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June 2024

Atlas Fallen

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Focus Entertainment
Developer: Deck13 Interactive
Release Date: Aug. 10, 2023


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PC Review - 'Atlas Fallen'

by Cody Medellin on Aug. 10, 2023 @ 1:19 a.m. PDT

Atlas Fallen is a fantasy, super-powered action RPG that takes you to a semi-open world full of ancient mysteries and threats.

Compared to some other game developers, Deck13 might not ring any bells. The developer has been in the PC space for about 20 years, starting with the Ankh and Jack Keane adventure game series, both of which did decently enough for the company. It wasn't until the first Lords of the Fallen game that the studio started getting recognition, mostly as one of the early developers to do its own take on a title comparable to Dark Souls. The duo of The Surge games is what really got the developer noticed. One would think that Atlas Fallen would be the company's next take on the genre, but the result is quite different.

The story is set on the planet of Atlas, where the sun god Thelos rules with a heavy hand and an unending appetite for the Essence within the planet's sand. The people also suffer under the foot of The Thousand Year Queen, who is a vessel for Thelos. The people also need to contend with the Queen's army and a giant being in the sky known as The Watcher, who summons dangerous Wraiths. You play the role of an Unnamed, a class of people valued for labor and deemed disposable. Ordered by the captain of the guard to seek out a thief, you stumble upon a gauntlet that grants you powers and lets you communicate with Nyaal, a spirit living inside of the artifact. Together, you travel the lands seeking more shards of the gauntlet to gather enough power to take on the Queen, Thelos, and anyone else in the way.

You'll play Atlas Fallen for the gameplay, not the ultimately forgettable story and characters. There's a fascinating world, which is needed since the characters don't make the story captivating. You never hear from Thelos, and beyond from some story-related cut scenes narrated by the Queen, you never get much from her aside from one mention of having "ulterior motives." Not many expect a created hero to be fascinating, but Nyall and your companions are also uninteresting.

The game is set in a semi-open world split into different biomes. The world consists of ruins of a large, underground city; a vast desert; pockets of forest; run-down outpost towns, and regal cities. There's a good amount of lore to discover, whether it's talking to villagers, observing paintings, reading notes, or listening to stories contained in the sands.

Like any game in this type of setting, the world is filled with loads of secrets, treasure chests, and other items waiting to be discovered. There are loads of side-quests that vary from taking down enemies to finding artifacts that can be exchanged for goods, like upgraded armor. There are also shopkeepers who you can trade some of this stuff with and normal townsfolk to give the world more character. Aside from being spread out, these areas feature a great deal of verticality, giving you the chance to explore areas that would normally be blocked off in other titles via invisible collision.

The various traversal techniques make the worlds enjoyable. In addition to running, double-jumping, and clambering over ledges, you can surf on sandy surfaces. It's nothing more than a glide, and it instantly transforms into a run once you reach grass, stone, and wood surfaces; the effect is cool enough that it warrants a mention. You can lift certain objects to reach higher surfaces, but don't expect to lower them on command. Air dashing is also used quite a bit, since the game has a great deal of verticality. The lands aren't that expansive horizontally, but the ability to go up and down great heights more than makes up for it.

World travel can be annoying due to Nyaal's chatter. Having pure silence would be much worse, but Nyaal can be irritating since he tells you about things that are close by and very far away. For example, he can tell you that a traveling merchant is nearby, which is useful since the camera doesn't let you see too far compared to other titles. He'll also say this when the merchant is several screens away and obscured by walls so no one can possibly see them. This also happens when you're near a precious gauntlet shard or anvil to power up, and you save the game only to discover that those items are in completely different areas and much further away than expected. This becomes annoying since most people tend to stop whatever they're doing to look for these important items, resulting in you deviating so much from the intended path that it becomes a waste of time.

As for combat, the game forgoes the methodical fighting system from the studio's previous titles in favor of something faster. It doesn't take long to acquire an ax and hammer combo in addition to a dagger that transforms into a whip. Later, you get the option to use giant sand fists, but you can call upon each weapon with a button press. Mashing one button provides a good combo to work with, but you can mix up button use to produce even more combos, like using the whip to pull yourself close to an enemy and then using the hammer to bash everyone in the vicinity. You can dash back and forth between enemies on the ground and in the air, and it's common to stay airborne for almost a minute or more while smashing airborne foes.

On the defensive side, players can perform dodge rolls and dash away from enemies, but the most important tool is the parry. Instead of deflecting blows with weapons, you put up sand armor to make the attack bounce off of you. The move makes enemies vulnerable by encasing them in crystal for a short while, and although you'll need several successive parries to freeze up bigger creatures, it is something you'll rely on often since there is a generous timing window and you can retaliate with a lot of hits.

One of the things that makes the fighting interesting is the momentum system. As you press the attack button, you'll fill up a meter, and hitting specific points in the meter makes your attacks more damaging and slightly transforms your weapons. For example, your sand fists grow larger, and your dagger whip has more reach. You can keep the momentum high to inflict even more damage, or you can spend it all on a smashing blow to fell some of the larger beasts. The ability to immediately spend that momentum is important because it comes with the drawback of taking on more damage from regular hits when your meter is high. It's a tricky risk/reward system that makes fighting feel even more strategic, since you must balance defense and offense if you want to keep hitting harder in each attack.

In conjunction with momentum, Atlas Fallen offers different relics and idols to augment the fight in a few different ways. Idols are passive, and relics can be found or created — and they can also be upgraded with various ingredients in the world. Abilities granted by the relics are all passive, but they only activate once you fill in the appropriate bar on the momentum field, further augmenting the risk/reward system that momentum provides by making it more than just related to damage. It can mean that players can call on an enemy-seeking tornado or get bonus damage for a limited amount of time.

Body armor is perhaps one of the big things that the team took away from its experience on The Surge and transplanted in Atlas Fallen. Like that game and Monster Hunter, the bigger enemies can't be taken down by simply whaling away at them. Instead, you'll need to pay attention to the graph at the top of the screen to see which body parts to target to take it down. The giant scorpion requires you to smash its claws, face and tail, and the same goes for creatures like the giant sandworm, which you can kill by aiming for the body and head. This makes it more of a cerebral action game, as knocking out body parts doesn't remove them from the monster but weakens their attack. It makes players think about what to attack first, unless they're in a berserker mindset of hitting anything and everything and hoping for the best. Both methods make fights enjoyable in their own ways, since they're both valid ways to play.

There are two things that put a damper on the combat mechanics. The first is the lack of more weaponry. It doesn't take long to find the ax/hammer combo and the dagger whip, and the fists come into play around the first time you find a major upgrade to the air dash ability. The weapons transform when you build up your momentum meter, but you'll have likely seen all weapons before the game's halfway point. Relics can spice up the attacks, but roughly half of them provide stat buffs instead of anything drastically different. Beyond the halfway point, the combat will only feel different when you see different creatures or are placed with the same creatures in different situations.

Another issue is lock-on system. The actual lock-on works fine, and it easily keeps track of who you targeted, no matter where they are in the environment. Once you lock on to a foe, the indicators related to the aren't so easy to read. The dot indicating which enemy you're locked onto can easily be lost when in the middle of a fight, especially when bigger beasts call upon smaller creatures to back them up. The other indicator that is easily lost is one that shows when an off-screen enemy will attack. There has been more than one occasion when hits could've easily been avoided if we could see the indicator when it turns red. It sometimes feels like a fighter is better off ignoring lock-on rather than using it.

One of the more interesting things that Atlas Fallen features is co-op play, but we did not have a chance to check out the performance for ourselves. The idea of tackling a big action game like this with a friend in tow is novel, since it's a rarity in the space. That alone makes this title practically an instant purchase if you're a big fan of the genre. While the title doesn't feature cross-play, it has several methods to ensure play between PC players that may be purchasing it from non-Steam storefronts, like GOG. One method has you generating a code to give to a co-op partner, while another has you connecting with others via IP address and opening a specific UPD in your router; this is a method that only those who are comfortable with networking would attempt.

The overall presentation is good enough. As mentioned earlier, the environments are surprisingly varied, and everything looks fine most of the time. While you will find a few low-resolution textures, you'd have to look closely to find them. The particle effects, from the sand being kicked up to the multitude of crystals that appear when shattering a beast, punch up what would otherwise be a pedestrian-looking landscape.

The creatures may look nice, but the humans are merely decent, especially when you see some sharp and swift movements from the rest of their bodies whenever they speak. The game runs at a good frame rate, but you might be fooled into thinking that things are going to be bad when you see the studio logos and title screen run so poorly. As for upscaling, the game only features AMD's FSR 2.0, but it looks good in motion, especially since there isn't any macroblocking or other oddities on the sand.

As for the sound, it's adequate. The music is present but barely noticeable when you're in a fight or traveling around. The voice work works well enough, but there are moments when you feel like the voices don't match the roles. The sound effects sometimes go missing during the in-game cut scenes, but they're otherwise clear, and that's important since it's the best indicator about whether you performed a successful parry.

For those on the Steam Deck, the experience is good. You need to set the game's resolution to 1280x800 since it doesn't do that by default, but the Low preset is already selected  With those default settings, the game fluctuates wildly between a little less than 30fps to almost 60fps, depending on if you're indoors or outside. The battery life averages a little under two hours from a full charge, which places it right around the battery life of many modern, non-indie games. You can squeeze more battery life by using the system's limiters, like the 30fps or 40fps cap, but the increase isn't going to be significant. The same goes for those just trying to get a higher frame rate, as things like FSR 2.0 barely move the needle.

Atlas Fallen is fine in parts and frustrating in others. The world seems fascinating, but the characters are the least compelling part of the story. The combat can feel fluid, and the number of powers you can use makes for a good deal of build possibilities. You'll wish there were more weapons, though. Traversal is fun, but you will need to ignore Nyaal, who often calls out things that are nowhere in the proximity. The development team could've used some more time to tighten things up, but ultimately, Atlas Fallen remains a good distraction in between other, more polished action-adventure games.

Score: 7.0/10

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