Title: Atlas Fallen
Release Date: August 10, 2023
Reviewed On: PS5
Publisher: Focus Entertainment
Genre: Action RPG
Marketing action-adventure games seem exceptionally difficult. In such a crowded collective genre, simply standing out is a feat in it itself. There has to be some sort of perceptible ambition that shows your game has heart and is not solely a by-the-books venture that could be passed over at a glance.
As I played through the Deck13-developed Atlas Fallen, such thoughts constantly swam around my mind. Nothing in its marketing particularly stood out to me, so I had no idea if what I was heading into would leave a lasting impression. And the answer is that it both did and didn’t, sort of equally. There’s definitely plenty here to keep you engaged, but mixed avenues of it are memorable and full of substance.
Atlas Fallen stars a customizable protagonist who finds themself in possession of a legendary Gauntlet coated with a destructive history. As an Unnamed, essentially a slave, you escape your circumstances after finding this weapon, yearning to reunite with those you were enslaved with and helping those in desperate need within this dreary world. The Gauntlet is also embedded with a spirit only detectable by you, Nyaal. He has a significant past tied to the Gauntlet and, equally notably, has a tremendous curiosity about why the world has become the sand-infested landmass it now is. So, the two of you choose to travel together in search of answers while performing positive action.
Unfortunately, despite having a moderately captivating premise, Atlas Fallen’s narrative and characters are by far its weakest elements. From the opening moments, the game clearly tries to get you emotionally invested by emphasizing the miserable lives of the Unnamed, but their relationships all feel purely obligatory and superficial. This makes a good chunk of the initial motivation nonexistent, which carries over past the introduction. Then, once you become acquainted with Nyaal, the course of the plot really tries to build up this friendship between you two, yet it never provides notable character moments or passive dialogue that makes an impact. Nyaal’s voice performance is also pretty poor. The voice cast is usually on the mark with tone and enunciation, but his are unfortunate cases.
As for the narrative, I honestly never felt compelled or interested in what was happening. I even had to stave off the urge to look at my phone a few times. Essentially, while the events do definitely build up to something, there’s no initial tether with the world that draws you in to make you care. Admittedly, a few times, like in sidequests, I felt myself invested in an NPC’s fate or desires. In fact, the NPC dialogue can be far more extensive than you’d think. However, my care primarily applied to micro facets that weren’t unique to the locales themselves.
I dislike using this word, but the constant descriptor that always came to mind with Atlas Fallen’s story and cast is “generic.” I don’t intend to downplay the effort that went into crafting this game world since you can peruse several journals and optional dialogue to understand its history and contemporary developments better. There’s undeniable time and work that was poured into making this world immersive; it’s just that, sadly, little did it for me. Reading material in a title with a fully voiced story should, at least in my opinion, be purely supplemental and not the anchor meant to hook you.
In the realm of gameplay, Atlas Fallen fares far better. I’d even go so far as to say that its exploration is some of the best compared to most modern titles. This praise chiefly stems from the movement. Aside from the sand sliding, which is satisfying in its own right, you quickly gain the ability to perform multiple horizontal dashes in the air. This enables the level design to become genuinely creative, emphasizing verticality and distance to impressive extents that reward those who really go out of their way. You’re bound to find rewards in spots you did not think the team would have thought anyone would have bothered to reach.
This is especially the case in interiors, as the vastness of the exteriors manages to carry over, providing a sublime sense of discovery. This particular facet is what truly encouraged me to keep going, as it managed to somewhat compensate for the forgettable cast and narrative. The combat and character customization are also terrific, even if, at points, that excellence feels more conceptual than actualized.
In combat, the Gauntlet morphs into different shapes dependent on which primary and secondary weapon you have equipped. Combos then cleanly interweave between the two equipped weapons, which all have their own unique skills, so there’s plenty of variety. However, there’s much more to this, thanks to the presence of the Momentum gauge at the bottom of the UI. While you deal hits, the gauge fills, with each reached notch enabling the usage of a new tier of skills and more raw damage output. But this is at the cost of you taking more damage, too, so this becomes a transparent risk-and-reward feature where you have to judge if you want to use skills that will lower the Momentum gauge for defensive purposes or if you’d rather be a glass cannon; simultaneously enduring and dealing higher damage.
Moreover, the previously mentioned Momentum gauge notches correlate to slots for Essence Stones, gear embedded with beneficial effects that can be inputted into the tiers of the Momentum gauge. Honestly, all of this sounds incredible, but I never found myself needing to consider any of these elements actively. For one, the enemy variety is lacking, so you swiftly reach a point where you can mindlessly defeat foes. Secondly, the parry mechanic, which can be used to refill the Momentum gauge if used successfully, is far, far too generous.
The enemies in Atlas Fallen are well designed, telegraphing their movesets extraordinarily well. Yet, the way in which you can parry everything with little effort made many of the choices seem moot. Summatively, the great degree of character customization and general combat variety made the ease at which you can bypass obstacles feel more pronounced and severe. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoyed the character-building. I just wish it had more gameplay stakes attached to it rather than ultimately feeling superfluous. Still, despite the meager enemy variety, some can be intricate, with targetable body parts that allow for additional gameplay choices.
As for performance, Atlas Fallen is usually adequate, though you’ll come across instances of slowdown and texture pop-in. None of it is ever egregious to offputting severities, but they’re certainly noticeable. At the very least, I don’t recall any gameplay moments where I was negatively impacted because of performance faults, so it’s not a necessary factor to be conscious of beforehand. The presentation, on the other hand, isn’t exactly consistently appealing. None of the NPCs really stand out, and the environments, usually comprising waves of sand, can make things somewhat dull. Still, there are some distinctive and memorable locations, like landmarks, caves, and other interiors, that give the title more of an identity.
Atlas Fallen can be a welcome palate cleanser in the midst of large-scale releases, with resemblances to older action games. There’s a sort of nostalgia here for crowds who desire these experiences. However, while the exploration and sense of discovery are outstanding, most other elements, like the story, character writing, and excess customization, make it fall short, crafting a passable, if forgettable, experience.
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