For some games I take quite a while to figure out where I stand with them. Maybe it’s some new mechanic that I’m not quite getting or a visual style that I’m not a fan of, but often games just need a little while to breathe before I can feel confident in knowing what they’re about. Others, unfortunately, have the tell tale signs early on of being less than average, displaying the mistakes that I’ve seen too many times before. Atlas Fallen falls into the later camp, combining together many bland things together to make a thoroughly middle of the road experience. This is also unfortunately not something that will be fixed by patches either, as the blandness extends well beyond just the core game play.
This world has been ravaged by the gods, its life drained away in service of the ever watching deity who demands endless sacrifice from its worshippers. You are one of the unnamed, those who are identified merely by the role they serve to those above them like cook, trapper and trader. In an attempt to make life better for your fellow unnamed you volunteer to chase down a thief who’s stolen something from your commander. As you chase them down though you come across an ancient artifact that speaks to you and grants you the power to manipulate the sands. This begins your journey to free the world from the tyrannical grip of the gods, should you become powerful enough to do so.
Atlas Fallen has that Ubisoft aesthetic that a lot of open world games seem to adopt, one that looks great when you’re out in the open wide landscapes but rapidly loses its shine when you’re up close and personal with it. This is one of those tricks used to make the game world appear more detailed than it actually is, making the trade off for up close encounters to ensure that performance remains somewhat stable. Perhaps the most weird aspect of this is the animations which all seem a bit…off, something that’s especially noticeable in the game’s title screen. This is just the first entry in the game’s overall blandness though.
All your standard action-rpg tropes make an appearance in Atlas Fallen with its standout feature supposedly being its combat-levelling up mechanics. You’ll go through the usual campaign/side quest journey, doing odd jobs for additional currency and loot whilst progressing the main campaign for story elements. It’s a mostly open world, the game giving you a lot of options for exploration pretty early on although not making it entirely clear when you’ve hit a wall that you’ll need a new ability to progress past. There’s also a couple progression systems that offer different ways of building out your character which in turn affect how combat will play out. All of these are slight variations on standard mechanics that we’ve all seen before and, unfortunately, the sum of their parts is not greater than the whole.
Combat is meant to be the standout mechanic, splitting the difference between a standard ARPG and soulslike experience. Enemies all telegraph moves which you can block/dodge/parry or require some kind of special counter skill in order to avoid. As you do more damage you’ll level up your combat meter thing which has 4 distinct levels. At each level your weapons change, getting more power or extending their range. This also unlocks additional abilities that you have chosen to take effect at each level, again increasing your damage output. Finally you have a finisher maneuver that will consume all the combat level juice you’ve built up to deal massive damage. All in all pretty standard stuff and the kind of thing that, when done semi-well, I usually find myself enjoying.
Except for Atlas Fallen it doesn’t really feel like the best parts of either ARPG or souslike combat. Whilst learning the enemies’ move set is definitely something you’ll need to do for the more challenging fights the game doesn’t feel precise enough to make that investment feel worthwhile. Part of this is the game wanting you to target various different parts of enemies, either to generate more loot or do bigger damage, but trying to do that is an exercise in frustration. Encounters also feel way more random than they should be, with the same enemies sometimes falling over dead without me thinking about it whilst other times they seem to find some kind of cheat code and mop the floor with me. Whilst I’m happy to take the blame for potentially attempting some encounters well above my pay grade there were a non-zero number of others which were mandatory that exhibited the same behaviour.
Part of this could be mitigated if the progression system actually felt like it was helping bolster your power, which it rarely did. The only things that really seemed to make much of a difference were the mobility unlocks you got from the main campaign, and that mostly just helped with getting around quicker and avoiding more fights. To be sure I like the idea of the system, being able to swap around a bunch of different abilities, items and weapon types in order to meet the current challenge, but actually do that led to sub-par outcomes most of the time. Indeed I spent most of my time using the same loadout I originally settled on and should I face an enemy I couldn’t beat I’d just go off to level again.
This isn’t to mention the litany of weird glitches and overall lacklustre feel of the game. I had numerous times where either I or the enemy would get stuck, fall off a cliff or some other encounter ending glitch would occur, forcing me to redo the whole thing over again. Movement lacks precision as well, something that’s painfully apparent with the various platforming puzzles that the game throws at you. Then there’s the wild swings in difficulties with encounters, even those that would appear to be at your level. This is what leads to the overall feeling I had when I first started playing Atlas Fallen: ostensibly a AAA title but just had the feeling of something far less.
It’s not helped at all by the run of the mill narrative that’s delivered by an array of uninteresting characters that are voiced in the most dull way possible. The Ubisoft rule applies here in spades: all the characters are completely forgettable, even if the world that they exist in is somewhat interesting. In all honesty I had to look up the main plot again and even then, Wikipedia doesn’t have it and it seems no one wants to write anything more than I did in my opening paragraphs.
Atlas Fallen then is a surprise disappointment, a game that somehow made it onto my list thanks to its trailers that, in hindsight, were more style than substance. I tried to shake the feeling early on that it was something less than what I was expecting but as I played on and got familiar with it I knew that the game wasn’t going to improve with more play time. To be honest I should’ve expected as much, given Deck13 has something of a reputation for making games that aspire to more than they achieve. My assessment might be more harsh than it otherwise would’ve been given general level of quality of games we’ve seen this year but it still remains that Atlas Fallen is a decidedly average experience, one that I will not be putting any more time into.
Atlas Fallen is available on PC, PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S right now for $79.95. Game was played on the PC with a total of 4.4 hours playtime and 19% of the achievements unlocked.