Atlas Fallen has the potential to surprise a lot of people. Although it's launching in just two months, we haven't seen much about this new game from The Surge developer Deck13 and publisher Focus Entertainment since its reveal at Gamescom Opening Night Live 2022. That's a shame because after going hands-on with an early build of it, I've found that Atlas Fallen has the potential to appeal to people who didn't like one of the year's most divisive titles: Forspoken.
Atlas Fallen - World Premiere Reveal Trailer | Gamescom Opening Night Live 2022
Square Enix's open-world action RPG featured some neat ideas with its fast-paced magical combat and freeing traversal abilities, but many people couldn't get into it. While more focused on melee combat than magic, Atlas Fallen is a similarly ambitious open-world game that delivers satisfying movement and action that's different from the norm. That makes it a game that might scratch some itches that Forspoken didn't fully reach due to its heavily criticized writing. If it's not on your radar yet, you might want to know what Atlas Fallen has to offer.
Based on my demo, I'm not fully sure what to expect from Atlas Fallen's mysterious story yet. The basic premise is that player was a person from the lowest caste in this world's society who was bonded with an ancient gauntlet. That gauntlet has an amnesic spirit named Nyaal living inside it and is now trying to save the world from gods that have left it in desert-filled ruins. The narrative wasn't a big focus in my preview build, though, and the script is full of jargon that probably will only make sense once I play more of the game.
A talking companion bonded to the player's arm and hand is already an unexpected narrative coincidence between Forspoken and Atlas Fallen. But neither game's story is the appeal of either to me: It's their fun traversal and combat that interest me. The few seconds of Atlas Fallen's sand-surfing and fighting in its Gamescom trailer caught my eye last year, and both lived up to the hype.
As I worked my way out of a cave at the start of the demo, I learned how to raise large structures out of the ground, surf across large patches of sand, and dash through the air with the help of my gauntlet. After I entered the game's open world, I could play around with all my movement options and found them to be a treat. Open-ended games with large worlds like Atlas Fallen can live or die on how satisfying they are to explore, and making movement fun is a crucial way developers can make traversal enjoyable.
Forspoken was able to capture some of that magic despite its problems, and it looks like Atlas Fallen has too. Of course, that's only one part of the game, as players will run into many enemy Wraiths and need to fight them. That's where Atlas Fallen's engaging combat system comes into play.
Deck13 and Focus Entertainment had yet to go into much detail about Atlas Fallen's combat before now, so I was shocked by how unique it was. The core combat revolves around attacking, dodging, and parrying, with weapons shapeshifting as you use them in different ways. It's faster-paced than I expected from a developer who previously made Souslikes, but it's the Ascension system that really caught my attention.
In between fights, players can equip their character with Essence Stones that buff or add abilities, assigning them to one of three tiers in the process. Once they are in a fight, attacking and defeating enemies causes players to gain momentum, which fills a bar at the bottom left of the screen. As this bar fills, or "ascends," players gradually gain those Essence Stone abilities, getting more powerful the more aggressive they are.
Ascending does come with a catch: The more momentum you build, the more damage you take. Players can counteract this by equipping defensive or health-related Essence Stones or using "Shatter" once an Ascension tier is filled to deal lots of damage and crystalize enemies for a short while. To succeed in Atlas Fallen, I needed to fight aggressively, but fights would quickly turn in the enemy's favor if I missed a crucial parry or dodge when I had lots of momentum.
This system gives each fight a push-and-pull feeling not common in action games. Most of the time, games like to make players feel significantly more powerful or weaker than everything around them; Atlas Fallen does both. This unique system hasn't gotten more attention and promotion, but it ultimately is what makes Atlas Fallen stand out the most at the moment.
There's something exciting about how mysterious this game still is to me, as that means there could be lots of surprises when players finally get to try the whole thing in a couple of months. It's shaping up to be an unexpected, almost accidental alternative to Forspoken. If you're still looking for an action-heavy RPG with innovative movement and combat gameplay ideas, Atlas Fallen should be on your radar.
Atlas Fallen will launch for PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X/S on May 16.