ATONE: Heart of the Elder Tree Review – The Beat of the Gods

ATONE: Heart of the Elder Tree Review – The Beat of the Gods

Norse mythology and its vast, complicated history live on in various forms. You’ll find no shortage of mythological references in all sorts of media, especially gaming.

ATONE: Heart of the Elder Tree begins its tale by introducing you to Thyon. After heartily laughing with his friends, he suddenly finds out that his entire village was slaughtered by a mysterious blue force, with the only survivors being himself and his daughter. After giving his pendant to her, he meets a swift death under a spirit’s blade. And that’s all we hear from Thyon, as from here on out, we shift our focus to Estra.

atone heart of the elder tree screenshot 5

The story’s relatively short, taking heavy inspiration from the aforementioned Norse mythology. You can get through it in about 10 hours. I’ll be sincere here and say that all of the characters in this story, at least when compared to Estra, have absolutely little to no relevance or much to remember, for that matter. In fact, I cannot even remember their names or who they were.

Throughout the narrative, you’ll encounter spirits and enemies that Estra will need to defeat in order to progress. But instead of classic action combat, you will play a rhythm game of sorts, where the goal here is to keep a consistent combo.

atone heart of the elder tree screenshots jan 24 12

Still, I will admit that while it gives combat its unique flavor, it feels incredibly out of place. And this is because it is not connected to the story in any meaningful way. Furthermore, from time to time, you’ll be faced with a choice that will greatly affect the ending.

Furthermore, throughout your journey, you’ll find a lot of different puzzles. Some are really obvious in their answers, while others are not. You’re left solely to guess based on the visuals, and in some puzzles, you’re given the option to press a button to get a hint after a while, with the exception of overworld puzzles.

atone heart of the elder tree screenshots jan 24 11

Using the hint is completely optional, and you may continue trying to solve it if you so desire. Furthermore, it’s also worth noting that the tips do give you a random penalty, which can range from losing one of your blessings, effectively locking you out of certain hidden areas, or a small monetary loss.

Nonetheless, both issues are easily circumvented through a simple reset, which is also kind of required because of how the story ending changes depending on your choices, giving it some sort of replay value.

atone heart of the elder tree screenshots jan 24 8

If you don’t like the rhythm portions, the title offers you a Story Mode, which makes these sections incredibly easy to progress, and is way more forgiving. As for the masochists out there, there is also a Hard Mode, which makes it so that all of the rhythm portions utilize four-button beat maps instead of the usual two or three.

Still, regardless of your preference, I would say the rhythm portions are okay for the most part, but there were lots of cutscene fragments that felt repetitive, and the way the UI of the notes is laid out makes it sometimes hard to understand certain parts of the beat. It would also be nice to get better feedback as to whether you were too early or too late to hit the notes.

atone heart of the elder tree rhythm game

Regarding the soundtrack, I loved it, as I’ve always enjoyed synth-styled songs. Still, at times, the songs somewhat fail to match the moods the cutscenes try to convey. And the music occasionally drowns out what is being said, again making subtitles almost necessary. I’m also not a big fan of the blocky art style that they have going here, but that’s a minor critique.

As for the cutscenes, they’re greatly animated. But even so, when it comes to the voice acting, it is…hard for me to describe it as “good”. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t bad per se; it’s just that sometimes, the main protagonist speaks in such a soft tone that I seriously wondered if something was up with my volume.

atone heart of the elder tree screenshots jan 24 4

Additionally, certain voice lines had extremely awkward deliveries, particularly in the beginning. If it wasn’t for the subtitles, which are, thankfully, enabled by default, I might not have understood what they were sometimes saying.

In addition to the Story Mode, you can replay just about every rhythm section you’ve encountered in the game and challenge yourself with four exclusive beatmaps in the Arena. Is there a purpose to it? Aside from 100% completion, not really. Though it does provide a far more challenging ordeal, because some utilize four buttons, adding some more hours to the experience, if you’re into the completionist aspect.

atone elder tree cryptic puzzle 2

It took me an embarrassing amount of time to understand the trick in this.

ATONE: Heart of the Elder Tree is a title that has the definition of “jack-of-all-trades, master of none.” It does a lot of things, but it doesn’t stick the landing most of the time. The story is very short, and while the soundtracks are good, I wasn’t a huge fan of the rhythm portions, especially because of their severe disconnection to the main tale.

This post may contain Amazon affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate Noisy Pixel earns from qualifying purchases.