Game of the Month: Atlas Fallen

Publisher: Focus Entertainment
Developer: Deck13
Platforms: Xbox Series X/S, PS5, PC
Release Date: 08.10.2023

After scoring sleeper hits with The Surge and The Surge 2, developer Deck13 decided to branch out into bigger and more unexplored territory with Atlas Fallen, a new open-world sandbox action RPG that lets players loose in a literal world of sand. While it’s a good game in its own right, it doesn’t quite have that certain something that made the studio’s previous two games so appealing.

Atlas Fallen’s weakest quality is its story, as its tale of a malevolent god named Thelos enslaving the land of Atlas is filled with some overly familiar character tropes and narrative beats. Even so, we were always curious to see what would happen next, and while the story’s twists never got quite as surprising as we’d hoped, they did come often enough to keep things interesting.

On the other hand, the world of Atlas Fallen turned out better than we expected. Rather than one giant open world, the game is broken into smaller sections, each of which offers up a nice level of freedom in where players can go and what they can do. We spent our first first few hours just taking in the sights, and found that we’d already accomplished some of our required goals once we returned to the main storyline. A few of the gimmicks that Deck13 added to the world can get repetitive and annoying—we’re looking at you, light beam puzzles—but we also appreciate that the developer didn’t go crazy dotting the landscape with an overabundance of unnecessary time wasters.

It’s impressive how diverse Atlas Fallen’s world feels even though it’s mostly sand with the occasional green spaces.

Far and away, the biggest aspect to Atlas Fallen is its combat, and it’s clear how much work Deck13 put into everything surrounding that. The basics of combat are fun, and deeper elements like the game’s movement mechanics and unique parry system keep battles fast-paced and exciting, but it’s the Momentum gauge that’s the real star here. The more it builds, the more special abilities and attacks players have access to, and the more damage they can unleash—but also, the more damage they themselves take. It’s a risk-reward system that gives Atlas Fallen a special feel of its own, but it’s also not without its faults.

The Momentum system is powered by Essence Stones, which players slot into various positions on the gauge to activate once it’s built up that far. There are a lot of Essence Stones in the game, and we really have to give credit to Deck13 for giving players such a level of depth in configuring our characters to fight the way we want them to. However, so much choice can also feel a bit overwhelming, and runs the risk of players kind of zoning out after receiving their fifth Essence Stone in as many minutes. Also, because it’s important to keep up the momentum of the Momentum gauge, most fights with bigger enemies and bosses feature a constant wave of smaller foes as well. This can cause battles to get frustratingly chaotic—especially when the lock-on system and camera can’t keep up—and more than once left us wishing we could just face off against bosses better designed to be faced one-on-one.

Buried in the sands of Atlas Fallen is an experience that’s genuinely enjoyable more often than it’s not, but we’re not sure if all players will be willing to dig far enough to find the fun. And, for those that do, some might wish that the treasure they’ve just uncovered had a bit more polish than it does.

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