Alluded to: I now know what Atlas Fallen is. And I have to say, Deck13 has a lot planned!

Alluded to: I now know what Atlas Fallen is.  And I have to say, Deck13 has a lot planned!

“OH NOOOOO!” I blurted out when a trailer popped up after the boss fight, which signaled to me: “That’s it for you for now with Atlas Fallen”. I was a little surprised myself at how much outrage there was in the knee-jerk vocalization. But that was probably the moment when I realized: Deck13 must have done something right. In a game that takes on as much as this one, that’s saying something.

It didn’t even start that well for me. I was thrown into a cave with no major context for our hero and the genie ensconced in his magical gauntlet, where the first thing that struck me was the stilted, esoteric English setting, and not exactly in a positive way. Just pushed the wrong buttons for me. And that’s what I did, I really didn’t know what I was doing and why. During the first fights I had serious problems with dodging and parrying the attacks of these sand opponents, which were actually generously telegraphed in advance. Yes, you could say I had trouble with Atlas Fallen at first. Above all, I regularly lost the overview of the situation.

I think the look of the world is pretty heavenly.

Then, once I was out in the open, it suddenly went better, especially as the game found its way into my heart with its heavenly locomotion. Because, you see, the magic glove ensures that our hero is one with the sand – sort of – and can ride it like a surfer rides the waves of a particularly dry sea. Even better than a surfer, because your avatar doesn’t care if it’s going up or down the mountain. As long as there is sand under his feet, he elegantly moves his lengths. As if every single grain of silicate would help to carry him forward.

The sand, my new home

It feels so good that it’s almost sad when you reach a lush piece of residual forest in this lost world, or explore a rocky cliff. Then you feel the heavy armor and the weight of the muscle-bound hero’s body weigh on you almost physically. As soon as you step back onto the sand, you inevitably have to smile. That doesn’t mean that deck13’s normal locomotion didn’t work out well, too. On the contrary. Double jumps with a lot of airtime, one, later even two dashes in the air, that’s quite mobile what’s happening here and perfectly complements the dune slide. But there are already two different modes in which you move: breakneck, but in terms of precision, forgiving platformer hopping on the one hand and the relaxed Zen cruising, for example, of a Journey on the other.

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The fact that I like it so much is probably also due to the fact that this world just looks great. It might be less appealing to others, but here even the rock, which in places juts out of the ground like huge jagged swords and throws up wonderfully jagged panoramas, feels alien and… well, otherworldly. In addition, there are always striking, man-made buildings in different stages of decay, which seem to tell a lot about the old civilization. And above all, like a titanic tombstone with evil eyes, the Watcher hovers on the horizon and menacingly looks down on the remains of this empire. It’s the good kind of escapist transport into a strange environment that Atlas Fallen just nails.

You can also play Atlas Fallen in co-op. But that wasn’t possible in the preview version.

What it’s also good at is giving a lot of thought to its systems. I can’t yet say with certainty whether every idea and every interlocking of these different mechanisms will work as intended. But what is already clear: It’s fun to experiment with it! Basically it works like this: With landed attacks you gradually beat a momentum line in length. It’s divided into three stages, and the further you advance, the bigger your magic sand weapons – in the preview build, a sword and an ax that are on separate keys – become bigger and cause more damage. So you accelerate longer fights to the rear massively.

Even glass cannons are made of sand

It goes both ways, though, because high momentum means you’ll take more damage. So you gradually become the “Glass Cannon”, which certainly increases the tension, but sometimes also means that a fight is over very suddenly. The good thing: If a fight gets too hot for you, you pull the apocalyptic option with both triggers at the same time and unload the momentum you have built up in a powerful attack that causes a lot of damage.

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The next interesting detail: Over time you will find more and more essence stones that you can incorporate into the glove. These clunkers are skills that are also organized along the three tiers. At each level you can place one active and three passive ones, provided you have unlocked the slots for them. However, all skills are placed along the momentum bar, meaning they only work once that bar has reached the appropriate skill icon. Of course, this means that you play around with the setup of your “Gauntlet” a bit and have a little room for tweaking. In the preview version I already had various different essence stones, I thought about which ones to put where and which ones to invest my scarce essence dust in first, in order to upgrade it to the next level.

Even in combat you slide as far as the sand can reach.

It does make a difference if I use a stone that promises I won’t often consume a heal when I use it, or one that deals circular area-of-effect damage for five seconds after a smash attack becomes. It’s also cool that the opponents also query your mobility. You pull yourself up to flying enemies and can do another dash in the air after each hit. I quickly mixed up juggling and ground smashing attacks and felt good about it. Even the parries got better and better and then I liked them a lot because they petrify an enemy for a moment. Here, too, an option opens up: hit the now defenseless one, or take the opportunity to have contained the superiority a bit and turn to the other enemies?

Waiter, there’s sand in my crab!

Particularly large enemies require multiple parries in a row to cripple them this way. I fended off three scissor hits in a row from the big crab monster and was then allowed to choose one of its several weak points as a target. Some monsters have body parts that drop special rewards when destroyed. I’m also looking forward to analyzing this part of the game in more detail. Overall, the game is definitely more laxly-timed Devil May Cry than Soulslike. It does take a bit of thinking and planning on how to approach a fight rather than going blindly. The momentum system lets you adjust the level of difficulty yourself to a certain extent. I think demanding players will get their money’s worth here, as will people who don’t want to meet a particularly high requirement profile.

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Technically, Atlas Fallen makes a solid impression so far. I was playing on the PC and discovered one or two textures that were a bit hasty wallpapered over rocky edges and the character faces weren’t exactly animated on the edge of the cutting edge. However, the beautiful sand effects, the view distance and the general appearance of the world make this title very visually attractive.

The crab hits the ground three or four times with its claws. A good time for a series of parades.

This would finally give us a little more clarity as to what Atlas Fallen actually is. I have to say I’m pleasantly surprised and I’m looking forward to the test. It helps that this game doesn’t define the edges of its world too clearly and you’re constantly asking yourself, “can I go there too?” or “can I get up there?” and often enough seems to get a “yes” for an answer. And the fact that most of the opponents are made of sand and that they crumble back into it as soon as you defeat them underlines how consistently Atlas Fallen follows his line. That’s really strong, seems involving in its systems and quite inviting in terms of visual design. I look forward to combing this desert further.

Developer: Deck13 – Publishers: Focus – Platforms: PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series S/X – release: May 16, 2023 – Genre: Open world action RPG