So I grew up during the age of gaming during the height of the PS2, GameCube, and OG Xbox when underrated AA-tier games were in abundance. These days, the spirit of those types of titles is being kept alive and well by the likes of THQ Nordic and indie developers. Another publisher that's known for putting out original IPs that reside in the realm of AA games is Focus Home Interactive. One of the development studios underneath its banner is Deck13, which is best known for the "Soulsbourne" titles Lords of the Fallen and The Surge series. Atlas Fallen is the studio's latest project, which feels like a cool mixture between Darksiders and Monster Hunter. While I'm pleased to say the overall gameplay of this game is better than expected, the unfinished feel of it all is confounding. With all that being said, let's dive into my Atlas Fallen review.
'Atlas Fallen' Review: A Sandy (Unoptimized) Monster Mash
'Atlas Fallen' Review
Atlas Fallen is a game with plenty of net positives. The first one that stuck out to me while playing is just how open-ended and rewarding its combat mechanics are. Your gauntlet-wielding warrior gains the ability to utilize three weapon types, which are a whip, a hammer, and armored fists. Each battle starts with you pulling off basic attacks but as you dish out more damage, you gain "Momentum." This in turn increases the power and range of your offense, plus your two equipped weapons grant you new attacks. I always looked forward to clashing with another mammoth "Wraith" and its minions as it gave me another opportunity to see how far I could go without getting damaged and rack up enough Momentum to land a "Shatter" super move to wipe our multiple enemies at once.
Another part of this game's combat system that I'm a huge fan of is its implementation of "Essence Stones." With three ability pre-sets to play with, I equipped different Essence Stones across each one to create different character archetypes. I love how you can equip a wide array of stones that can turn your character into an offensive powerhouse, a well-defended guardian, and even a fighter that can constantly heal him or herself at a moment's notice. Another cool battle feature is the utilization of varied "Idol" types - each one you come across gifts you with energy restoration slots based on its activation requirements. Once you get used to the flashy air boosting associated with air battles and the satisfying feel that comes from freezing a behemoth after freezing it with your "Sandskin" parries, Atlas Fallen's well-crafted combat systems will convince you of its greatness.
From a storyline standpoint, Atlas Fallen has some solid aspects going for it. The plot, which mainly revolves around the main character joining forces with a peaceful god to bring the reign of a vengeful god to an end, is interesting in parts. There were moments where I found myself genuinely interested in the people's plights due to them being forced to dedicate their lives to that benevolent god because of its cruel followers. But what trips up the storytelling is the shoddy voice acting of several of the game's characters - the spirit guide that accompanies you on your journey never sounded natural to me, plus some of the NPC voices sounded like they came from members of the game's development team instead of professional voice actors. There are moments near the final hub area that caught my attention but for the most part, the amateur-hour voice acting destroyed most of the intrigue associated with this game's plot.
Exploring the sand-covered hub areas of Atlas Fallen ended up being way more amusing than I figured it would be. The act of sand surfing is fun in and of itself. Beyond that, there's a good amount of side quests, errands, treasure map locations, actual treasure chests, and super strong Wraiths to discover across each section of the game's expansive world. While putting together my Atlas Fallen review, I thought back to all those standout moments during my journey - finding new pieces of attractive armor and getting caught in an enemy-filled sandstorm activated by the god I set out to destroy stand out among them. One main mechanic that increased my love for this game's explorative segments is the unlockable powers that come with upgrading your gauntlet. "Metroidvania" elements come into play as your gauntlet blesses you with the ability to air dash multiple times and unearth hidden paths in the sky to make your way to previously unaccessible areas & items.
While I played Atlas Fallen on my Xbox Series X, one thing stuck out to me (and not for any sort of good reason, mind you) - this game needed a few more months in development. My experience was littered with unfortunate bugs/glitches and visual hiccups that are too numerous to ignore. Texture pop-in is a huge issue in this game - sliding around the sands and witnessing random desert shrubs & rock formations pop up into the environment instead of naturally appearing happened on a regular occurrence. I was also left perplexed by all the moments of texture loading as I took an extra close peek at random boulders and even my own character's armor. What really irked me about my playtime were two disappointing moments. The first one occurred when the game slowed to a crawl while I navigated a small town - just imagine the type of slowdown that pops up in old-school arcade shoot 'em ups and you have a clear picture of what happened to me during that occasion. The second letdown happened when my game just crashed out of nowhere while I was right in the middle of a big battle where I was on the edge of victory. All of those instances point to Atlas Fallen being unoptimized and in desperate need of a day-one patch to remedy all of its issues.
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