Atlas Fallen is exactly the sort of game I need right now. I don’t quite know how to explain why that is other than to get slightly reductive, so indulge me: it’s got big, glorious A-tier energy. Not triple-A. Just A. And sometimes, that’s all you need.
Now, before I get into my brief time with a preview build of Atlas Fallen in earnest, a caveat. Previewing games is always difficult. It’s not easy to form an opinion on an unfinished product in a very short amount of time – but let me tell you, it’s even more difficult when you run into technical issues. This has been my experience with Atlas Fallen.
This happens with early builds all the time, so it’s not really a matter of alarm bells. Oftentimes, especially where I played on PC, it’s about weird driver and hardware mismatches, the sorts of things that get mopped up as a game nears release. So when I played Atlas Fallen, I experienced a not-insignificant number of crashes to desktop. But I kept going – kept playing, kept reloading, kept letting the autosave gods rescue me. You know why? ‘Cos Atlas Fallen really sorta slaps.
I’m reaching around for a comparison point of what Atlas Fallen is like and struggling, but let me give you something more broad: it’s got big Darksiders energy. I don’t mean it’s a Zelda-alike, though there’s definitely Zelda-ish elements. What I really mean is the general mood and feel – the vibe that game had at the time. It wasn’t as lavish or as expensive as some, but it had a whole lot of heart and was determined to bring together ideas and influences from a variety of places and execute on them in an interesting way. That is also Atlas Fallen.
Developer Deck13 is most well-known for The Surge and Lords of the Fallen, both ‘Soulsy’ sort of games. This wisely isn’t one of those – but what you get instead is a scrappier, looser third-person action-adventure with just a little touch of that crunchy, heavy souls-style combat injected into it.
The star of the show from practically the first fight I played is a counter. Executed with the left bumper, when timed right it ‘crystallizes’ enemies – not just parrying their attack but flat-out leaving them frozen in glistening rock for a few precious moments where you can wail on them. In many games counters feel precise and tight, but this is deliberately looser, taking the form of a sort of burst of energy from your character.
A lovely sound effect accompanies a successful counter, and very quickly you’ll dial in the timing on each enemy. It turns encounters with multiple enemies into a tasty little dance: waiting for their attack, crystallizing them, nailing attacks before flipping focus just in time to parry and crystallize their mate. It feels great. I like it a lot.
The other interesting wrinkle is Momentum, which itself feels like an inversion of the stamina concept that dominates souls-style games. Momentum is gained by attacking – though some weapons are better at building Momentum than others. Special skills and buffs that you equip in Atlas Fallen’s RPG menus become available in combat at certain Momentum thresholds, represented by a blue bar that sits beneath your health bar. The most powerful moves will require you to have a high Momentum level before you can use them, thus rewarding strong literacy in the basic concepts of combat.
I really like this. You know how in the Arkham games it feels really good when you build up a great big combo, brushing off one enemy after another without taking a single hit? There’s an element of that here, but the difference the Momentum system provides is that getting that sort of thing going now has a reward in the form of temporarily unlocking even more combat abilities. Weapons even transform as you gain more momentum, becoming more deadly – so it’s in your interest to master combos and counters to be constantly operating at maximum efficiency.
The rest seems interesting enough. There’s large zones with chests to find, sand dunes to zip across, traversal abilities, NPCs to meet, and seemingly huge amounts of crafting gear and collectibles to nab. All good-looking stuff. What I’ve seen of this world already makes it about a thousand times more interesting than that of Forspoken, a game that probably cost many multiples more than this. A bit of dodgy voice work isn’t enough to put me off, either. But in a fairly unstable build, it was the combat that grabbed me most – and with good reason. It’s great.
Plus, honestly, I really rather enjoy a good-old A-tier, no need for the double or the triple. There’s heart, there’s soul, and there’s ideas here that might not survive being battered by a million focus groups and mega sales expectations. Like I say, it really does whiff a little of something like Darksiders – which was without a doubt one of the best surprises of its generation. Atlas Fallen is now thoroughly on my radar – and I can’t wait to play more – and in a slightly more polished build.