Atlas Fallen is the latest game from developer Deck 13, the studio behind the original Lords of the Fallen game and the Surge series. The studio’s history is deeply rooted in Dark Souls-inspired titles, with its latest outing, however, it breaks away from conventions to deliver something new, at least as far as the studio is concerned. Atlas Fallen is an open-world action RPG, a first for the studio. The inspirations the game takes are apparent from the get-go and while they help deliver a decent overall product, the game isn’t without its flaws.
Calling Atlas Fallen a love child of Monster Hunter and Diablo 4 wouldn’t be far from the truth but I think it would also be a great disservice to the mostly commendable work done by Deck 13. Despite its many apparent influences, Atlas Fallen successfully breaks free from the shackles of its inspirations to carve an identity that is as unique as the game’s fascinating title. It has all the fundamental systems and mechanics you would expect from a typical action RPG, but the execution of these systems leaves a lot to be desired. Some aspects are implemented exceptionally well, while others almost feel like an afterthought, resulting in a game that is, for the most part, enjoyable but at the end of the day tremendously lopsided.
After a fairly basic introductory cutscene and character creator, you are thrown into Atlas Fallen, a hopeless and chaotic world, where you, acquire a Gauntlet that possesses magic abilities and is ruled by an all-powerful being, the world is run amuck with monsters known as Wraiths that take many forms, such as that of a sandworm a la Dune a giant crab and more canine appearances that also serve as the game’s basic enemy type. The Gauntlet you wield is the central crux of the story and many of the character’s motivations are driven by it. Wearing the Gauntlet grants you several abilities like being able to glide on the sand, which aids you in traversal, or the ability to use and manipulate weapons which gives you an upper hand in combat, Additionally, it is also sued to solve puzzles, by revealing buried treasures and structures. The versatility of the Gauntlet can not be understated and like the Cuff in Forspoken, is a character unto itself.
Your companion for the game is Nyaal, a mysterious being who somehow resides within the Gauntlet itself and guides you throughout the entirety of your journey, like most character’s in this game Nyaal is largely forgettable, I don’t think there’s this one character I met throughout the course of my playthrough had a significantly compelling effect on me, even from the get-go, Tracker, the first character you meet will largely just give you a list of chores to do and then pop up now and then when the story needs her to. Maybe I’m spoiled with the excellent character and character arcs I’ve seen in recent games of similar nature like Baldur’s Gate 3 but the work on Atlas Fallen was highly dismal and very acutely detracts from the overall investment I had in this world.
The voice acting, which can be a hit or miss depending on the situation further exacerbates this situation. Often robotic and sometimes just out of tone with the context of the situation or scene, it can be overbearing at times but not nearly as egregious as seen in Forspoken. Like the characters, the story can also be a hit or miss. The world is interesting and the high fantasy setting works well to carry the game’s excellent combat system, which we’ll discuss shortly, but from my point of view, there was an apparent lack of depth in the story, while I wouldn’t expect a game such as this to portray some kind of profound philosophical idea but a deeper lore or story would have been much appreciated. These elements aren’t bad by any stretch of the word, but at the end of the day end up feeling very mediocre.
When I first started playing Atlas Fallen, I was taken aback by how simple and shallow the combat felt, but within just one hour of starting the game, I went from simply juggling the attack and doge buttons to having to engage with a host of different systems. The combat in Atlas Fallen is deceptively simple. It looks like a simple hack-and-slash on the surface but at its core, it’s so much more. At times the complexity becomes a tad overwhelming and I would have preferred a more staggered approach to ability and systems acquisition, similar to the approach we’ve seen in the recent God of War titles. Still, it doesn’t detract from the experience too much.
The Gantlet is the central force not only behind the narrative but also the combat. Every single combat mechanic is driven by it, including the types of weapons you use, your perks, special abilities, and idols. You can slot two weapons into the gauntlet. The weapon assigned to the Square button serves as the primary weapon and the weapon assigned to the Triangle button is your secondary weapon. You’ll encounter and acquire a number of these slottable weapons as you progress through the story and choosing what weapons are the best just boil down to your personal preference, I found most enemies in the game to be very agile, so I assigned more swift weapons as my primary weapons while the more weighty ones as my secondaries, through trial error you’ll be able to find what suits you your playstyle best.
Perhaps the most prominent aspect of Atlas Fallen’s combat is its momentum bar as all other systems in the combat revolve around this feature. This is the one mechanic that I feel, pushes the skill ceiling in the game significantly high. The momentum bar fills up with each successful hit and parry. There are three levels to the momentum bar, each with four slottable essence stones. Three act like passive buffs while one is an active combat ability. A higher momentum means you deal more damage but concurrently it also leaves you vulnerable as you take increased damage. You need to tread a very fine line and consider your health and enemies before filling up your momentum gauge all the way through. Taking damage while it’s full can mean the difference between life and death but it can also make you extremely powerful and effective. At the start of each combat scenario, you’ll always be faced with the conundrum of either dealing more damage or playing it safe. The concept of risk and reward is what kept the game fresh and engaging throughout its nearly 12-hour-long campaign and what I felt is the game’s strongest asset.
The enemy variety, while small, perfectly accentuates the game’s combat. Larger enemy types feature armor and you have to be very meticulous in where you land your shots to make sure you can take them down quickly and effectively. You won’t have to worry about armor pieces in all combat scenarios as they’re only limited to more boss-level threats but when they do pop up, they only work to make combat better. Between, considering your momentum bar, health, and enemies, the combat in Atlas Fallen will require you to always be at your best. There won’t ever be a situation where you can cheese yourself out of a situation.
Like with any other RPG, the game features a suite of upgrade options. You can upgrade your Gauntlet, specific abilities, armor, and essence stones. Each upgrade, gives you access to higher abilities and additional perks, on the other hand upgrading the Gauntlet itself grants you new feats such as air dashes. You will need to explore the map to find certain ingredients and recipes to fuse certain essence stones and upgrade all the different gear items, but due to the barren and empty nature of the open world, it can oftentimes become very tedious.
For what it’s worth, Atlas Fallen features some gorgeous artistry in its open world, from vast open dessert areas to more rocky, irregular mountains, each area on the map feels distinct and unique in its own right, but there is a considerable lack of open world activities, making most of this work seem very inconsequential. Navigating the world using the Gauntlet is a pleasant experience, as it lets you glide through the landscape in a rather satisfying and intuitive matter, but it would have been nice to see more work put into the open world apart from just pretty visuals. At times this situation reminded me of Forspoken and how that game, very similar to this featured a rather barren open world.
Upgrading your momentum bar unlocks slots for your essence stones while upgrading your armor unlocks additional perks that are available to you at all times. The game does level gate quite significantly which can be a nuisance at times, what exacerbates this situation however, is that your level is determined solely by your armor. You could have a strong weapon or several strong Essence stones equipped but if your armor is at level 2 you won’t be able to defeat enemies that are two-three levels above you. Given that Atlas Fallen is an RPG, a more robust and well-rounded leveling system would have been much appreciated, coming from the excellent combat mechanics the leveling mechanics almost felt like an afterthought. For example, in the recent God of War games, your character level is determined by each of your gear pieces as well as your equipped charms and weapon levels. This lends a sense of progress in more than one way, by taking into account your entire suite of progress instead of simply looking at your armor level.
They say two is better than one and for an action RPG this is certainly the case. Atlas Fallen makes a very big point of the game’s co-op features as they become available just twenty or so after the start of the game. While I do commend the studio for implementing this, especially given the fact that this game is pretty easily beaten solo and features nowhere near the difficulty of games like Dark Souls or Elden Ring where co-op or summoning becomes an absolute necessity, the co-op is done extremely well here but it’s the implementation that leaves you feeling a bit underwhelmed.
Unlike other games when you’re playing co-op, you’re free to go about your tasks while your partner does whatever they see fit. For example, you could be engaged in combat while your partner solves a puzzle or purchases goods from a vendor, the freedom to do whatever you want while not being tied down by your partner is extremely refreshing, games like Fallout 76 restrict your progress when you play co-op with a friend but with Atlas Fallen, it’s quite the opposite.
Despite the excellent mechanics the way matchmaking works is fairly lackluster. For starters, you cannot join a random person’s games which takes away a significant chunk of the charm of co-op which should, in my, opinion let you pair up with randoms and secondly there is no cross-play support which further puts a damper on the entire experience, with pretty much every studio embracing cross-play at this point the fact that a late 2023 game does not have this feature from the get-go is a big turn off.
Overall, Atlas Fallen is a commendable effort by Deck 13 Studios, successfully taking elements from long-established franchises and making them their own, the game packs in all the features you would expect from a good action RPG. At the end of the day, however, most of their implementations are fairly mediocre, resulting in a lack of cohesion in the final release. In saying that, the game is enjoyable to a great extent, featuring a robust combat system that only gets better the more you play, but a good combat system only takes you so far.