For some time now Deck13 has focused heavily on offering difficult action RPGs that would fall under the soulslike category, putting their own unique spins on the formula to try and set themselves apart from others in the genre. While Lords of the Fallen back in 2014 may have been fairly close in nature, their later The Surge series saw the developer experimenting more to some rather solid success. Now Deck13 has moved to try something a bit different with Atlas Fallen, instead offering an open world action game focused on fast-paced combat and powerful monsters. Has this German developer managed to find treasure in the desert that is Atlas Fallen?
The world of Atlas Fallen has suffered under the tyrannical rule of the sun god Thelos for as long as history can remember, with humanity toiling away for the god to harvest Essence that will then be offered to the god in an effort to keep it happy and keep the dangerous wraiths that exist in the world at bay. Players take on the role of an Unnamed, someone deemed lower than a slave by the ruling class but when a powerful sandstorm tears the caravan apart and allows wraiths to run wild, the player has a chance to search outside of the camp only to stumble upon a mysterious relic, simply known as the Gauntlet. After quickly battling against their captors and witnessing the rage of Thelos upon the land, players find themselves with a new friend as the being within the Gauntlet, known as Nyaal, has promised that there is far more to the world than they may know and while he may not remember much now, their journey to free the people from the rule of Thelos and class system will bring everything to light.
Although Atlas Fallen has an interesting set-up as well as some solid world lore that players will discover throughout the game, most of the story is a bit on the bland side that feels like it doesn’t live up to its potential and rarely comes off as a surprise, even feeling a bit rushed near the end despite being a fairly short game as far as open world RPGs are concerned. There are a couple of simple twists here and there but most developments are incredibly easy to predict or something that anyone who has played games before has seen countless times before, especially in regards to character tropes. That isn’t to say that there aren’t interesting characters, there are quite a few actually. Unfortunately most of them are simply side characters while the player character and Nyaal serve as the most generic pairing of lead characters around. Perhaps this is due to the incredibly poor voice acting for nearly the entire cast but the story rarely feels like it makes the most of its potential given the setting. It is nice to note that while Nyaal can chime in during standard gameplay, a growingly familiar mechanic, players can also adjust how often they want character banter to happen or shut it down entirely should they truly wish to.
Atlas Fallen features four main zones with its open world and many of these locations are actually quite impressively designed. Sure, a few locations may be a bit on the barren side, but the amount of locations to explore, side-quests to undertake, and collectables to gather never feels overwhelming thanks to the layout of these locations. It also helps that, although some areas in certain maps aren’t accessible right away players will eventually unlock extra abilities, such as longer jump glides, additional object manipulation, and more to help give these locations some extra life. This in-depth exploration is certainly optional, especially since the game doesn’t feel too challenging, but players who want to get the most out of a location will find many useful upgrade materials, essence stones, and more offered as rewards for their efforts.
One element that makes exploration in Atlas Fallen enjoyable are the movement options that open up as players progress through the game. They will quickly gain access to the sand surf ability, allowing for quick movement along the desert as well as double jumps, air dashes, and more to help keep movement fast paced. This level of movement carries over to combat as well as the game’s combat system prefers to keep players moving while offering plenty of choices for customization. Of the three weapons offered, the Sandwhip offers the most movement options as it allows players to use its strong attack to zip towards an enemy, unleashing a combo on them before disengaging which works just as well in the air as it does on the ground. Alongside the Sandwhip the Dunecleaver Axe serves as the initial default weapon that works fairly well but quickly will find itself overshadowed by the elaborate Knuckledust weapon once players obtain it, if not for its great looking design when used in combat then certainly for its power.
One of the most unique features of Atlas Fallen’s combat system is the Momentum Gauge. As players dash around the battlefield and attack enemies, they will quickly build momentum that has three tiers as well as additional slots that correspond to the various Essence stones that players equip. On the surface, the Momentum Gauge is a bit of a risk and reward system as the higher the gauge the more damage players deal to enemies but the more they receive should they be struck. It also allows their weaponry to assume stronger forms, extending their basic combo attacks and offering new options in fights. Players can burn their entire Momentum Gauge by triggering a powerful Shatter attack that will devastate most foes in the area with their health even indicating when a Shatter will instantly slay them.
Now, the Essence Stones that have been mentioned before are various buffs and abilities that players can locate around the world, craft from ingredients, and obtain from completing quests. Each stone can only be slotted into certain spots on the Momentum Gauge but once the gauge reaches it, it will automatically apply the buff or allow players to use the ability at will. For example, creating a mini sand-tornado may require the bar to be filled halfway while a passive buff to allow for easier or even automatic sandskinning to parry enemy blows may take nearly a full momentum gauge to apply. This level of risk and reward in fights makes most encounters exhilarating, especially since the sandskin ability, that works as the game’s parry, is easy to use and manages to lock down attacking enemies in a temporarily crystalized state.
Learning to master the game’s combat elements is easily the best part of Atlas Fallen, especially when facing down the larger beasts that players will need to take down. While the general wraith enemies that players fight are relatively normal sized or just a bit large and twisted, there are an abundance of extra large creatures that all have unique attack elements as well as certain parts of them that can be broken off for better loot and to deal massive damage to them. Taking down these massive beasts with their sand warped appearances never fails to delight as most of these encounters really highlight how fun the combat is in the game. One annoyance that persists throughout Atlas Fallen however is the fact that nearly every larger enemy has the ability to summon smaller wraiths to battle against while you take them on which often ends up being more of an annoyance thanks to how often they respawn than an actual challenge and this issue happens constantly throughout the larger enemy encounters.
Between the amount of character customization available through the Essence stones players can really outfit their character to best fit their playstyle and as mentioned before, those who want to explore will find plenty to enjoy besides collectables as there are various elements of platforming, extra strong Wraiths to hunt down, and even some extra tasks here and there outside of the usual side-quests. That being said, while the exploration may be fun, the actual missions throughout the game are mostly generic in nature. Nearly all of them involve simply being a fetch quest and even main story quests can often feel like busywork rather than anything meaningful.
One element that is immediately offered when starting is the ability to play the entire game in co-op and while we weren’t able to test this out too much outside of a few instances, any time we played with a co-op partner saw the game running perfectly smooth with our partner being able to immediately jump into the game without much of a hassle. With how enjoyable combat is in single player, it can get quite hectic and enjoyable with a partner though it does appear that there may be some issues with progression if players aren’t quite matched up in the story.
Visuals & Audio
The design of the world in Atlas Fallen is fairly impressive by how it makes use of the game’s focus on being in a desert world where most life is barely hanging on. Surfing along the sand and exploring is a real delight for the most part and there are a number of unique locations and environments to explore through the game, though the oft endless desert can be a bit repetitive sometimes. The character models are fairly generic with armor design being the true standout here while enemy designs are wonderful looking, especially larger threats and bosses, but it would be nice if there was more variety to them. This wouldn’t be too much of an issue if players weren’t constantly needing to battle against wraiths as they explore side-content or take on side quests and fight the same foes they’ve faced countless times before.
As mentioned earlier, the voice work in Atlas Fallen is bad. There are some side-characters that are handled fairly well and it is quite evident as most of the decently voiced characters also have the most interesting stories. Unfortunately the main characters are a complete disappointment and drag the story down more than they should due to the relatively generic developments. The soundtrack features a solid collection of music that works well for both exploration and combat though doesn’t quite stand out outside of a few of the larger foe themes that help make these battles feel even more epic in nature.
Deck13 stepped outside their usual wheelhouse for Atlas Fallen and that deserves some credit, especially since they have created an incredibly fun combat system with some great movement options to help make exploration through the open world an enjoyable experience, making both combat and traversal feel tightly designed outside of a few niggling jumping issues. Sadly Atlas Fallen is held down by the lack of interesting writing, repetitive objectives, and some of the flattest voice acting for a main cast of characters that you can imagine. That being said, those looking for a decent open world action game will find Atlas Fallen’s momentum based combat a fitting offering, just don’t expect great writing to go with the excellent feeling combat.
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