- - 7.5/107.5/10
Pascal’s Wager is worth betting on if you can look past the technical issues, lacking voice-overs, and sluggish controls!
Developer – TipsWorks
Publisher – Giant Games, Yooreka Studio
Platforms – Switch (Reviewed), Windows, Android, iOS
Review copy provided by publisher
Pascal’s Wager is a new release of a port on the Nintendo Switch of a Mobile Soulslite game that was released in 2020. This port includes the released DLC of Tides of Oblivion, providing additional skins, a character, and a new area. While there is quite a bit to love about Pascal’s Wager, a few things hold it back from reaching righteousness.
The story follows a central character named Terrance, who, with a few companions’ help, is searching for his wife, Teresa. She seemingly is behind a strange set of occurrences that involve people losing their minds, weird monsters appearing throughout the lands, and ritualistic experiences that change the world as they know it. Along with the main character, you can also select a secondary character to play within each level. I enjoyed this aspect of Pascal’s Wager as each character is different and you don’t feel locked down as you progress.
The thing I liked most about Pascal’s Wager was its environment and design. It reminds me a lot of Bloodborne’s Gothic/Cosmic Horror style. The characters are designed in really stylish ways, and the game itself oozes the aesthetic. While playing, I was constantly taking screenshots of the characters, bosses, and environments. There is certainly a lot of heart here.
As you progress through the game, you unlock new areas to explore, and these are different zones much like Demon’s Souls, although not nearly as expansive. The first area you visit is pretty linear and quick to explore but gives you a general idea of how the game flow works. You collect enemy bones and use those bones to buy items and level up. You will come across locked doors, inaccessible ladders, and elevators that you eventually will unlock to make later areas in the level easily accessible after you die. The progression is exactly what you have come to expect from this genre.
As you unlock the following areas of the games, they also grow in size and depth. Several hidden paths and alternative routes fill the landscape; exploring these will lead to additional loot and lore-filled documents. You can find other side quests in these secondary sections of the ruins and swamps that make up this world. These different areas are well designed and varied enough to keep you engaged throughout the adventure.
In terms of characters and customization, you are playing preset characters. You are not able to change their weapons or armor, but you can customize the skill tree and equipable artifacts that change their character stats. As you increase your character’s level, you also get a stat point to allocate to one of the six base stats, such as Strength, Vigor, and Dexterity. Another nice aspect of this system is that the artifacts and levels are shared between the characters.
You don’t have to worry about leveling up one character or another and miss out on future characters or have to grind to make them powerful. However, the upgradable skill tree is unique and requires materials to increase those skills. So definitely don’t spend all your hard-earned items on one character alone.
Aside from equipable items and stats, each character plays differently. The main character, Terrence, is a reasonably balanced fighter and has a slightly slower movement pace. He can perform parries, backstabs, and executions, and all attacks do decent damage and stagger. Another character, Norwood, is an absolute tank. He can absorb much more stamina damage than Terrence, but his attacks are much slower.
There is a ranged character named Viola, but she can attack with quick melee hits. Benita is another character with a bit more range in her attacks as her weapon swings around, but she can also use buffs. Lastly, a very agile sword fighter named Jerod can dodge and attack very quickly. The only downside is that it takes a while to unlock some more fun characters, but it is well worth the wait. The DLC character Jerod was probably my favorite to play, but he wasn’t opened until the last few zones.
Story wise, Pascal’s Wager was fairly interesting but convoluted. I’ve never really played a Souls game for the story, but more for the challenge and we definitely have a challenge here. There is plenty of voice acting to fill the game, but a lot of the acting is subpar most likely due to the budget, and oftentimes the subtitles don’t match what the characters say. At times it is even sometimes hard to make out what the characters are saying to each other which adds to the difficulty of following the story. Some characters are much better than others, but I know people will have an issue here.
Unfortunately, the challenge is heightened more from what feels to be the controls and capabilities of the Switch. Some zones, especially towards the ends of the game, were having trouble with slowdown and even audio that wasn’t syncing correctly. I don’t know how the Steam version of the game performs in these areas, so I can only say it was a bit much for the Switch. This wasn’t game-breaking or anything but definitely noticeable and hopefully fixable with a patch.
In terms of the boss fights, they are pretty decent. One or two were complex, involving multiple phases and attacks that seemed pretty cheesy. Eventually, you will learn the patterns or can even drop the game difficulty down to Casual, making things more manageable but not mind-numbingly easy.
Another mechanic of Pascal’s Wager that separates itself from the pack is the Sanity meter. As you kill creatures and fight bosses, you slowly become insane. At the first tier, you will begin to gain limitations on your characters, such as a smaller health bar and benefits like increased attack damage. If you keep fighting without fixing your mental health, you will become a “Lunatic,” which creates a shadow-like version of a member of your party that will attack you.
If you happen to become “Lunatic” during a boss fight, they will regain their health back to the halfway mark, display a brief cinematic, and have all new abilities at their disposal! This brings certain potions and elixirs into play that will bring back your sanity to keep the balance of your mind where you want. Often though, during boss fights, you are almost guaranteed to go insane to see what new things the boss can do.
I’m surprised more people haven’t been talking about Pascal’s Wager. It’s not a perfect game, but for a Soulslike on the Switch, especially with this aesthetic, it stands out for me. You will find a hidden gem if you can look past the technical issues, lacking voice-overs, and somewhat slow and stiff gameplay.