After spending a good long time with the Souls-like genre with the original Lords of the Fallen and sci-fi The Surge games, Deck13 are moving on to something that feels thoroughly different in Atlas Fallen. That said, between the sandy fantasy setting and faster-paced combat, there’s plenty of challenge with higher difficulty levels and some familiar gameplay ideas from Deck13’s recent games.
There’s a fantastic sense of scale to the open world of Atlas that’s only enhanced by your ability to very rapidly get around it by surfing across the sandy dunes. It’s not just shifting sand dunes, with mountains, rocky outcroppings, villages, ruins and plenty more giving this world an engaging visual style. You can’t surf across everything, but Deck13 are generally quite forgiving in when and where you can do so – even stone paths with a relatively light dusting can be skated across with ease. Add to that an air dash and you’re given plenty of speed and agility to explore.
Naturally this style of traversal and control over the sands is then brought into the heart of open world in a variety of ways. As you explore there are various points that you can pull ruins up out of the sand to explore them and potentially open up new paths and areas of the world to you. There’s also challenges, tasking you with going point to point through the environment, really putting your skills to the test.
Of course, a big part of any action RPG is going to be the combat, and Atlas Fallen features and exciting and enticing blend of ideas. Your custom character comes into possession of a magical gauntlet, lending them the ability to control the sands and attack with shape-shifting weapons. It’s fluid and dynamic with up two weapons to switch between on the fly for your attacks, but demanding that you dodge, block and counter, knock enemies up into the air and then dish out damage, juggling them for long combos.
It’s all about building up Momentum, unlocking both passive boosts and active skills as you fill the gauge by dishing out damage. It’s an almost purely rewarding system, as the active skills remain usable on a cooldown and don’t sap your Momentum as you trigger them, growing your feeling of power quickly as you get stuck into each and every fight. The only thing that drains your Momentum is taking damage or pulling off a devastating Shatter attack that simply looks spectacular.
You’ll build your character exactly how you want, finding Essence Stones out in the open world, taking them from defeated monsters and crafting them, and then dropping them into your character loadout. The three tiers of this skill system then match to how they are powered up with the Momentum gauge.
As you find and battle sandy monsters both small and annoying and huge and powerful, there’s a key twist from The Surge that returns: targeting weak points. No, it’s not a wholly unique gameplay mechanic, but even in the relatively short session we had with the game, it’s clear how it can add strategy to each encounter, whether it’s simply finding the exposed end that deals more damage to a burrowing giant snake, or aiming for a particular limb that some of the huge monsters like a towering crab attacks you with. Each creature has been given a sandy design that looks fantastic.
All of this can be played with a friend by your side. There’s drop-in, drop-out online co-op through the game, and with difficulty chosen and determined on an individual basis, any player can join any other. Want to challenge yourself while helping out someone who’s just starting out? Go right ahead!
Something that often suffers through co-op play is a game’s story, but Deck13 has built in a great system where you can see a conversation that the other player is engaged in, as well as the dialogue options they’re presented with and can choose, but you yourself are not locked into their conversation. It’s a small touch in the grand scheme of things, but when there’s games out there that miss the mark when building in co-op, it really feels like Deck13 has a handle on how to get it right.
Admittedly, I barely got to scratch the surface of Atlas Fallen during my hands on time, but it really feels like Deck13 are building something special here. The sandy desert world looks great, the equally sandy monsters put distinctive twists on classic designs, and the escalating Momentum that feeds combat is excellently empowering. And being able to play all that with a friend by your side? Well, it never hurts to have backup when I’m downed…