Republished on Wednesday, 1st December, 2021: We're bringing this review back from the archives following the announcement of December 2021's PlayStation Plus lineup. The original text follows.


Since earning the title of the first-ever game to be announced for PlayStation 5 last year, it feels like Godfall has been stuck between a rock and a hard place. From Counterplay Games, a studio whose previous output includes just a single free-to-play PC experience named Duelyst, expectations it was probably never going to meet were set. That's what a hot spot at The Game Awards does to you despite how unfair it may be on the developer. But even when those assumptions of quality are removed from the conversation, Godfall is not a good game.

Branded a looter-slasher — supposedly the first of its kind — it attempts to wed combat from a rebooted God of War title with the loot shower of Diablo. Just one side of this equation provides any satisfaction, making it the only reason a purchase should ever be considered. It's the heated and intense action of Godfall that comes out on top with enjoyable engagements and a passable amount of weapon variety to match. The problem is quite literally everything else the game has to offer.

You play as Orin, a Valorian knight of the high fantasy universe named Aperion. He's part of an ongoing family feud with his brother. For some reason. To be perfectly honest, the opening cutscene was enough to convince us that tuning out of any narrative beats would be for the better and it hardly feels like we missed out on much. The story progresses via dialogue in between missions back at home base but the set up really is quite simple. Your brother has a bunch of cronies working for him, so in typical video game fashion, you'll need to eliminate them before taking on the head honcho. Whatever, just get on with it.

The main reason to skip those cutscenes and conversations is to get back to the combat. You've got the typical light and heavy attacks alongside abilities tied to each weapon type that just about get the job done, but it's the introduction of the Soulshatter mechanic that really changes the game. Essentially, light blows are designed to build up damage on an enemy, and when their health bar can be depleted in a single hit, the heavy attack is employed to do so. This entire act is labelled Soulshatter. It takes a bit of getting used to — you have to wrap your head around defeating a combatant without actually doing so — but once mastered, it's how Godfall wants to be played. Thank god it's pretty good then.

Making light use of the PS5's adaptive triggers and haptic feedback, a certain weight comes with each strike — building upon one another until a combo's final attack delivers an intense amount of satisfaction. It feels good to play in the moment, from quick slashes of the dual blades archetype through to slow but powerful swings of warhammers.

But that's not the only mechanic fuelling fights. Breaching a foe is actually the inverse of Soulshatter, whereby whittling away at their armour comes first before a speedy slash at the throat. Enemy weak points are revealed as you play, swapping weapons during battle unleashes a Polarity Attack, and even your shield can be used as a damage dealer. Then there's Archon Mode, which activates a time-limited state with increased damage and a unique feature depending on your chosen armour set. It all makes for a pretty deep and engaging combat system that adapts to one's needs. Enemies can be dealt with in a number of ways, rewarding creativity and experimentation as your loadout is only held back by your own inventiveness. It's the best thing about Godfall, that's for sure.

Loot is what feeds into that, but the game very quickly nullifies any possible excitement attached to a powerful drop. It absolutely drowns you in weapons, build-changing items, currencies, and resources. So much so that stumbling upon a chest containing those very pieces of equipment feels more routine than extraordinary. There's far, far too much to parse through, which combined with an incredibly sluggish user interface, makes any pickups that don't improve your build a bit of a nuisance. Even trading them for resources back at base takes much longer than it should.

Valorplates make up the other side of the game's loot system — entire suits of armour you can switch in and out of between missions. As such, you'll never be customising the individual look of your leg armour or helmet. This isn't a Destiny 2 in that regard. The issue is that these defensive sets don't really differentiate themselves all that much, choosing instead to offer small stat changes and variations on Archon Mode. They're a disappointment in that regard, spoiling most chances of creating a build around a particular set of armour.

Far and away the biggest issue plaguing Godfall, however, is its structure. The game is split up into a handful of areas, with clusters of missions all taking place there. This means that seemingly separate levels actually share the same locations over and over again. Backtracking is extremely commonplace as a result, with dull environments recycled to make the areas seem larger than they actually are.

Making matters worse are requirements that force you to return to those same regions in order to progress. Every so often, you'll have to collect a specific amount of Seals from each element-inspired location. That means grinding out a couple of story devoid quests just to see what the campaign serves up next. They destroy any sort of pace or flow you may have built up with the story, necessitating you into completing boring objectives. The combat system is good, but it's not enough to carry the entire game like the developer clearly hoped it would.

If you do manage to make it through those frustrating setbacks and complete the campaign, a wave-based endgame mode named Tower of Trials will be waiting. However, there's no matchmaking to speak of that allows you to team up with other online users. As such, you'll either have to do it alone or hope someone you know will join. And that's kind of insane for an always-online title in the year 2020. You can invite players from your friends list, but then they obviously have to be up for playing Godfall instead of more popular multiplayer titles. A baffling decision.

Then there are the smattering of bugs that get in the way slightly too often. Finicky interaction prompts sometimes make working out what to do next harder than they should be while the occasional glitch halts progress entirely. You'd have to restart the laborious mission all over again to fix the problem. When the mission design and structure is already as repetitive as it is, the thought of adding one more chore to the list could convince some to play another game entirely.

At least there are some visual spectacles to take in here and there. It's funny though because Godfall feels like a game that desperately wants you to know it’s running on a PS5. As every enemy explodes into particles and stacks of gold litter the hallways of Aperion, it starts to feel like a plea for attention rather than colours and vistas in fitting with the world. Still, the grandeur of some locations cannot be denied.

Conclusion

If everything Godfall had to offer was as good as its satisfying combat system, we would be looking at a darn good PS5 launch game. However, in reality, that's the only thing it has to boast about. An inconsequential loot system, recycled environments, and a frustrating mission structure thwart any sort of enjoyment the game might offer. It's not god-awful, but Godfall is going to be very quickly forgotten about.