Quite possibly one of the most visually appealing games I have seen in recent years, Strayed Lights got my interest with its haunting atmosphere and vibrant colors. In the game, you will be exploring corrupted cities as a tiny being of light on a path towards awakening, fighting your inner demons to restore your balance.
Luckily, Strayed Light's developer, Embers, is going to have a booth at PAX. While we set up an appointment to see the game, I was surprised when they sent me an exclusive demo after the appointment was set up! Since I had watched this game for awhile, I was super excited to dive in and try it out.
Thank you Embers for the chance to try out Strayed Lights!!
DISCLAIMER: This is a demo and the final product can change. Our impression is of this demo and slice of the game and we will reserve final judgment of the game and how it performs once it is launched.
Strayed Lights - Parrying to Death
Starting up the demo, I noticed a couple things right away. First, the text was a bit on the smaller side. It wasn't unreadable, but it was definitely noticeable. Of course, after I saw the main menu, my first instinct was to look at the graphical options. I am happy with what I saw, a good selection of options that really did make a difference on performance and the inclusion of FSR!
I believe it is FSR 1.0 and not 2.0, but it didn't note which so I could be wrong The game uses FSR 2.0 and looks pretty great considering (Thank you DeckedVii for pointing this out).
Starting a new game, my character wakes up on the ground, disoriented. After walking around a beautiful temple and a stormy outdoor area, he comes up to a wall where an evil being sucks him inside. From there, you start to fight with enemies and bam, portals to different worlds open and pieces of the evil entity goes into each one. Now, it's up to us to stop them from wrecking havoc on the lands. The demo sees our lad going through one of the worlds, fighting enemies and taking on a giant monkey boss.
After playing through the demo, I am left with a curiosity to see more. I went in with expectations and, while some of them were met, others were just plain wrong. First, the visuals are phenomenal. The atmosphere, music, and environment fits together in a wonderful way and is expanded by the beautiful vibrancy the glosses over it. I am a sucker for bright and beautiful colors, so there were definitely times I had stopped to gaze over the blue hazy sky in the beginning. Moving around this world felt pretty nice for the most part, but jumping sometimes just felt off. There were times I thought the jump would go further than it actually did, or I would just completely miss where I needed to land, though this could have been just me.
The combat is actually what surprised me the most here. I expected a souls-like combat system where attacking in between dodging was going to be prioritized, but I was wrong here. Strayed Lights combat has you filling up an energy bar at the bottom of your screen in each battle. The easiest/fastest way to fill up this bar is to actually parry your enemy's attacks, which will require you to be color coordinated with them (swapping between orange and blue) and, once that bar is filled, you will be able to use a final attack to wipe them out completely. Though, if the enemy turns purple, you can't parry and will need to dodge the attack entirely.
The game prioritizing parrying was something I didn't expect. I did assume it was a feature, but to have it take center stage was unexpected. You can actually attack yourself to fill up the bar, but it doesn't fill it up as much. As you fight enemies, you will gain materials and ability points to make yourself stronger, whether its new abilities or increasing health, but anticipating and parrying moves will be the biggest help. You can unlock some cool new attacks as well like a counter that you can activate after successfully parrying a combo and it oftentimes feels quite cinematic to do it.
I wasn't bothered by this and genuinely started to enjoy it once I learned the patterns the enemies had. It felt satisfying to parry correctly, especially when I was able to counter afterwards. I do wish that our character's regular attacks helped a little more and wasn't essentially useless, but its possible this will be something that you can upgrade in the full game. You can also find orbs across the world which can actually increase the amount of energy you accumulate with your actions.
I will say my biggest gripe so far is actually the tutorial. The entire beginning section feels a bit long, especially for a short demo. There's around 2-3 minutes of running around, which doesn't include the cutscenes that can't be skipped, and the combat tutorial, which has you doing a move 3 times to learn it and then running after the teleporting big guy to start the next move. It feels like it added a bit more and I felt a little annoyed having to chase after the enemy so much. I feel it would have been much better to streamline the tutorial, making it happen all in one spot and go by a little bit quicker.
But of course, any impressions from us will always come with a technical analysis of how it runs on the Steam Deck!
Steam Deck Performance
While starting off strong and being able to hit 60 FPS out of the box, Strayed Lights starts to struggle once you get out into the open areas. After testing for a bit, I found a mix of medium and low settings with FSR on Balanced and 40 FPS cap works the best so far. I did have a TDP limit of 9 to keep battery down as well. Of all the settings, it seems Visual Effects Quality tends to effect the performance the most out of everything.
I did also notice some stuttering when running into new places too fast and moving around too much, but these stutters tend to be from shaders and I have a feeling the shader cache generated on release would help immensely with these. Otherwise, the game performed well and felt great with these settings. I didn't feel the game suffered at all from these visual changes and the framerate cap. Apart from the shader stutters, Strayed Lights felt smooth most of the time!
Overall, I would consider this a great game to watch out for. The visuals are stunning and vibrant with gameplay I want to explore more. I thought I would be turned off by the parrying style of combat once I realized what it was, and swapping between the 2 different colors to parry correctly was confusing at first, but I got used to it and I was crushing my enemies like a pro. I am looking forward to checking out the game even more at PAX and on release!
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