You'll love it if:
- You want to feel powerfull.
- You absolutly hate sand and want to beat it up. With more sand.
- You have a co-op partner to try crazy builds with.
Not for you if:
- You need a season pass to guide you through your game.
- You expected a Souls-like game.
- You want a deep and rich story with plot twists and memorable characters.
After seeing the first trailer of Atlas Fallen at Opening Night Live, I immediately knew I’d want to take on the review. And so I got to review Atlas Fallen on the PlayStation 5. At first I figured Atlas Fallen was going to be a souls-like with hard battles, insane bosses and a huge maze-like open world to explore. Although this Atlas Fallen review copy has shown me that everything I mentioned is actually there, it is also far from a souls-like and more of a power fantasy brawler.
Atlas Fallen is an open world action adventure fighting game with simple yet insane build crafting options. Your growth and power rise quickly and through quick dashes, precise parries and use of Essence stones you become godlike. Atlas Fallen’s story is about humanity breaking free from the oppression of a greedy god, but it’s not the main drive to keep playing. The unique combat and insane options to build your character as you like are what kept me going while doing this Atlas Fallen review. Performance wise Atlas Fallen showed some stutters specific to certain areas, even with performance mode enabled.
A breath of fresh air in gaming – Atlas Fallen review
While Atlas Fallen isn’t perfect, it really takes strides when it comes to combat, building your character and sense of power. Atlas Fallen took me back to the days where I was playing Prototype, dashing through the city, consuming humans and feeling like a god on earth where only abominations can stop me. It was good to feel powerful and have the freedom to change my character on the fly without having to grind out the same activity or drop a wad of cash. But let us start with the basics.
Defy the Gods – Story
In the world of Atlas Fallen Gods are very real. A huge Watcher structure floats in the sky, looking down upon its subordinates. This watcher belongs to the God Thelos, who rules through his priests and the ruler of the physical world known as the Queen. Thelos does not require worship, he only requires Essence. This Essence is harvested from the planet through mines where it crystallizes. A side effect of harvesting the Essence is that the world has gone into decay. Nature is slowly dying as the Essence of the world is drained in order to satisfy Thelos.
Not only is the mining of Essence destroying the world, transportation of Essence is a dangerous task as the world is inhabited by Wraiths. These Wraiths are monsters made of shifting sand. They are attracted to the essence and will kill any human in their way. Both mining and transportation are tasks for the Unnamed. Humans not worthy of a name, expendable slaves for the order of Thelos.
You are an Unnamed, travelling with a caravan carrying Essence to the capital. After a last-minute order from the queen you are rerouted through an area with increased Wraith activity. Surely your caravan gets attacked and the accompanying knights flee with Commander Morath to save their own hides. This is the start of your mini rebellion together with the other Unnamed in the caravan.
Break your shackles
Before the ball even gets rolling Commander Morath breaks up your meeting just like Activision Blizzard dissolves unions. Morath does offer you a dilemma, fetch an item that was stolen from him and he will listen to your demands. The item is located outside the camp, meaning it’s a very obvious suicide mission. After gearing up you set out to find this lost thief and the item he stole, while avoiding any Wraiths.
Here you come into contact with the Gauntlet, it calls out to you and aides in defeating the Wraiths that are upon you. Its power is immense and the voice inside the Gauntlet has no recollection of anything. They simply feel a connection to you and lend their power so you can survive. Upon your return Morath steals the Gauntlet. You start searching like an addict looking for their last cigarette at the bottom of a drawer. Only to be cast into a cave and having to fight your way out.
Anger of the God
After defeating your first major wraith in that cave, Morath awaits you at the exit. Angered that you and the cursed Gauntlet relic survived. This is also when Thelos first intervenes; his watcher gazes towards you and Morath and a fiery explosion emanates from the surrounding area. The voice tells you to run and you experience your first time gliding on the sand with the help of the Gauntlet.
A lot happens in the opening scenes of Atlas Fallen, a lot of world building specifically. The dialogue options you have are more for learning about the current situation and not really decisive on the continuation of the story. Atlas Fallen wants you to know that the world is both a deadly and dying place. And that the power of the Gauntlet is a drop of water in the desert.
Overall the story is one about rebellion and inspiring the people to rise up against a greater force that has oppressed them for years. Their home is destroyed and they got nothing in return for their pain, agony and suffering. You are the spark that ignited the rebellion, aided by the Gauntlet, its knowledge and god-like powers. The story is definitely there, but it’s not written that exceptionally good or engaging.
Punch sand – Gameplay
The beauty of Atlas Fallen is its open world and most of all its combat. The fun of exploration is mainly aided by how easy it is to traverse the world. Sand gliding and double jump are instant unlocks once you have the Gauntlet. Double jump and dash open up the open-world playground even more and suddenly unreachable places become nooks and crannies filled with collectibles, chests or materials.
Depths of the desert – Exploration
The world of Atlas Fallen is superbly crafted. It feels hand-made with exploration in mind. Allowing the player to utilize the amazing movement system to get everywhere they want if they see the path. There are tons of hidden chests, smaller activities, side-quests and elite monsters.
The design on how you get out to explore is also built to feel very natural. In the story you will reach an area and point where the Gauntlet needs to be upgraded. The voice in the Gauntlet will tell you they can sense pieces in the distance. When you press down on the D-pad you can see beacons in the distance and voila. Go out and about, guided by these beacons. Explore this map and find a way to reach these points.
This works so well and does so much more to help you learn the movement and how the world is built than any tutorial. You simply explore the world and discover how it works at your own pace. The amount of verticality can be overwhelming at first but as you grow more confident in your movement and abilities anything seems possible to reach.
Mold yourself to perfection – Combat
The cherry on top of the gameplay in Atlas Fallen is its unique approach to combat. Atlas Fallen is not simply mashing buttons and learning combos for its three weapons. Atlas Fallen is a lot more than that. The three unique weapons combined with the momentum gauge and the essence stones can be daunting at first. But it simply works and it’s simply fun.
Punch sand with sand
The Gauntlet allows you to use its powers to create weapons from the sands. You have an axe and hammer combo, a whip and fists that you unlock later. All three weapons utilize the same combo system and button combinations. So if you ever decide to switch weapons, you won’t be struggling to learn the new combos, you only have to focus on the new range and what area the new weapon covers. As the button combinations remain the same.
As you fight and hit enemies you build up momentum on the momentum gauge. This bar gradually fills up after hitting combos or using certain abilities. As it fills up over one third, your weapons will transform to their second form. Dealing more damage, covering a wider area, behaving slightly different on combo completion. After you fill up two thirds they enter their final stage, dealing massive damage over even bigger areas.
The catch? You also take more damage when your momentum hits those marks. Forcing you to play more carefully, or to have a build that protects you a bit more on higher momentum. Keeping momentum is key to victory as your power becomes insane. Enemies will have attacks that focus on draining momentum when you get hit. Thus forcing you to keep an eye out for these attacks and dodge or parry if you want to maintain momentum.
Power your stones
Build crafting ties in very closely to the Momentum aspect. Your build is composed of active and passive essence stones. Active essence stones are abilities you can use and you can have up to three, one per third of your momentum. Furthermore you can slot in passive essence stones that give passive bonuses like more damage, defence, healing, etc.
These active and passive essence stones become available as your momentum bar progresses. So the ability in the first slot will be the first one to trigger. The more momentum you build up, the more abilities become active, making you even more of a powerhouse.
This is a super engaging and fun mechanic and makes combat feel fresh and instantly rewards good dodges and parries as you maintain your power. It adds another level to build crafting as the placement of certain stones matters, because some trigger earlier than others.
Stay a while and don’t listen
Atlas Fallen offers more than its amazing combat and exploration. But I didn’t feel as engaged with the side-activities as I did with the combat and exploration. Doing side-content is hampered by the beautifully designed map that is unbearable to read. The map has a lot of white with white icons on it. That is tiny to see, just like the dialogue on screen that is in such a small font I could barely read it with my 10/10 eyesight.
I happened to stumble upon most of the side-content as I was gliding through the desert and decided to punch a sand crab or sand dog. That turned out to be part of a side-quest I had picked up but couldn’t read and didn’t bother to listen to. Certain up-close cutscenes or conversations also showed some of the graphical inconsistencies in Atlas Fallen, zooming in on assets that are clearly not as detailed as the amazing armour or monster design. The contrast is stark.
The writing for some of these side-quests is also so bland and simple that after one zone I already gave up on trying to engage with it. They were there for rewards and those rewards gave materials to upgrade my essence stones so I could become more powerful. I also didn’t click with some special written dialogue of certain characters, it was intentionally weird and I just didn’t like it.
Excellent combat with mediocre performance
Another aspect was the inconsistency in performance. Certain areas had huge performance drops, whether I was playing in performance or quality mode didn’t matter. Those areas ran bad and I wanted to get out fast. Other areas of the map I clipped through rocks or walls, enemies that jittered in place for an instant, textures that took a while to load in and most and foremost, the eyesore for me was the amount of pop-in. Which for some reason was worse in performance mode than in quality mode.
All of my issues mentioned above are already on Deck 13‘s watchlist and this review build was without their day 1 patch and fixes. While most of these issues are fixable, I do not think performance issues covering whole areas are going to be gone upon release.
None of these issues got in the way of me finishing and enjoying Atlas Fallen though. What frustrate me at some points was the camera and terrain getting in the way. Up to the point that certain combat arenas were the real challenge instead of the power of the enemy. Cameras do seem to pose an issue in most 3D fighting style games and this can sadly also be the case here.
What you see is what you get
Atlas Fallen offers a break from greedy monetization, grindy gameplay and bloated stories. There are no microtransactions, the whole game is playable in co-op and all cosmetics are there for you to find or collect. No season passes, no half baked unfinished story with an expansion on the way to milk you for more money. No, Atlas Fallen is a whole package deal with everything within your grasp if you want to. And I can only emphasize that I love it just for that.
When I was done with Atlas Fallen, I was done. No wait for 3 months for a season to start and grind everything anew or unlock new abilities after opening my wallet once more. The sense of completion you have after finishing Atlas Fallen is real, true, a sense of real accomplishment. Thank Deck 13 for making a true game like this, it’s what the industry needs and I wholly support it.
Atlas Fallen review conclusion
I want to congratulate Deck 13 and Focus interactive for Atlas Fallen. Atlas Fallen tried new mechanics for its combat and build crafting and they worked magnificently. A refreshing take on these systems combined with meaningful fun exploration and feeling like a legend while doing it are simply great.
The performance issues for the review build do hold it back a bit and I think your safest bet will be a console version. The PlayStation 5 version I played had minimal issues as listed above and playing with a controller is a must anyway. While co-op was not available for me, I think it’s going to be a blast doing everything with two players.
Please support games that are still games and not ways to milk us players for all our cash and time. Especially when a game like Atlas Fallen tries something new and refreshing that is actually good.
Thank you AVE Greece for this review key.