Strayed Lights preview: Gorgeous presentation backed up by a unique slice of Soulslike combat

Brad Norton
Strayed Lights gameplay

Strayed Lights, the debut project from French studio Embers, dazzles with its charming visuals and captivating score, while challenging you with a unique form of Soulslike combat, one all but infused with rhythmic elements.

First outings in the gaming landscape are no easy feat in terms of making a mark on the broader industry. Yet buzz has already been circulating around Strayed Lights since its stunning reveal earlier this year.

Through its wonderfully original art style and an inspired take on the Soulslike combat loop, many were intrigued from the first glimpse. Now having played an early build of the title ahead of its April 25 release, we can put any concerns to rest in saying Strayed Lights certainly lives up to its premise.

If the atmospheric level design doesn’t keep you charmed, then its simple yet effective spin on the action-adventure genre certainly will. We were left wanting more when the screen faded out at the conclusion of our preview, making this an indie release to keep an eye on in the weeks to come.

A charming world with stunning vistas at every turn

Making a splash from the opening frame Strayed Lights is bursting at the seams with thoughtful and richly detailed visuals. From the unnamed and silent protagonist in the foreground to truly beautiful environments encompassing every sequence, this game in motion is a sight to behold.

Through its wondrous art style, no two areas feel the same as each section of the experience feels mindfully placed, merging its own original backdrops, fauna, and creatures to establish some truly memorable locales. Be it a more ominous landscape, with deadly sharp mountains cutting through an eerily lit night sky, or a serene forest with sunlight breaking through a swarm of trees on the horizon as birds scatter in the distance, from one scene to the next, presentation never falters.

This sense of wonder is only further enhanced through not only a marvelous score from Austin Wintory, Grammy-nominated composer of Journey fame, but also its diegetic sounds as you traverse through its many varied regions. From the thunderous echoes of its orchestral soundtrack in moments of anguish, to lighter chimes amid moments of calm, the attention to sound design goes a long way in captivating the senses as you play.

Strayed Lights gameplay
Picturesque scenes are commonplace in Strayed Lights.

An almost rhythmic twist on the Soulslike formula

Tying each new location together is a fun twist on the gameplay formula Souslike fans will know and love. While it’s not trying to be anywhere near as challenging as many greats matching the approach, Strayed Lights still executes it well while bringing a new layer to the table.

Rather than simply timing dodges, parrying attacks, and landing strikes of your own, this indie title demands you do all that while matching certain elements. For instance, enemies donning blue visuals can only be countered if you match their blue color palette and then parry. Foes can swap their tactics with each cluster of blows, and even alternate between blue and red attacks mid-combo, requiring you to be alert at all times. Topping it all off, a number of more devastating attacks can’t be countered at all, interrupting your rhythm-game-esque flow as you dodge before catching the cadence again.

You won’t find any musical notes on a track and striking to the beat isn’t a feature whatsoever, but in memorizing enemy attack patterns, timing your counters perfectly, and unleashing your own flurry of strikes, it all comes together as though you’re in the midst of a rhythm game. Flowing seamlessly from one action to the next, you almost enter a flow state when all works just right.

Strayed Lights gameplay
Gameplay in Strayed Lights excels with its originality.

It’s a good thing combat comes together so nicely as Strayed Lights is intentionally slim in other aspects. There’s no voice acting to be heard, no explicit storytelling to guide you along, and only essential HUD elements to convey details like health and abilities on cooldown. While this minimalistic approach may be offputting for some, it’s the gaps you fill yourself that can be the most satisfying at times.

Whether or not the experience holds up through its full duration when the complete experience unravels in a few weeks, is anyone’s guess for now. But as credits rolled following our brief preview, we were left eager to find out more and continue refining our skills in the unique gameplay loop.

You can see it all for yourself when Strayed Lights releases across PC, Xbox, PlayStation, and the Nintendo Switch on April 25.