Earth's Dawn is a 2D, loot-heavy brawler with a post-apocalyptic theme. It's got a lot in common with Vanillaware titles such as Dragon's Crown and Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir, except it's keen to ditch pretty fantasy settings and settle for a ruined grey world complete with a gigantic underground tunnel system that's teeming with juddering, evil mutants. It's certainly an intriguing backdrop for an action role-playing release, but it unfortunately won't be long until you're eager for something a little different.
Indeed, repetition is one of Earth's Dawn's biggest downfalls. The game is essentially split into a ton of separate missions, each of them offering set objectives and their own rewards. Generally speaking, each quest will only take you a few minutes to complete, but they all throw you into the same environments to fight through the same few enemies time and time again.
Even if every mission feels like a severe case of déjà vu, at least you've always got something to work towards. Every foe that you slay drops materials that can be used to craft new equipment or upgrade items that you already have, and gaining experience in order to level up presents you points to spend on a massive skill tree. The amount of options available to you can seem daunting at first, but there's ultimately an impressive amount of depth to be found when it comes to developing your character.
All of the progression bleeds into the fast-paced combat, too. You steadily unlock new techniques and combos in the aforementioned skill tree, and your weapon loadout is yours to experiment with. Both melee and ranged armaments are up for grabs, with futuristic samurai swords, rifles of all shapes and sizes, and over-the-top buster blades forming the basis of an armoury that's as deadly as it is stylish.
Earth's Dawn has a button-mashing feel to it at times, but the combat boasts enough nuance that it never seems particularly mindless. There are several combo strings to master, both on the ground and in the air, and a handy boost dash ability allows you to either chain commands together or evade incoming attacks. The controls are tight and fights look slick, especially when you pull off some sweet finishing moves.
Standard enemies rarely pose much of a threat to your super powered solider unless you find yourself surrounded, but the difficulty can ramp up significantly when it's time to go toe to toe with boss monsters. Often huge in size, bosses follow set attack patterns that require you to make the most of your evasive capabilities unless you want a chunk of your health to be taken away in an instant. Such feared mutants should certainly serve up a challenge, but it's hard not to feel as though you haven't been properly prepared for such a jump in difficulty - not when most monsters are so easy to dispatch.
Frustrating difficulty spikes can really put a dampener on a title like Earth's Dawn since it places so much emphasis on character development. It's off-putting to spend hours beefing up your character only to be stomped by a boss that's nothing like the hundreds of foes that you've previously encountered, subsequently undermining the process of grinding for better equipment and experimenting with the various weapon types.
It's perhaps no surprise that the story takes a backseat as you combo your way through the mutant hordes, but there's some promise to the oppressive tale that the title tells - it's just a shame that the game never capitalises on it. Freeing the United States from the clutches of grotesque creatures as a member of an elite military, there's plenty of room for an engaging story of mankind's desperation, but any potential is quickly stunted by a cardboard cast of characters and bland dialogue.
Given its well developed character progression loop and its competent combat, it's disappointing that Earth's Dawn stumbles in the ways that it does. Take away the repetitive mission design and make boss fights more bearable, and you'd be left with an addictive action RPG with an interesting premise and an attractive art style – even if the animation quality leaves a lot to be desired.
The foundations of a fast-paced and well worked action RPG are alive and well in this post-apocalyptic wasteland, but Earth's Dawn is let down by repetition and difficulty spikes. If you can stomach the negatives and keep chipping away at the release's robust progression systems, you'll find an impressive amount of depth and enjoyment to be had in forging your super solider – but you'll never quite shake the feeling that this could and should have been a better game than it is.