Originally published at: Review | Atlas Fallen - XboxEra
Atlas Fallen answers the age-old question “what happens if you took old-school God of War, Crackdown, and Euro-jank and put it in a blender”. Featuring some wonderous highs and a few thunderous lows, Atlas Fallen is beautiful and ugly, fun and infuriating, great and terrible in a way that only a few games are nowadays. You bear a gauntlet housing an imprisoned God, and that allows you to free a land full of terrifying-looking people. The combat can be incredible, while the story and voice acting are routinely the opposite. So, let’s dive in and see if this one is worth the sand that will inevitably end up in your boots.
Ayn Rand Al Thor 69
The first hour or so of Atlas Fallen is dreadful. You begin as a Nameless, a slave who spends their entire life gathering essence. This is the lifeblood of this magical land, and the evil Queen needs essence for the ritual to appease the god Thelos (thee loss). After some poorly written and stiffly acted storytelling you’ll be sent out looking for someone for some reason, none of it matters though because you’ll swiftly come across a magic gauntlet housing a God that quickly empowers you to fight this game’s only enemies, Wraiths.
Wraiths are beings of sand full of malice, looking to beat up people for kicks. After dispatching a few weaker Wraiths, the shithead guards will cry at you about how you’re a big dick for blaspheming their god by not just dying. You lose the gauntlet only to quickly get it back, run away, and then the real game begins. If you can stomach the terrible opening then you’re in for some true delights as the game opens up. It’s hideously ugly early on, with seemingly little time put into the opening area’s design. Once you hit the first of multiple open areas though the game’s artwork begins to shine.
Performance on Series X was poor, with a low resolution and terrible pop-in while in the 60fps targeting performance mode. Quality mode looks better in most ways while not moving but falls apart quickly once you do. This game is all about platforming and insane combat, so I stuck with the higher framerate option for my entire playthrough. You’ll quickly grow your legend as the gauntlet bearer, learning the history of the world and the gauntlet itself. It is an instrument of immense power, allowing you to control the sand, shaping it into weapons like axes, fists, and chains.
My playthrough was roughly 25 or so hours, because the game really wants you to do its dull side quests to level up enough to beat it on normal difficulty. While the main quests feature numerous bespoke areas and objectives the side quests all break down into the same type of fetch quest or killing enemies type. Most of the zones cannot be revisited once you leave them so you’ll want to clear up any exploration you can before moving ahead. While the writing and voice acting are sub-par the ridiculous story and where it goes is intriguing. It isn’t “good” but it did hold my interest once things picked up a few hours in and really started getting good and silly. The conclusion is a little weak, but one thing that rarely felt that way was the combat.
Atlas Fallen felt like a melee mix of old-school God of War and Crackdown. There were times where I wouldn’t touch the ground for 5 minutes straight while fighting the same Wraith I had already defeated 50 times before. It does get repetitive, both gameplay and enemy variety-wise, but the foundation is solid enough that I didn’t care. X is your main attack with Y being your secondary. Main and secondary weapons can be chosen from a small selection, and I ended up just using the first two I had unlocked for most of my playthrough. B is a roll which offers up a decent amount of invincibility frames and A is always the important jump.
There is just as much platforming in the game as there is combat and having the back paddles on an Elite Series 2 came in mighty handy despite this game not being a shooter. The camera can get stuck on the environment often, and being able to move it while still jumping and attacking was key to keeping the frustration down. The bumpers and triggers off up a spin/slam attack, dash, and the incredibly powerful parry. If you can’t get the generous timing of parries down then the game will become nigh impossible to beat. Parrying lesser foes instantly freezes them and three parries in quick succession on elite enemies will freeze them temporarily as well.
To aid you in your killer combo combat are essence runes. These are gained through defeating enemies, finishing quests, or buying them from vendors. I had dozens by the end of my playthrough and they are the heart of customizing your build to match your preferred playstyle. Runes are either active abilities or passive buffs tied to your momentum meter. In combat whenever you successfully attack, parry, or fulfill some other requirement you’ll build the momentum bar at the bottom left of the UI. You can have up to 9 essence stone slots filling three tiers, bronze, silver, and gold. If you are hit by magical blue enemy attacks you will not only lose health but momentum as well.
This system is further balanced out by the shatter ability. Once you have a third or more of your momentum bar filled you can use both triggers to shatter an enemy, instantly freezing them and dealing massive damage. This however will reset your momentum meter to zero and should only be used once an enemies health bar is glowing, indicating that the shatter will destroy that health segment. Lesser enemies have one health bar and go down in a few hits, the elite foes however have multiple. Some have five or more segments to destroy before they go down, so you’ll want as much momentum as possible to feed your active and passive abilities.
Outside of combat the controls for platforming work well. When on sand covered surfaces you can glide by pressing the run button, and during platforming segments you can double jump and boost to cross vast distances in a flash. Your gauntlet bearer is a master of mantling as well, which helps immensely with some of the environmental puzzles though the camera does like to get lost in said environment both in and out of combat. Anvils are a bonfire-style system, and while you don’t lose “souls” it does seem to respawn enemies if you use it, though not always. You can fast travel between them and there are a lot of upgrade systems tied to their use.
Essence stones, your gauntlet, and Armor are all upgradable in various ways. Armor upgrades are incredibly important, as their levels are the only way to properly match the NPCs you’ll be fighting. The only time I struggled in the game was when a lack of materials or new armor to upgrade kept me a level or two below the NPCs tied to a story quest. This required me to do side quests to get resources or occasionally be handed higher-level armor. It’s an ok system but the lack of clarity on where to get higher base level armor can be mighty frustrating.
Gorgeous and Ugly
Much like the plot vs. writing the graphics are a mixed bag on Series X. Early on the game is truly fugly, looking close to a late 360 game. Once you hit the open areas, especially the last few, the game’s artwork shines through, and it has moments of incredible scale and beauty. I didn’t notice many framerate issues in either performance or quality mode and that was without having a VRR capable display hooked up. Character faces are mostly terrible, and you have a severely limited character creator that I ended up just hitting randomize on a bunch of times before moving ahead. Some of the more fantastical creature and NPC designs suffer the same great and terrible issue. The wraiths mostly look damned cool, but a few spoiler-riffic characters if I named them look really damned goofy when you finally see them.
There are multiple play areas after the hideous first and they’re all great looking. Each features a few “watcher towers” which must be destroyed via taking out the elite wraith underneath them. Once you do the maps are dust free and despite the mediocre resolution there are plenty of gorgeous vistas. I had a lot of graphical bugs tied to the physics and ground systems. Odd behavior and falling halfway into things occurred multiple times but thankfully never broke completely, halting progress. I am curious how the game looks on PC at max settings, as the foundations of something good looking are there but the Series version has too many sacrifices to keep a solid performance.
As noted before the voice acting is a mix of stiff line reads and people putting on heavy accents to try and sound like a magical medieval character. The music on the other hand is pretty damned great, though sadly it doesn’t play often enough. You’ll get hits during certain cutscenes and combat encounters, but the game is too quiet during exploration. It’s a big sweeping orchestral mix that is a step above all the other audio in the title.
Load times were surprisingly long on Series X, taking upwards of 15 to 20 seconds sometimes when entering a new area or respawning after a death. I ran into no major bugs, mostly visual ones alongside one crash to the dashboard. This game isn’t online as far as I can tell, and it worked perfectly with Quick Resume for my entire playthrough. I only received one review copy from the PR team at Focus Entertainment, so I was unable to test the game’s cooperative gameplay. Early on it felt that things were more balanced for two players but after some quick leveling up it was never overly difficult again.
Wrapping Things Up
Atlas Fallen is close to being damned good. It is let down by a lack of variety in enemy encounters, poor side quests, and dreadful writing. Still, the combat quickly becomes damned fun and with the option of co-op, it’s well worth checking out if you want some God of Crackdown-style action platforming adventures.