Atlas Fallen has plenty of good ideas, but none of them are done particularly well.
Later this year, a new soulslike adventure called Lords of the Fallen will be released. You might recognize that title if you were playing soulslike games in 2014, since a completely different Lords of the Fallen was released then.
While the Lords of the Fallen (2023) still has CI Games working on the publisher side of things, Deck13 Interactive, the studio behind Lords of the Fallen (2014), isn’t involved with the new project. So what has Deck13 been doing? Well, after the similarly souls-inspired games The Surge and The Surge 2, Deck13 has created the not-so-soulsy Atlas Fallen.
While still an action role-playing game, Atlas Fallen sees players traversing an open-world environment while doing their best to fight colossal beasts with the combat system you’d expect to see in a spectacle fighter like Devil May Cry or Bayonetta. Sadly, Deck13’s new idea is underbaked in a lot of ways.
After a completely unnecessary opening moment that teaches you the basic controls, you use a completely unnecessary character creator to make a hero that will be completely covered in armor for the overwhelming majority of your playthrough. Sure, their face is automatically uncovered when talking to NPCs, but the camera is locked behind you when these conversations play out and your face is completely covered by armor in cutscenes.
Every character you speak to throughout the entirety of Atlas Fallen has a whole lot of nothing to say.
Then, once your custom character who you’ll never see again has been made, you are pulled into a bafflingly long-winded intro that seems to be doing all it can to make the part where you can play the actual game as far away as possible. Rather than just letting you jump into things, you have to endure awful dialogue delivered through poorly-executed voice acting.
Every character you speak to throughout the entirety of Atlas Fallen has a whole lot of nothing to say. They’ll do one of two things: repeat information you already know but in different words like they copy and pasted the info into a thesaurus, or word vomit a bunch of information about the land of Atlas or the plot that fails to give the player any reason to care about what’s going on. I’ve seen better worldbuilding from toddlers with Duplo bricks.
Harsh as this all sounds, when the game finally set me loose to actually play the game (following a second tutorial on the basic controls for some reason) I was enjoying myself! The combat is flashy, and it’s fun to try and stay in the air as long as possible using careful management of one’s air dashes.
Add the fact that there is an enormous number of special moves to unlock and use in different combinations, and I was beginning to think that there was plenty of fun to be found in making different move sets.
Unfortunately, I didn’t find that to be the case. The game’s combat is much too shallow for a number of reasons. Unlike a true spectacle fighter like Bayonetta, your move set doesn’t evolve throughout the entire game. Sure, there are those unlockable abilities but they are often light variations of one another. Even worse, a fair number of the abilities I found wouldn’t work half of the time.
One move, for example, was supposed to lock onto an enemy and dash into them for a small burst of damage. It had literally no effect more than half of the time. It would get me right next to a foe, sure, but they’d take no damage at all before pummeling me into the sand.
Fights against late-game foes with a lot of moving parts felt like total chores that devolved into relying too much on the game’s parry mechanic.
Special abilities, your basic move set, and the attacks of enemies all have horribly inconsistent and poorly-communicated hitboxes as well. I could be on top of a monster’s head thanks to some air dashing, and their low sweeping tail would still knock me far away. Fights against late-game foes with a lot of moving parts felt like total chores that devolved into relying too much on the game’s parry mechanic.
A mechanic which, to be fair, had some neat ideas tied to it. Successfully parrying a larger creature a certain number of times causes them to freeze completely, but attacking completely frozen creatures only worked if the game felt like it wanted me to have fun. Rarely did the game think this should be the case, as my attacks regularly had zero effect on frozen baddies.
In addition to wonky hit detection and lackluster abilities, the combat system got harder to endure over time because of its momentum system. Much like parrying, it’s a good idea on paper!
As you hit foes, your momentum bar, composed of three chunks, starts to fill. When one chunk is full, your basic attacks become bigger and do more damage. Simultaneously, you take more damage. It’s a great idea to make the player think more about risk and reward and how they’d like to navigate a fight. Add in the fact that one or several chunks can be spent on a large, shattering, ultimate attack and there’s plenty to focus on during fights.
Yet, the game later introduces enemy attacks that can drain your momentum bar. Too often these attacks were enormous, sweeping, horribly telegraphed, and overall too frequent. To make this even worse, these momentum-robbing blows also deal damage to your health bar.
Whether it’s a side quest or a main quest, you go back and forth and back and forth until the game eventually ends.
The idea of an occasional assault that would make you lose momentum is a good idea! Swarming the player in swaths of the things so that they feel like they’re fighting the bar on the bottom of the screen rather than the giant monsters? Not such a great idea.
If you’re not putting up with the combat system that’s as shallow as a kiddie pool, Atlas Fallen has you sand-surfing all over an enormous map. Whether it’s a side quest or a main quest, you go back and forth and back and forth until the game eventually ends.
Completing the main story took me a little over ten hours, but it felt three times as long. Toward the end, I was on way too many main quests that seemed engineered specifically to waste my time and artificially lengthen the game. Easily more than half of my gameplay in Atlas Fallen consisted of nothing more than holding the left stick forward for several long minutes at a time.
On the one hand, the world was nice to look at. Good lighting, nice textures, and plenty of strong environmental design that made finding points of interest happen much more organically than your average open-world game.
On the other hand, each time I found something to do in the open world it was either a glitchy fight against one of the severely limited number of enemies or a puzzle that interrupted my endlessly boring traversal with more endlessly boring traversal. The reward for these activities? Abilities that might not work or a useless treasure.
The more time I spent with Atlas Fallen, the more its cracks became harder to ignore. Its combat system is sorely lacking, the story is entirely uninteresting and poorly told, and the whole experience has an unpolished quality to it. Perhaps Deck13 ought to give the soulslike thing another go.
Visually interesting world
Combat is flashy
Combat is too shallow
Bugs and inconsistent hitboxes abound
Story is empty and uninteresting
Game’s runtime feels padded out
Poor quest design that includes a lot of boring traversal
Reviewer played on Xbox Series X
Atlas Fallen is available now on PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X|S