Atlas Fallen - Sun, Sand and Gods
You are Nameless, a slave to the whims of evil masters and the directives of a controlling clergy. You are identified only by your daily task and considered to be less than dirt. Your sole purpose in life is to ensure the higher-ups are kept in the lap of luxury while meeting the demands of an unrelenting god in a dying world. But as you look to help some of your fellow Nameless you stumble across a gauntlet buried in the wastes. The gauntlet calls to you, urges you to put it on. Doing so awakens something divine, giving you abilities that are beyond human capability. You are no longer simply Nameless, you are the Gauntlet Bearer and you now have the power to change the world for the better.
If all of that sounds a little cliched, well that is because it is. Atlas Fallen, the newest title from Deck 13, treads the well-worn steps of trope-riddled fantasy from its opening moments. It has it all, cast-out and forgotten gods, a tortured land, a cruel religion-based societal structure and a whopping big MacGuffin that even David Eddings would be impressed with. But it is so earnest, so committed to the bit that it is hard to be critical of it. Like a good piece of light fantasy, Atlas Fallen fills its world with fleshed-out characters, engaging lore and just the right amount of underlying dread meaning I found it almost impossible to not get carried along for the ride. I could see the story beats stumbling around the corner, but it didn’t matter. Just like a rollercoaster, even if you know the bends are coming, it doesn’t lessen your enjoyment when they arrive. The only real negative I have for the story is that it ends with a bit of a fizzer in terms of payoff. This is where the cliches hit in full force and as a result, the finale disappoints a little. Hardly the only game to fumble the ending, but it is still disappointing.
So what about the game itself? You would be forgiven for thinking that a game coming from Deck 13 would be another “Soulslike” considering their past work on Lords of the Fallen and The Surge, but that is not the case. Instead Atlas Fallen is an open-world action title in the vein of Shadow of Mordor or the earlier Assassin’s Creed games. There are three open-world maps that make up the game’s world and they never feel too big or empty. There is a hand-crafted feel to the world presented and I got the impression that the world designers took great pride in their work. They have really succeded in portraying a dying world highlighted by scattered pieces of beautythat present a window into what the land must have once been.
What makes the world even more engaging is the movement system. Your character has the ability to “sand surf” which amounts to gliding across the dunes at the click of the thumbstick. It is an absolute joy to simply cruise around the sand dunes, picking up speed and seeing what the world has to offer at pace. The only problem I have is that you can’t use this ability on anything but sand and while a lot of the world is covered in the stuff, towards the end of the game more and more buildings, roads and even forests are introduced, all of which nullify this mode of transport. I would have liked the ability to upgrade the skill to be useful on all surfaces, not just the sand, I feel it would tie the world together just a bit better. The movement system makes navigating the world a joy and as a result, the traditional open-world activities such as collectibles and small challenges are worth chasing down. Much like Marvel’s Spider-Man, the movement system is so enjoyable that just getting from point A to point B is a blast so it is no chore to chase down a collectible or two.
Combat is a free-flowing affair that involves a lot of fast movement, aerial maneuvers and special powers. It utilises a momentum system that raises as you land attacks and grants customisable special abilities. The momentum gauge has three levels, with attacks getting progressively stronger as the levels go up. Each level also grants one special ability and two passive abilities that can be changed and upgraded at will. Combine this with double jumps, multiple air dashes and rapid-fire attacks and Deck 13 have created a combat system that feels unique and wholly controlled by the player. Fighting giant sand monsters (called Wraiths in game) is a joy and finishing them off with a giant shatter attack (that is built up as combat progresses) never gets old. The final part of the combat that needs mentioning is Sandskin, which is essentially a parry that freezes enemies for a short period of time. It is the final piece that really creates a combat system that encourages creativity and rewards those that master it.
The combat has one big drawback and that is the camera. Due to the fast nature of the fights, the camera can wildly swing around and it is very easy to get lost and disorientated in the middle of a battle. Locking on to the enemies doesn’t solve the issue either, with many of them having attacks where they dive into and subsequently burst out of the sand, sending the lock-on mechanic into overdrive. There is one area, an underground ruined city, where this is particularly noticeable to the point of causing me to swear quite a bit. It feels like something that will be fixed quickly though, if not in the day one patch (which hasn’t arrived as I am writing this) shortly thereafter. It is too much of a glaring issue to be ignored. This problem also contributes to enclosed spaces not being your friend in Atlas Fallen. The game is absolutely sublime when you have space to move, dart about the battlefield and zip in with wild attacks. If you are forced to fight in tight quarters it is a less-than-ideal experience, the combat system, along with the camera, just doesn’t support it. Thankfully it doesn’t happen too often so it can be forgiven.
One thing that surprised me, in a good way, is the runtime. I finished the game on normal difficulty at 78% completion in just under 14 hours. I know some may find this a turn off but frankly, it felt just perfect for me. The developers wisely didn’t pad out the game with extra waffle and just focused on making the experience as enjoyable as possible. I am more than ok with a 12-14 hour game in this day and age, it is so refreshing after games like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla make you feel like they are never going to end. A tight curated experience is better than a long, padded-out one in my humble opinion and I applaud Deck 13 for it.
When you break it down, there is nothing in Atlas Fallen we haven’t seen before. Everything it does, someone else has done in another game. That being said, what Deck 13 have done is bring these elements together into a rollicking adventure that hits all the right notes for action fans, tells an engaging (if cliched) story and never outstays its welcome. Not every game has to be ground-breaking, not every game has to change the world. It is good enough for a game to simply entertain and that is what Atlas Fallen does best, so much so I would happily step up for a sequel should it sell well enough. Atlas Fallen felt like a breath of fresh air in what feels like an increasingly dreary and complex gaming landscape and that is perhaps its biggest achievement in my eyes.
Atlas Fallen was reviewed on the PS5 with code kindly supplied by the publisher.