Warlander, in developer Clock Drive Games’ own words, is inspired by the Jedi Knight series and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. During my 20-minute demo, what made those aforementioned games special shined through, and I couldn’t get enough of the Lightsaber-like combat that had me chopping limbs and heads off any monster that stood in my path.Warlander stars a resurrected hero named Bruce who wields a sentient sword that very much invokes the feel of that elegant weapon for a more civilized age. The weight behind each swing is heavy and packs a ton of force and, unlike for the majority of enemies in the upcoming Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, a successful strike will dismember limbs, heads, legs, and any other unfortunate body part that falls victim to Bruce’s wrath.

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It’s up to the player to aim that line on an enemy, all while avoiding armored body parts, to achieve the perfect dismemberment.

However, this is no simple hack-and-slash game. There is a much deeper combat system in play that will quickly overwhelm players if they try to button mash their way to victory. This is where Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance shows its influence.

As Bruce approaches an enemy, a line appears that indicates where his sword will strike. It’s up to the player to aim that line on an enemy, all while avoiding armored body parts, to achieve the perfect dismemberment. While aiming for the perfect hit, players must also monitor an unforgiving stamina meter that will punish players for not carefully choosing their attacks or attacking too frequently.

It took a bit to get used to, as I initially felt that the combat was too slow and cumbersome, but once I started framing Warlander as more of a puzzle game, I felt right at home. By using a combination of left and right sword strikes, a charged overhead attack, and certain abilities like Stakes and Vines, I learned to handle any obstacle in my way and quickly began feeling like an unstoppable warrior.

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There is a semblance of a story here, but Warlander, at least in my demo, very much felt like combat arenas with hallways leading to each new one. There are chests to find that contain experience and body parts that you sacrifice to a literal skill tree to upgrade your abilities, but it feels very much geared toward funneling you to the next arena.

I’m hoping there is more to it, as I’m afraid the cool factor of dismembering enemies may wear thin as there is some, but not a ton of enemy variety. I would love to see some puzzles utilizing the unique cutting mechanic or variations on the combat that would add longevity to the game.

Fortunately, there are boss battles in Warlander, and the final boss in the demo could kill Bruce in one hit if he wasn’t careful. Once again, it felt frustrating at first to die without really knowing why, but there are patterns to learn and ways to understand what dangers would be coming next. I was actually kind of surprised to learn that, upon striking the final blow on the boss, there was no dismemberment of any kind.

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That brings me to my next point. This was a pre-alpha build, but everything does still feel a bit clunky. In some respects, it adds to the combat and the heaviness of the carefully planned out sword strikes, but there were moments that pulled me out of the game and felt as though I was fighting the controls more than the evil in Warlander’s world.

There is still plenty of time, however, as Warlander won’t be released until early 2020 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Hopefully, Clock Drive can stabilize the game, because there is a great merging of ideas that I am excited to explore more of.

I see Warlander going down two potential paths, one that leads to variety and surprises and mechanics that keep the core gameplay fresh, and another that leads to a standard, if forgettable, run-of-the-mill arena combat action game. While there is fun to be had with the latter, the former could be something truly special if Warlander can achieve it.

Adam Bankhurst is a news writer for IGN. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamBankhurst.

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