I’m of the mind that not every game has to absolutely wow me as a player. There is nothing wrong with a game being fun but not groundbreaking. In fact, I would argue that we need those games just as much as the major blockbusters. Enter Atlas Fallen – a third-person co-op action RPG with fun moment to moment gameplay that struggles at times to get out of its own way. In many ways, it is exactly the game I expected it to be, for better or worse. Ultimately, I walk away hopeful about the potential of a sequel in this world and with this combat.
I feel obligated to convey right off the top that you absolutely must push through the first hour of the game before you can experience Atlas Fallen for what it is. I was so disenchanted with its first hour that I thought the marketing for the game had all been a farce, that as a game critic I had been duped, but knowing there had to be more to the game, I pushed through. If you take nothing else from this review, heed my advice and be sure to do the same.
The world of Atlas is under the thumb of a Sun god known as Thelos, who forces humans to mine and produce Essence – the very source of life itself. You play as an Unnamed, a lowly class of people looked down upon by others in the world and while traveling in a caravan whose route was personally planned by the Queen of the land, you come across an ancient relic known as the Gauntlet. The Gauntlet grants you the ability to wield sand as weapons, but also contains the spirit of an entity called Nyaal – a guiding light companion type, similar to the Ghosts in the Destiny franchise. From there you set out on a journey to take down Thelos and overthrow his partner the Queen by banding with a group called the Knights of Bastengar.
Atlas is a neat place to explore; it’s a sandy slice of desolation littered with pieces of lore to discover and old structures that offer glimpses of what once was, before Thelos began his quest to strip the land of Essence. It’s not a completely open world but features what I would call multiple open zones. It looks pretty good too, offering two graphical modes – quality and performance. I switched back-and-forth between the two, and despite being a moderate framerate snob, in my experience the game both looked and performed better in quality mode. I encountered frequent glitches and bugs regardless of the mode during my entire 17-ish hour playthrough, but they seemed far more prevalent in performance mode, which I admit sounds odd.
There are plenty of other bugs present at the time of review as well: NPC dialogue not playing, frame stuttering, poor dialogue audio quality, menu items disappearing, difficulty spikes, bosses t-posing, and even one slightly hilarious crash caused by a large enemy attacking me during a dialogue scene. While the bugs are frequent, they didn’t ruin the experience. To be honest, like most games nowadays, the launch version is likely the worst shape the game will ever be in, with developer Deck 13 Interactive having already promised a day one patch is on the way. However, one of my biggest issues was with the uneven voice performances. The voice of my character waffled back and forth between an American and British accent, and I am not so sure they aren’t two different voice actors altogether. For me, it was a major distraction that often pulled me out of the experience, but I’m sure plenty of folks will never even notice.
Switching gears, the combat of Atlas Fallen is far and away the star of the show. The story is one you’ve heard before, the graphics won’t be the best you’ve seen, but the combat is a lot of fun. Having dabbled a bit in both of Deck 13’s The Surge titles, I thought I knew what to expect; I was both correct yet still surprised at how refreshing it was to play, wonderfully blending speed with heft. Combat is centered on Momentum, which is generated by hitting and defeating enemies, and is used to execute massive special moves called Shatter attacks. Momentum increases as you successfully land hits, climbing three tiers as the gauge fills up. A tier one Shatter attack is good, but a tier three attack packs a real punch. The catch is that the more Momentum you have the more damage you receive as well, creating a balancing act between landing a massive killing blow, or being on the receiving end of one.
As your Momentum increases, so too does the size and effectiveness of your weapons. For example, after achieving momentum tier one, the Knuckledust weapon (my personal favorite – think big sandy boxing gloves) grows from two fists to four fists, providing a bit more stopping power. Combat is highly kinetic, forcing you to combine standard attacks, heavy attacks, parries, evading, Shatter attacks, and Essence Stone abilities at an unrelenting pace. It’s part Devil May Cry and part God of War, though not quite as good as those. I spent a lot of time suspended in the air fighting enemies because it felt both natural and also the safest way to approach enemies, but as you figure out the combos and attack patterns of enemies you really start to feel a sense of power.
There are no skill trees or character levels to grind through in Atlas Fallen, opting instead for Essence Stones that provide you with powerful abilities and stat buffs which allow you to cater to your preferred playstyle. Stones are acquired by completing quests, buying them from vendors, or tracking down treasure chests around the map. They are classified as one of three tiers – bronze, silver, or gold – which determines where they can slot into your loadout and when they can be activated.
Going back to the Momentum gauge, it not only determines when you can perform Shatter attacks, but also when Essence Stone abilities can be used. The stones do things as basic as stat buffs to damage or defense, as well as cooler abilities like smashing enemies with a massive sand hammer. The game features dozens of these stones, which allows you to really tailor the combat to your liking. I found that I preferred an Essence Stone loadout that helped me build Momentum quickly so that I could use Shatter attacks more frequently, but my build also capitalized on dishing out Shatter attacks by recovering the damage I dealt as health. In other words, I created a loadout that let me both do a lot of damage but gain a lot of health in return, which helped balance the risk of carrying so much Momentum through a fight.
Fortunately, you can have multiple stone and weapon loadouts, so if one playstyle isn’t working, you can quickly switch things up to try a different strategy. There is a lot of flexibility on offer, and it truly depends on how you like to play. If you prefer a more defensive-minded build, for instance, that is certainly within the scope of possibility. Stones can also be upgraded using gathered Essence and other resources, so if you find that you have a few favorite abilities, you can keep them viable throughout your playthrough.
So, what are you killing in Atlas Fallen? All of Thelos’ minions, of course! There is a decent variety of enemies (around a dozen variants) that you will encounter while sand-gliding across the world, and these come in three tiers as well: basic, large, and colossal. As you might imagine, colossal enemies are the toughest, but also some of the most satisfying battles in the game. You can expect to fight enemies inspired by snakes, birds, crabs, and scorpions, among many others. I would classify large enemies as mini bosses and colossal ones as bosses, just to give you an idea of their scale. There are also elite variants of these foes, which are optional fights scattered across the map.
Each enemy has its own attack pattern that requires you to learn its move-set and adapt accordingly. From a difficulty standpoint, I didn’t die a lot in Atlas Fallen, but I died more than I would have liked to. It’s not that the game is overly difficult (apart from some random difficulty spikes) but there are some encounters that present a larger challenge. To be clear, this is not a Soulsbourne-style game, despite Deck 13’s heritage. To that end, when you inevitably die, you’ll be able to reload the last save or restart a boss encounter without losing any equipment or items.
Despite playing before the official launch, I was able to test and enjoy some cooperative play alongside Gaming Nexus Editor-in-Chief Eric Hauter. Honestly, I was a little surprised at how well the game performed in co-op, as we both had a great experience with no lagging, glitching, or general tomfoolery that can sometimes plague online co-op experiences. We spent time gliding and dashing across the vast deserts, completing a few side activities and, of course, demolishing enemies. However, there is one major caveat – none of Eric’s progress, acquired Essence, or items got to make the return trip to his game. He did receive a warning message ahead of time that I was too advanced for him to be able to retain those things, but still, that’s a bummer.
Unfortunately, the final act of the game closes in somewhat of a similar manner as the opening, becoming an absolute grind that felt unnecessarily long. It forces you to traverse back and forth in one of the open world zones while either fighting or attempting to dodge numerous large and colossal wraiths. Then, when you do get to the final area you are forced to fight waves of mini bosses before the actual final boss. The game was pacing itself mostly well to that point, but then felt like it was trying to stretch out the climax just to make you fight more bad guys.
I sincerely hope that Atlas Fallen gets the sequel treatment from Deck 13, because the combat gameplay is the foundation for something that could be truly special. It’s accessible, customizable, fun, and challenging in the right ways, but is bookended by lackluster opening and closing stanzas. There is also a plethora of bugs to squash in the short term, and some potential cooperative progression issues, but those can all be fixed. I just hope people stick with it long enough to even get that far.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Hello! I'm Jason, the newest member of Gaming Nexus. My favorite genres of games are strategy, management, city-builders, sports games, RPGs, and shooters, but I don't limit myself to those. My favorite game of all-time is Red Dead Redemption 2 and I have somehow played it for nearly 1,000 hours. I also co-host a weekly PlayStation news podcast called The Dual Sense Podcast, so I stay pretty well versed in that ecosystem. Before that, I co-hosted a basketball podcast.View Profile