Atlas Fallen Review
As Jerry Seinfeld might have said back in the day, what’s the deal with talking gloves? I’ve never once had a conversation with my mittens, but I have played at least three games this year where the main character allies with a sentient hand warmer. The latest: Atlas Fallen. How does it stack up against the other talking-gauntlet games?
An RPG That Isn’t a Dark Souls Clone
Atlas Fallen is a third-person action RPG, but it’s not — thank goodness — another Soulslike. Instead, it draws inspiration from open-world games like Forspoken, Breath of the Wild, Horizon Zero Dawn, or Monster Hunter. The player character has a lot of mobility on the ground and in the air, both critical to combat, exploration, and finding secrets. Some goodies or the ability to progress are hidden by inaccessible areas. Like Metroidvanias, they must be returned to with more powerful abilities.
Atlas Fallen was developed by Deck 13 and departs radically from the company’s earlier games, Lords of the Fallen and The Surge 1 and 2, all Soulslikes. Just like the Surge — and at least 75% of recent action games — the setting and theme are post-apocalyptic, or at least a “world in decay.” The story takes place on the planet of Atlas, which is being turned into a monster-defiled desert by the Sun god Thelos. The narrative hook of “a once beautiful land being corrupted by evil” is not a terribly original device. That’s an understatement, FYI.
The story and setting are, at best, mixed successes. Visually, the vast desert and rock landscapes are often impressive and beautiful. There are evocative areas of uncorrupted lushness and some ancient-looking cities. There are also long, empty stretches. It might make for an authentic feeling of desolation but isn’t necessarily fun to explore. Luckily, Atlas Fallen gives the player character a few different tools for covering vast distances quickly, like sand-surfing. Platforming is easy and relatively forgiving most of the time.
When it comes to the game’s narrative campaign, it has some choice but it’s not particularly engaging, filled with NPCs that are almost entirely forgettable, tied to a rote fantasy script. Characters act as exposition dumps and mission givers. Aside from getting on to the next quest, I rarely had any interest in what they had to say. Likewise, mission design feels like an old-school MMORPG. The vast majority of both main and side quests are focused on “go here, kill that, collect these items” type assignments. There are some bugged missions, too, and a lot of small editing errors, like two different spellings of “artifact,” a fairly significant mistake given the items’ importance.
The story is not helped by voice acting that varies in quality. Some NPCs are consistently good, others have a hard time maintaining a specific accent. Almost no one says anything remotely interesting. By far, the most annoying voice acting belongs to the magic talking gauntlet. While most of the game’s accents come from the pseudo-British high fantasy school of voiceovers, the gauntlet sounds like an American high school kid (no offense to high school kids) And unfortunately, he talks a lot, helpfully pointing out points of interest or narrating battles. If you’ve ever been frustrated by a backseat driver, you’ll know what I mean.
Ok, Get to the Action
Plenty of action RPGs have uninspired stories and writing. If the action is engaging, players are usually happy enough. Atlas Fallen redeems a fairly mediocre narrative with largely successful combat. It’s not perfect, however.
Like in Forspoken, your magical sentient gauntlet can imbue your weapons with powerful magic and special effects. There are a limited number of bladed weapons, and you can only equip two, but it’s what you layer onto them that counts. In this case, shards that drop in combat and artifacts you find in the word are used to level up weapons and abilities, like staying in the air longer. Because Atlas Fallen takes place in a desert world, many of the special abilities are sand-based, like calling up whirling clouds of sand.
As in most action RPGs, Soulslikes or not, there are light and heavy attacks and a useful parry that stuns enemies for a brief time. The Momentum mechanic is a risk/reward system. Filling a Momentum meter allows for special attacks, but also increases the player’s damage. I wonder if this mechanic is a way to balance otherwise easy encounters.
Because ultimately, combat in Atlas Fallen is on the easier, more accessible side. I don’t see a problem with that. Not every action game needs to be uber-challenging. Stringing together combos and special abilities and using the game’s fluid mobility is mindless fun. Most main and sub-bosses come with a handful of adds, sometimes in waves and attacking from many directions. Being able to fly or move quickly compensates for sketchy I-frames.
Stumbles, but Not Fatal Ones
Performance on my mid-range PC was a bit inconsistent, with framerate drops and scenery pop-in consistently noticeable. The musical score by Helge Borgarts was excellent, but the overall audio design wasn’t especially striking. There are plenty of ways to tweak graphics, but fewer options when it comes to accessibility and audio. You can’t silence the grating voice of the talking gauntlet, for example.
Atlas Fallen is a study in contrasts. A rote story and inconsistent voice acting are married to an attractive setting and generally fluid movement. On the whole, combat is fun but there’s also not a huge variety of enemies. Like in their earlier games, Deck 13 Interactive is definitely punching above their weight. If this results in some moments of unexpected awesomeness, it also results in some rough patches and missing polish.
***PC code provided by the publisher for review***
- Attractive desert world
- Fluid traversal and combat
- Excellent music
- Rote story
- Some terrible voice acting
- Repetitive enemies