Tarnished Blood is Darkest Dungeon meets Monster Hunter with a fancy timeline mechanic

If you’d told me back in 1999 that a rudimentary grasp of sound editing software would stand me in surprisingly good stead as a strategy game player, I’d have asked you who the hell you are and what you’re doing in my house. But in the years that followed, after you’d been sent to the slammer for crashing through my window bellowing about cheap Audible subscriptions, I might have checked out games like Ghost Trick and Phantom Brigade – each sort of an exercise in placing actions on a timeline like audio layers to produce a winning composition – and thought “hey, that hysterical burglar was onto something”.

I wouldn’t say there’s an abundance of games in which you place actions on timelines, mind you. But those that do exist are neat, as Marge Simpson would say. Take Tarnished Blood.

In Tarnished Blood – why yes, it is a dark fantasy RPG – you lead a group of intrepid human warriors who are trying to keep their settlement alive in a world filled with hideous, hand-drawn beasties twenty times their size. A snippet from the Steam blurb: “No atrocity is considered taboo in the world where gargantuan bloodthirsty Maultigores roam the valleys, and the deceitful Celestials control the time-space continuum.” Righty-ho then.

There’s a Darkest Dungeon-style roguelike campaign loop – kill one of the aforesaid vicious leviathans, who range from relatively unthreatening rat ogres to nasty cannibal plants and many-armed cosmic gods, and you can use its hacked-off pieces to improve town facilities and shore up your fragile enclave of humanity. The game also features a traits-and-traumas system reminiscent of Darkest Dungeon’s positive and negative quirks.

The actual monster-hunting is worlds away from Red Hook’s game, however. In combat, you’re given a timeline you can wind from left to right to see the whole scene play out. By dropping move and ability actions onto that bar, you can deftly avoid your massive adversary’s swipes and land precision attacks and combos of your own, wearing the creature down body-part by body-part. You can reverse a few of these actions if they get you into hot water, but you don’t have total freedom to choreograph the battle. Locking in choices causes vines to grow along the timeline, gradually swallowing up icons and preventing them from being removed.

Tarnished Blood Gamescom 2023 Trailer

There’s a selection of classes with signature skills – a bow-wielding class might be able to see silhouettes marking vantage points from which arrow shots deal extra damage – and each character has a loadout with slots for shields and armour pieces. A run is said to last around 10 hours, with different pop-up story events each time. Going by the Steam screens, these story events include unplanned orgies brought on by exposure to psychadelic plants.

I’ve written all this based on the tutorial mission. Tarnished Blood looks to get properly grim and gory deeper in, with characters receiving terrible injuries (including amputated limbs and “mutilated genitalia”, though genitalia aren’t actually depicted according to the content warning). Hunters may also develop conditions such as bipolar disorder and yeah, I’m not sure I trust a game with giant rat ogres to do subjects like that justice. But I’ve definitely enjoyed hopping my characters around the timeline, sprinkling behemoths with DMG as though soundtracking the kicks and punches in a martial arts film. The full game is out Q2 2024 and you can find a demo on the Steam page.

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