not quite the kind of true online multiplayer that some of you may be looking for. We'll see what the future brings in terms of additional multiplayer options.

Phantom Blade Executioners Gameplay Impressions Hub

I still haven’t really touched upon the visual mastery of the game. Everything is hand drawn and created with a keen eye for sharp details and grotesque imagery, portraying a bleak world filled with miserable creatures and characters at the brink of despair. The often muddy color palette only reinforces this sense of dread; it is done with an artistic vision in mind, not as a lazy way to save resources or disguise a lack of talent. Sometimes there’s a glimpse of goodness in this world, like when a young girl is adopted, but that’s rare enough as to deserve a mention.

Don’t forget to check the Codex owned by the stunning but somewhat blueish Inanis, as this is the place where you can peacefully appreciate the accomplishedly twisted art of the enemies that you’re going to face. Furthermore, you can check the full gallery of the Phantoms, and these truly deserve a look or two, given the absolutely impressive artwork and terrific animations – I wish we could see them jump into the action for a few seconds to better appreciate their visual quality, but I guess they’re here mainly for the attribute boosts.

The cutscenes are trippy, nightmare-inducing, with large close-ups of more monstrous faces than one would expect. There’s plenty of hand-drawn violence and gore, ominous creatures, but also the occasional sight of supposedly normal human beings who are trying to stop this Sha-Chi madness. All in all, I was very pleased with the vast number of sequences that, although short and sometimes repeating animations, constantly drive the story forward after every few levels.

My other biggest compliment goes to the dazzling skill animations. Considering that everything is hand-drawn, it’s quite remarkable to witness the amount of work that went into them. My character, Mu Xiaokui, is a beautiful young girl that blinks and jumps faster than the eye can see, delivering a stream of blows that you’re going to have trouble trying to keep up with. Some of my favorite moments include this skill called Duck Beak where she turns into a massive Iron Husk that delivers some serious punches, or the Falcon, where she slashes forward with a lifesteal effect. Chaining some skills has a serious frenetic effect that can be hypnotic, although sometimes there may be a bit too much going on at the same time.

The music in the game, or should I say, the gloomy atmospheric tracks that pervade the whole adventure are just that – ambient pieces that are meant to convey the darkness of this world, and I’m convinced that I’ve heard a few children giggling faintly, something that will probably haunt my dreams, thank you very much.

I believe this has given you a very good insight on what to expect from Phantom Blade: Executioners. I must admit that I wasn’t familiar with the series or paying close attention to this third game, but as soon as I saw the gameplay I was immediately sold. It’s the kind of frantic action game that feels like a labor of love, and looking at the origins of the series, it supports that. Beyond the great artistry and the depressing atmosphere that I love in my games, there’s enough depth to keep it interesting and varied after many hours of play, especially with the complex lore and the added layers brought by anecdotes, which I truly enjoy. Sponsored or not, I can’t recommend Phantom Blade: Executioners enough in this video, check all the good links in the video description and let me know what you think of the game, if you’re looking forward to it.

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