In Norse mythology, the word “eitr” refers to a substance that is the source of all living things, yet is also corrupting and poisonous to all that touch it. This was part of the inspiration for Eitr, an isometric action game from Eneme Entertainment, that would fall under the common genre of “Dark Souls but…” that seems so prevalent nowadays.
Where Eitr sets itself apart is in capitalizing on its differences to create an experience all its own. You awake as a shieldmaiden, in a world overrun by darkness and corruption. You are the only one not affected by the eitr, and you’re not sure why. Your quest is to find the source and destroy it, along with a lot of evil monsters along the way.
The inspiration for Eitr originated with not with Souls, but with a TV show. The developers were watching the program Vikings and felt inspired. “What if we made a game about that shieldmaiden?” they asked.
You can see the Nordic inspiration in every nook and cranny. Bearded, disfigured hulks wield massive axes and lances rather than swords and shields. Berserkers and vile rats are more common than skeletons and drakes. The maiden herself wears Norse garb, and carries a shield that would look as commonplace on the side of a longboat as it does on her arm.
She is not limited to simply a shield, though. While your main hand weapon determines your attack, your offhand equipment opens up a wealth of special attacks. The shield may be able to bash enemies, while an offhand handaxe gives you a dash that can quickly close the gap with distant foes.
The isometric viewpoint adds a bit of complexity to the mix, as you must better use depth and angles to pierce an opponent’s defenses. It also brings up thoughts of more retro games, which is further enhanced by the gorgeous pixel art, inspired by titles like Sword & Sorcery.
Different rooms and shortcuts weave around the level, providing a reward for those crafty enough to find them. Sometimes they led to a new weapon or piece of equipment, or maybe opened up a quicker route to where I was headed. These persist through death, though you also risk penalties with each end. You might be lucky and have the gods smile upon you, resurrecting you free of charge; or they might ask for a penance, or instill a penalty on you for dying.
During my time with Eitr, there was never a clear end goal or “level finish,” but rather a continuing plunge into the depths of maddening darkness. I could see a fire in the distance, and I often died while barely glimpsing it, but I never reached it. Most of my time with Eitr was spent dying – to arrows, to rats, to my own dumb mistakes.
I kept picking the controller back up, though, because I knew I could reach the fire. Not then, maybe not now, but I could. It’s that inspiration that fuels good titles like this, and makes Eitr an especially interesting progeny of the Souls genre. Look for Eitr on PS4 and Steam in 2016.