Atlas Fallen review: Sand-powered RPG smoother than you'd think

Atlas Fallen review: Sand-powered RPG smoother than you'd think
Images via Deck13

Written by 

Kiera Mills

Published 

9th Aug 2023 14:55

Atlas Fallen is an action RPG developed by Deck13, who's prior works include titles including Ankh, Lords of the Fallen and The Surge.

That's important, because Atlas Fallen certainly follows a lot of cues from those titles. Just as Lords of the Fallen was inspired by Soulsbornes, Atlas Fallen feels similarly formulaic in its following of action RPG tropes.

That's no bad thing in a lot of ways, though, freeing the game from plot complexity and nuance and letting it just focus on being damn fun to play - a chance Deck13 grabs with both hands.

GGRecon Verdict

Atlas Fallen isn’t a game that will push the action RPG genre forward, but it's so much fun to play it doesn't really matter anyway.

The gameplay loop is satisfying and the aerial dash and sandglider mechanics are smooth enough that you'll be happy just exploring the world of Atlas, even if you're not progressing through the main story.

Its clunky plot holds a certain charm, and with enjoyable combat and traversal it's worth a look for anyone looking for a meaty adventure before the Fall deluge.

Laying the groundwork

Atlas Fallen in-game screenshot of discovering the gauntlet
Click to enlarge

Despite the arguably uninspiring name, Atlas Fallen has a lot to offer, especially if you delight in classic RPG tropes.

In a world divided by religious zealots who worship the destructive Sun God, the thousand-year-queen enforces Thelos worship and has essentially enslaved the lower classes, forcing them to mine for Essence – a substance with supernatural qualities that Thelos covets.

Atlas Fallen in-game screenshot
Click to enlarge

The last bastion of resistance, led by the noble Knights of Bastengar is no more, losing hope for humanity in the process.

This is where you come in. As an Unnamed, you are lower than the lower class and are expected to work to death in service to Thelos and the queen. After discovering a powerful artefact known as the gauntlet you are thrust into politics, war and guided by Nyall, a spirit seemingly trapped within the gauntlet with a mysterious past.

That's an awful lot of names and proper nouns, but despite its derivative nature, Atlas Fallen retains a sort of B-movie quality, plot-wise, that's hard not to admire - even as it sticks rigidly to it.

Sand, surf and slide

Atlas Fallen in-game screenshot of sandsurfing
Click to enlarge

Expect sand, a lot of sand.

That’s not to say that you'll be met with bland and identical landscapes. Whilst the starting area is essentially a desert, the game progresses through different biomes, gothic architecture and a unique Aztec-like style that represents Thelos and their spread of influence among mankind.

Simply put, the game looks beautiful, and you'd do well to make the most of the game's photo mode feature.

Atlas Fallen in-game screenshot of the capital
Click to enlarge

Within the greener areas, you'll encounter wild beasts who will lead you to treasure if you're patient enough to trail them and within the sands, you'll be able to sandsurf.

Sandsurfing is the main traversal method across the map (as well as fast travel between anvils, long-buried artefacts that have been swept over and forgotten about).

Sandsurfing is fluid as you glide across the silky sands of the continent and never stops being entertaining. You can even auto-collect ingredients whilst surfing which is a handy quality-of-life feature to have.

If you find yourself lonely out in the dunes, you can also invite a friend to play with you via co-op, making the game a great option for couples that game together or friends looking for their next RPG adventure.

Prince of who?

Atlas Fallen in-game screenshot of the Aerial Dash ability
Click to enlarge

Speaking of movement, the game feels smooth both in and out of combat. Upgrading your gauntlet allows you to leap in the air and essentially fly in short bursts, which is used as both a platforming mechanic and for delivering blows to larger enemies.

Combat is challenging and even gruelling in places, depending on your game difficulty settings and Essence Stone loadout. With the leap power, combat can evolve into four dimensions and have you thinking about aerial space as well.

Atlas Fallen in-game screenshot of Essence Stone abilities
Click to enlarge

Essence Stones are unique abilities you can equip to your sand weapons. Each will have various effects in battle and there are 150 to unlock and choose from. As you land concurrent blows against enemies, you'll build Momentum.

Once you have enough Momentum on the meter, you'll be able to deliver a large attack and/or release Essence Stone powers. Be careful though, getting hit by Wraiths (the curious beasts that live out in the sands) will also deplete your Momentum so chaining attacks and learning how to Parry quickly becomes a huge priority.

The developers have released plans to re-balance encounters in a day one patch and this seems wise. I played the game on normal difficulty and found myself finishing encounters through gritted teeth after much trial and tribulation.

Atlas Fallen in-game screenshot of combat
Click to enlarge

Wraiths vary in design and usually look like a mix of animal, metal and sand, similar in some ways to the beasts of Horizon Zero Dawn. With this, each wraith has different attack styles and patterns meaning you'll need to watch enemies and adjust your playstyle accordingly.

Each Wraith has body parts marked in red, these need to be targeted to bring the beast down. You can also prolong the battle and target yellow areas first, for an increased loot drop.

Overall, combat will make you think and, in some cases, re-strategize. Although the balancing aspect is subject to change, for now, the challenge was healthy and only bordered on frustrating at times due to the sheer level of enemy spawns.

The beacons are lit

Atlas Fallen in-game screenshot of a gauntlet upgrade
Click to enlarge

One key part of your gauntlet powers is the ability to raise buildings from the sinking sands and restore lost relics. Combined with the ability to launch across chasms and other large areas, Atlas Fallen evolves into a platforming game in places – to much satisfaction.

The game even has a double jump! Perhaps I'm alone in this, but the joy I received when discovering an RPG with a double jump was tremendous. The feature really changes the way you move through the game, with terrain becoming a possibility instead of an obstacle.

There is also virtually no fall damage in the game which is a particular luxury usually uncommon in RPGs. This makes the platforming segments even more enjoyable, knowing you won't be punished for trying to get just that little bit further across chasms.

There are several optional puzzles scattered across Atlas to utilise this. These puzzles are light beacons that once raised, will connect to another beacon across the map. You must travel to each beacon and restore them to get your hands on some optional rewards.

The game has other optional areas to explore, side quests, bosses, and collectable diary entries, typical of its genre and enough to keep you occupied for 15-20 hours depending on how much of a completionist you are.

Spending those sand dollars

Atlas Fallen in-game screenshot of armour customisation
Click to enlarge

If you're a fan of the Dark Souls armour aesthetics - or 'Fashion Souls' as we like to call it, you'll be happy with the different armour options available.

Each set in the game is over-the-top and gothic, with big plate armour and swishy capes. What makes this even better is that the game has a transmog system, meaning you don’t have to sacrifice style over function.

You can also buy dyes from the always-cheery Travelling Merchant and use them to further customise your look. After all, if you're going to save the world you must look the part.

Scattered across Atlas are various trinkets from decades past, that you can sell to the merchant to make a quick buck. I often found there was a lack of things to buy beyond the dyes, treasure maps and Essence Stones. This is possibly due to the lack of weapons in the game.

Instead of constantly upgrading and switching out gear you'll have three main weapons made from sand.

The Travelling Merchant will also offer special prices depending on the region you're visiting, and depending on which items are in demand. This is a creative idea to make the world feel more lived-in, with a functioning economy.

NPCs will also react to events; I had a guard recognise the armour I was wearing and tell me off whilst a worshipper responded negatively to me for destroying a nearby statue. These interactions are always small but mean a lot as it makes the world feel that extra bit real when playing.

Feeling sedimental?

Atlas Fallen in-game screenshot of Nyall
Click to enlarge

Atlas Fallen delivers a solid story thread to follow. It's perhaps a little cliché but clichés exist for a reason, they're fun to explore.

You're Unnamed will quickly be thrust into large-scale events and plot progression can feel rushed at times because of this, with key story revelations told through flashbacks instead of gameplay, which is a little disappointing.

Despite the clumsy delivery of some of the story, the game takes it in its stride, and it delivers a solid AA experience.

There's a lot to love about Atlas Fallen and there's a lot of potential there if you tailor your expectations going into it and avoid comparisons against some of the larger-scale RPGs.

Perhaps this is a sign of AAA influence, but I was surprised by the lack of other things to do within the game's world.

Frequently you can spot NPCs in the world playing Arkis, a chess-like game, you can even pick up pieces of the game as an artefact to sell, and yet there is no mini-game to play with villagers for coin.

Mini-games are of course, not to everyone's taste, but it is unusual to see an RPG avoid cashing in on the popularity spearheaded by things like The Witcher's Gwent, especially when it's clearly part of the game's lore.

The Verdict

Atlas Fallen in-game screenshot of combat
Click to enlarge

Atlas Fallen isn’t a game that will push the action RPG genre forward, but it's so much fun to play it doesn't really matter anyway.

The gameplay loop is satisfying and the aerial dash and sandglider mechanics are smooth enough that you'll be happy just exploring the world of Atlas, even if you're not progressing through the main story.

Its clunky plot holds a certain charm, and with enjoyable combat and traversal it's worth a look for anyone looking for a meaty adventure before the Fall deluge.

4/5

Reviewed on PS5. Review code provided by the publisher.

Kiera is a former GGRecon Guides Writer.