Atlas Fallen is by far the easiest game I have ever had to turn my back on. In fact, I’ve never rated a game so low before. To save you some time, it’s a 4/10 – and that’s being generous, because originally I gave it a 2/10.
Why do I think so little of Atlas Fallen? Is it because it didn’t live up to my expectations? Is it because it’s thwarted with bugs, rendering it almost unplayable? Is it the severe absence of diverse, interesting monster designs? It’s all of the above, I’m afraid.
Atlas Fallen takes place in a desert wasteland that is ruled by the god Thelos, and Thelos’ reign of terror is delivered through one of his god-like agents, an evil queen that rules over the desert. 10 years ago, a rebellion to stop the evil queen failed but an unlikely hero (that’s you, by the way) stumbles upon a rare and powerful magical weapon called the Gauntlet. Now that you possess god-like powers on par with the evil queen, it’s up to you to lead another rebellion – except this time, it won’t fail!
Pretty cool fairy tale premise, wouldn’t you agree? It’s a shame the story is delivered in boring, sand-coloured freezeframes and through monotoned conversations with the Gauntlet’s ghost (who is basically a Na’Vi from Avatar; blue skin, long black ponytail, about 12ft tall – you get the picture). The promise of fighting any gods in this game is a red herring too because throughout the duration of Atlas Fallen, you’re fighting monsters made of sand puppeteered by the evil queen in the same way that she’s puppeteered by Thelos.
As a premise, it does a good enough job of stitching the locales and quests together – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing! Nobody is playing Atlas Fallen for a compelling underdog story. A little bit of context to slay some giant beasties is good enough. So although the plot isn’t exactly riveting, it gets a little green tick from me.
As a third-person action RPG, Atlas Fallen is very typical of the genre and it does very little to break the mold. It doesn’t do any of it particularly well either.
Combat, for example, is fine but doesn’t feel particularly engaging or consistent. Your Gauntlet can transform into a hammer, a whip, or a pair of fighting gloves, and each one comes with its own perks: the hammer is slow but powerful; the whip is weak but generates Momentum quickly; the fighting gloves are extremely fast but require close-quarters combat. Yet, for the entirety of my playthrough (15 hours before it broke) the benefits described never felt impactful or even beneficial. Like, there was one particular enemy in which the whip would generate Momentum really quickly, yet the same tactic didn’t work on any other enemies. So either I’m missing something (and I’m more than happy for someone to point it out to me) or there’s something wrong with Atlas Fallen.
These are the only 3 weapons to choose from and even though there’s a heavy emphasis on customising your Gauntlet with magical power stones, they feel more like an unnecessary substitute to an actual weapons suite that they’re barely worth mentioning. You’re supposed to care about them because they essentially make your Gauntlet unique to you. These magical stones are pretty much a core pillar of Atlas Fallen and I can’t even be arsed to convey how boring and ineffective they all felt – and the reason they feel mostly pointless is because of Atlas Fallen’s crowning achievement: the Momentum gauge.
I probably should have started with this but Atlas Fallen’s core mechanic is the Momentum gauge. Basically, you have 2 bars: a health bar and a Momentum bar. The more momentum you have, the more powerful your Gauntlet is. The more powerful your Gauntlet, the more of your magical power stones become active. However, the more Momentum you have, the more health you lose. It’s a cool idea on paper but in practice, it’s actually quite shit. Mostly because you’ll be hard-pressed to max out your Momentum bar (and therefore reaching your full potential) before 3 hits of an enemy kill you. So if you’re never going to max out your Momentum to activate your most powerful magical stones, why bother investing the time and money in them?
Right, on to the next bit: traversal. Traveling around the large environments is actually pretty cool because you can use the Gauntlet to surf through the sand. Akin to Assassin’s Creed and Mad Max, there’s loads of stuff to collect, climb, and crack open in the semi-open world, and odds are you’ll have more enjoyment parkouring around the desert unlocking chests, picking up plants and breaking statues of Thelos than you will participating in the main storyline. The sound of surfing and hitting the rocks is unrealistic and painful to begin with but eventually, your ears will forget there’s any sound there at all.
There’s so much more to say about the gameplay but why bother? None of them are good enough reasons to pick up Atlas Fallen in the first place.
Can’t fault the level design. I like how Atlas Fallen is broken up into large sandboxes. It worked for Tomb Raider and it works here. The size of the environments can be overwhelming, so breaking them up into smaller pieces makes exploration more palatable. Not all of the levels are full of detail; some of the textures are a little weak. There’s some contextual storytelling going on though, which is always appreciated. For example, finding a bunch of skeletons around a Thelos temple implies some unsavoury behaviour from the Lord-and-Savior, and stumbling across desolate campsites hammers home how the citizens of the desert have been forced out of their homes by the evil queen.
I don’t know what else there is to say really. Maybe the satisfactory level design is why Atlas Fallen gets a 4/10.
Although the audio performances had a significant improvement later on in the game, it’s impossible to ignore your first impressions, and my first impressions of Atlas Fallen’s sound design made me feel embarrassed. Everyone who speaks sounds like they’re either AI-generated or don’t want to be there. It wasn’t much of an issue as I skipped through most of the dialogue but it certainly didn’t make Atlas Fallen feel like a AAA experience.
I think the only redeeming factor is how helpful the sound design is during encounters. There’s a lovely little glinting sound effect when an enemy is about to attack, which preps you with enough time to parry.
Other than that though, there’s nothing else to say. The music is completely forgettable (I can’t actually recall any of it as of this review).
I’ve never been so harsh before but I feel like all of my complaints are justified. The greatest culprit, however, is the numerous bugs. Early on in the game, I was unable to complete two of the sidequests: one out of five quest items didn’t spawn, so I was unable to finish that mission. The next one, the mission wouldn’t play out the enemy death animation, so I was stuck in the arena with an enemy that I couldn’t fight – it could attack me but I couldn’t attack it back. On another occasion, I was booted to the Xbox homescreen but thankfully the game picked up exactly where I left off. There was actually one time where I had to try and break the game further – the loot drop from a boss fight clipped into the mountain wall, rendering it inaccessible. After several minutes of trying to clip myself through the wall and hammering the B button, I was eventually able to pick it up. What a fucking palaver.
The final nail in the coffin was when my character got stuck between some ornamental poles and no number of restarts, jumps, rolls or dashes could get me out of it. So that was that. Game over.
I’ve hated every minute of writing this review and I’m sure you’ve hated reading it. For that, I am truly sorry. Consider yourself lucky that you didn’t have to play Atlas Fallen.
Should you play it? No
Why… Atlas Fallen is a broke-ass game that isn’t worth £50. It’s not even a next-gen experience. It’s mediocre at best. There’s never been such a truer example of an average Action RPG. The Momentum mechanic, which is Atlas Fallen’s pièce de résistance, is a distracting and uninviting change to the genre.
But… Surfing on the sand and exploring the desert is fun and addictive. The promise of unearthing a chest delivers the dopamine rush that enemy encounters should be capable of achieving (but never do). If it’s a surfing sim you want, check out Wavetale instead.
Final Score: 4/10
Reviewed on Xbox Series S
Developer: Deck13 Interactive
Publisher: Focus Entertainment
Playable on: Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 5, Steam, PC
Released: 10th August 2023