Review | Clash: Artifacts of Chaos

Originally published at: Review | Clash: Artifacts of Chaos - XboxEra

Clash: Artifacts of Chaos is the latest from ACE Team, out of Chile.  You are Pseudo, and you’ll find yourself tasked with the protection of a naïve child. Featuring a beautiful, pencil drawing filter on top of stunning art design you will enter a strange, vibrant world. It is one full of combat, exploration, and incredible music.  The phrase “Soulslike” rears its head, and in this case, it’s a really ugly version that turns what should be an excellent game into one I couldn’t stand to play. Let’s get into the incredible highs and, far too numerous, disappointing lows.

A Tale of Two Pseudos

The game begins with a combat tutorial.  You awaken as the Boney-carapace version of the protagonist Pseudo.  After beating up some training dummies and easy enemies you’ll awaken to a nighttime filled with similar versions of yourself hanging out.  The game never gives you any indication of where to go or what to do, so first things first is finding a befleshed version of yourself and awakening him.  In the daytime Pseudo is a fully formed being with a meat suit of yellow skin and one odd look.  Everything in this game looks as crazy as you would expect out of the developers that brought you Xeno Clash.

 Utilizing a filter on top of Unreal Engine 4 the game is given a pencil-drawn style that looks incredible. The color palette, character designs, and overall art style are the highlight of the game.  This is a bizarre, gorgeous world full of enemies that want to beat the crap out of you.  The main reason they’ll want to fight is the small bird-like child you befriend early on.  They are cursed with healing powers, that can also harm, and the boss of the land is desperate to cure herself.  She sends a never-ending assortment of thugs after you, and every fight with a sentient creature will allow you to invoke the “one rule”.  This is a dice game in which both sides can earn a bonus if they win.  There are dozens of them and they range from getting a first hit in to slowing enemies down and more. 

The dice game you’ll play to determine who wins is called Ritual and it is damned near impossible to win early on.  You have four die to start and can find more over time. Things start off with a roll and it’s random how many points each side will start with.  From there you have three turns each using various tools to chip away at the number of die score available.  It’s not complicated, nor is it particularly fun. Early on it was easy to win, but after a few hours, it was nearly impossible. Even after trading every time I could to get more die and tools, it felt unfair.  That feeling is the main one that permeates throughout what otherwise is an excellent game.

The Bad Type of Souls Like

Clash is a Soulslike, and it’s not the good kind.  The game does not respect your time. There is no soulslike leveling system, instead, you gain experience (slowly) and each level earned gains you three ability points.  These go into four different categories through a UI that is decent looking but a constant pain to navigate.  The four categories are Power (damage done), Endurance (your guard meter), Aggressiveness ( your super meter), and Constitution (taking less damage). There is more to these stats and we’ll get into them in the combat section.

The major issue is how checkpointing and death are handled.  If you die as daytime flesh Pseudo you’ll awaken at night and be forced to run back to your corpse and defeat the enemy that killed you as Stone Pseudo. If you die as Stone Pseudo you get a game over screen and are sent back to your last checkpoint.  Those checkpoints generally only occur when you sleep at your bonfire equivalent campfire.  I would go 30+ minutes without finding a campfire, and even 6 hours into the game I only had one healing flask. This meant my entire playthrough was filled with me running back for 5+ minutes sometimes to find the nearest bonfire, which respawns all the non-sentient enemies that I’ve killed.  Most of the time though I would die during the day, and before I could even make it back to my corpse die again at night to the dozens of different enemy types that spawn there.  It was infuriating and ruined any flow of the game’s progression.

You are never given any indication of where to go to progress the story, instead, you’ll fumble around hitting constant enemy types that are way higher level than you are and can kill you in one or two hits. I cannot remember being so constantly frustrated in a game. They took all of the wrong lessons from why people like the Dark Souls games and ruined what should be a fantastic game. The game excels in 1v1 combat, but you rarely get that.  Instead, you fight upwards of 3 enemies often and the game doesn’t handle that well.  Most of the time I won a progression fight it was because I got lucky and the enemies bugged out in the environment and let me punch them for 30 seconds straight without taking any damage.

You will be exploring an open world with no clue of where you’re going, where you are, or what you are supposed to do for the majority of the campaign.  I do my best to finish every game I review, but I gave up on this one after 12 hours. I simply couldn’t take the meandering, unfair nature of it. If I wasn’t playing it for review I would have been done after 3 or 4 hours, despite loving so much of what ACE Team has done here.  Let’s get into the combat, gear, and upgrade systems. The latter two are another area of massive disappointment.

Martial Sharts

Pseudo and everyone in this world loves to fight.  There is a full weapon and armor system, along with weird upgrades that felt damned near useless.  X is your main attack with Y being up to three different special abilities.  The big differentiator for your X abilities is your stances.  Using B to dodge in the four main directions and then pressing X is how you change up your attacks. I found the boxing stance to be my favorite and focused on powering it up whenever possible.  You can use left and right on the d-pad to swap between your two equipped stances but I rarely did. The game is primarily in the third-person perspective. You have an attack meter that once full allows you to press RB and enter first-person mode. You’ll use different strikes as you build up to a finisher. Get enough hits in first-person mode and you’ll deal massive damage with an incredible-looking attack, but if you’re hit a few times you’ll be knocked out of the mode before you can pull it off.

In the opening tutorial, you’ll use a few different stances and choose your favorite.  You’ll be able to find, at random, totems in the game world that offer up additional stances and special moves if you can beat the levels they take you to.  There is no danger of dying in these but they do seem tied to your overall level and upgrades because most of them were balls-hard.  Like everything else in the game, there is nothing to indicate what level a fight you’re about to take on is, and if you’re ready for it.  Some tutorials were a breeze, others saw enemies kill me in one hit. The obtuseness of Clash’s systems is to its constant detriment.

To upgrade your stances and abilities you’ll need to find figurines. These are located throughout the game world either out in the open or in chests.  To actually use them you’ll need to find incense burners, which again are only at specific places in the game world.  Once you’ve used a figurine that’s it, as I found no way to take them out or swap them to other stances/abilities.  These and the experience system are the main treadmills for your protagonists powering up and they feel utterly useless.  Enemies that took 15 hits and could kill me in 5 took 14 hits and could kill me in 4 after getting Pseudo from level 1 to 9 (which took 6 hours) and using dozens of upgrade items on my abilities.  This slow to the point of feeling useless powering curve killed any sense of joy I found in exploring this gorgeous play space.

The lock-on combat’s deliberate pace makes anything over a 1v1 fight feel wildly unfair.  The camera is pretty close to the main character, and you have no idea when someone is going to attack you from behind.  Left bumper is a parry that got me in more trouble than it ever helped with, and enemies can block attacks in a way I never figured out how to avoid.  Attack patterns, timing, all of it felt terribly unfair, especially after coming directly off of Wo Long. In that game I felt like was a god, and in this one, I felt like a child scratching at the toenails of giants no matter how long I spent grinding out upgrades.

The gear system is atrociously handled as well. Every weapon type I found or traded for at the game’s various NPCs was weaker and harder to use than my fists.  Armor has one of the simplest and ugliest UIs. It’s just a giant box that gives you no indication as to how many different types of armor there are. It’s just a big grid and you have to organize it yourself, but when you try to move something instead of equipping it, it equips it anyways.

The last thing is the flask system. At each campfire, you can use the stew pot to craft a flask using items you pick up in the environment.  These can be more defense, stamina, power, etc. depending on the ingredients used.  As long as you make sure to constantly pick up everything you see on the ground or trees around you you’ll never run out of items to craft healing flasks with.  Sadly you only have one flask for an extremely long time, and being able to trade for more requires items that are random to find like everything else.

Wasted Beauty

As stated previously this is a gorgeous game. Running on Unreal Engine 4 it’s one of the best-looking games at this level of budget that I’ve ever seen.  Performance can have massive drops running on Series X at seemingly random times. For the most part, it held its high resolution and sixty fps target well, but more than a few times it dipped hard into what felt like the teens for a few seconds. When this happened during combat it was a huge pain in what is already an unfair feeling title. There are options to change exactly how the filters work but I found the default look to be my favorite.

The soundtrack is up there with the graphics as the best part of the game.  A wide variety of fantastic tracks add weight and emotion to the solid story. Voice work in English was damned good as well, with a Ron Perlman-esque voice on Pseudo sounding appropriately badass. The only bug that I ran into was a hitch a few seconds after coming back into the game from Quick Resume.  It would happen without fail every single time where the game would freeze up for a second after loading in, but then everything would run fine.

The story itself featured a ton of memorable characters and I wish I could have seen it through to its conclusion. The lack of any type of difficulty or accessibility options will limit the number of people that ever do.  I know I can beat Clash: Artifacts of Chaos, but I simply do not want to play it for another second.

Wrapping Things Up

I’ve rarely been so disappointed in a game. Clash is stunning to look at and listen to. It has excellent 1 on 1 combat set in a uniquely crazy world.  The utter lack of care for its player’s time and obtuseness to the point of maddening frustration hold back what should be one of the year’s most compelling titles. If you have the skill, patience, and a walkthrough guide this one may be worth a look at on sale.


I really wish this would just die off.

Good review as always, Jesse. The game looks fantastic but I’ll never touch it.


plenty of games use it well, this one used it in all the wrong ways

I don’t even like it when it works well, but I can tolerate it. I struggle to see the fun in it and it’s one of the things that push a game further down the backlog list. This seems like a particularly horrible implementation of it for sure though.

Really a shame, because the game looks very interesting otherwise.

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