While it was The Surge that put Deck13 Interactive's name on the map, it's Atlas Fallen that will henceforth be considered the studio's best game to date. Switching the Souls-like structure of its past titles for a more traditional open world adventure with difficulty options, it boasts of excellent traversal and a fun combat system in a sandy setting ruled by an evil god. Lingering AA jank holds it back from greatness, but Atlas Fallen holds its own in amongst the year's more significant hitters.
Some of that weighty energy from The Surge 2 is still felt here, particularly in the combat system. Having created a character, you defy your oppressors (your kind are essentially slaves referred to only as Unnamed) after finding a Gauntlet with the power of a god trapped inside — it's this that gives you magical powers to glide across the sands and take down Wraiths patrolling the dunes. While movement feels so incredibly freeing, it's the abilities the Gauntlet grants you that feel heavy and deliberate. In tandem, the two features strike a great balance that makes gameplay in Atlas Fallen the true king.
It's sort of like Forspoken meets Monster Hunter, with double jumps and triple air dashes making traversal feel responsive and finely tuned. Then, combat is all about targeting specific limbs to down enemies and earn better rewards. The Gauntlet is also sentient in the same way Frey Holland's Cuff is, but it's nowhere near as annoying or quippy. In fact, it takes your character pretty seriously for the roughly 12 hours needed to roll credits.
What extends your playtime is side quests, odd jobs, and fun open world activities, all of which test your skills across the title's two main focal points: movement and combat. The former is mainly built upon with more uses of each ability, sourced from upgrades buried throughout the open world. They allow you to cross bigger gaps, get about quicker, and access previously hidden areas. The latter, though, is much more experimental.
Despite living under their tight iron fist at the start of the game, there are no human enemies in Atlas Fallen; only Wraiths. Mythical beasts that take the shape of burrowing snakes, birds, and increasingly large mammals, you must target and then destroy each of their limbs before they go down for good. Without any stamina bars to manage, fights are much more offensive-focused than The Surge.
Taking advantage of your nimble nature, you can dash around the battlefield, quickly taking down enemies with sword hits, whip slashes, and powerful slams into the ground below. The game is gracious with its abilities, to the point where simply hitting an enemy restores a use of your dash, allowing you to stay in the air for long periods of time and juggle your damage between foes. It feels so liberating and versatile in the moment; there's never a moment where you're held back.
Then, across three different tiers making up a total of nine slots, you can customise your protagonist with new attacks and abilities. Named Essence Stones, they're activated as you fill up the Momentum Gauge by landing hits on enemies. Temporary buffs are triggered automatically while special attacks can be stored for the right moment. From summonable hurricanes and huge magical axes to damage and defensive upgrades, there's a lot of variety that adds flair to your base play style. With a satisfying parry also that freezes monsters in time and space, there's a lot of enjoyment to be gained from playing around with what's on offer.
There are well over 30 different powers to equip, which combined with Idols that modify your base abilities, really gives you a lot of room to experiment with. The game allows you to quickly switch between three different loadouts, letting you kit your character out for specific situations. It's an impressive level of build customisation that goes a long way to making your character feel distinct from a friend's - a proper boon during co-op play.
The end result is an experience where you always feel like you're improving. This even extends to your character's core abilities: you're still unlocking new powers mere hours before the end of the game. This gives reason to backtrack and solve conundrums you couldn't previously interact with.
Unfortunately, our compliments of the narrative's main objectives don't track quite as positively. Particularly in the second half of the story, some tasks start to feel like repetitive busywork. You'll need to perform the same actions at multiple points across the map, or backtrack constantly between cities and the dusty wasteland. It slows the pace of the game down to a frustrating crawl, to the point where the cracking combat and traversal can't quite paper over the cracks. Most of Atlas Fallen's gameplay is a highlight, but you will have to put up with a few deeper valleys along with the highs.
Still, there are always the optional ventures of the open world to distract you. There are platforming challenges to master, elite Wraiths to beat, and timed tasks to overcome. It's nothing you haven't seen before, but they're welcome interferences with guaranteed rewards, materials, and currencies at the end.
It's likely the technical setbacks of the game will get in the way at some point, though, as the title feels like it's lacking that final layer of polish. The visuals themselves aren't particularly great, there are spelling mistakes in the menus, and the transitions between cutscenes and then into gameplay can be quite clunky. Then there's a lot of texture pop-in and UI elements that linger on screen for so long that they start to feel like a glitch.
Load times on PS5 could be a lot better too. They're generally pretty acceptable during fast travel, but you'll be waiting quite a bit longer than you'd like when returning to the action following a death. At least the frame rate remains mostly steady throughout, targeting 60fps at 1440p on the default mode. The other option is a 4K resolution at 30fps, but given the speed Atlas Fallen moves at, it's best to leave the setting be.
With fairly common issues under the hood, the game isn't quite as cohesive and consistent as it could be. While gameplay is pretty fantastic, the connective tissue holding it together is anything but.
The environments aren't anything to write home about, either. It's certainly cool to glide across the sands, but each location blends into one another with no real unique features. You'll be constantly referring to the pause screen's map as it's virtually impossible to get your bearings simply by taking in your surroundings. It's a lot of sand, a few crumbling cities, and bits of rubble sticking out of dunes.
Atlas Fallen is a valiant effort from Deck13 Interactive that will go down as its best game so far. With fantastic traversal and a fun, engaging combat system, the developer has nailed the gameplay in every sense. What holds the experience back, though, is a lack of polish to iron out the technical issues and potentially long load times. It's disappointing to come up against a few too many flaws, but when Atlas Fallen is on form, its marriage of movement and fighting shines through.