Atlas Fallen is one of those games built around and carried by a really good core idea. It’s an action game with all the usual trappings you’d expect from most modern big-budget games – large open spaces filled with stuff to do and secrets to find – that’s passable at best, but like the most interesting games always do, it has ideas that are really smart and good that make it enjoyable for a time in spite of everything else.
In the case of Atlas Fallen, that’s its combat. Atlas Fallen is built around a system called momentum. As you attack and defeat enemies, you build a bar that makes you stronger and unlocks active and passive skills as the bar passes certain thresholds. You can spend the momentum you’ve built on an attack called “shatter,” which crystalizes the enemy and delivers a massive blow. The more the bar is filled, the more damage is dealt. The catch is that while you do get stronger the more the bar fills, so too does the damage you receive increase. It’s a significant boost, too: one hit when the bar is almost full can nearly one-shot you.
It’s a great idea! The risk/reward at play works well and is thoughtfully designed. It gives an otherwise fine combat system a fantastic hook and makes fights much more interesting. The constant balancing act of maintaining momentum just enough to augment your abilities but also spending it frequently enough to avoid taking a mortal blow is satisfying, creating situations where you need to think about when to cash out.
The problem is a lot of fights are just too long. Atlas Fallen frequently pits you against large creatures that require a lot of work to take down. Instead of just attacking them wherever until their health depletes, you have to attack and destroy their limbs individually. On paper, not a problem. It’s effectively building off what Deck13 did previously with The Surge, where targeting limbs was a core aspect of that game’s combat. Unlike The Surge, however, rather than add extra dimension to combat, it mostly just makes fights a protracted affair.
Most of the larger foes have at least three points you need to destroy. Each one has a lot of health with most basic attacks not making much of a dent until you’ve built up a ton of momentum. They take significantly more effort than the standard monsters you encounter and are, briefly, exciting because of how much more demanding they are. Most encounters with smaller enemies end quickly, which doesn’t provide much time to really play with momentum and see what you can do with it whereas these larger ones do. They should be something to meet head on willingly, and for a brief time they were. But after the fourth time I fought one, they stopped being fun and interesting and became annoying.
Finishing off one large wraith and then fighting another soon after because they happened to be in close proximity is not a good time. Each fight always goes on too long because each limb needs to be taken out individually. Some aren’t as easy to attack as others, which is where a lot of the annoyance comes in. A lot of the targets are awkward to hit because they’re positioned just so that you need to be at the right height to hit them consistently. I distinctly recall how frustrating it was to have my attacks whiff against a sand crab because its claws were just slightly elevated enough that my attacks somehow couldn’t connect unless I specifically jumped and air-dashed in to make sure there was no room for error.
But even when I was playing at my best and making what looked like quick work of the monster, it still felt like it was taking a while. At its worst, they feel like battles of attrition no matter how strong I became. No combination of stronger attacks or skills seemed to make much of a noticeable difference. It would always take awhile to slay each one, which gets tiresome quickly when you encounter multiple in quick succession. There was one moment, in fact, where I ran into three almost one after another. The first as part of a main story quest, and the other two just wandering around in the area that immediately followed. I’d already run into them with a frequency in the larger open zones that I was losing interest, but this was the point I started trying to skip fights altogether because I just didn’t want to deal with them anymore.
Combat is Atlas Fallen‘s best quality, but if even that wasn’t holding my attention anymore, I knew it was time to quit. The momentum system and everything around it is still really good, but the fights themselves can’t quite scale to keep it interesting in the long term, especially when so many battles become arduous over time.