Achilles: Legends Untold Preview
Do I need to tell you what defines a Soulslike game? Of course not. But for those who have just emerged from cryogenic sleep, let’s check off the boxes. Stamina-based combat with light and heavy attacks. Widely spaced checkpoints that respawn enemies. Death that erases progress. Limited healing items. Dodging, rolling, blocking, and parrying, oh my. Achilles: Legends Untold is just hitting early access. Does it manage to add something to the Souls formula?
I played an hour-long demo of Achilles: Legends Untold last year. Of course, it was a curated, best-of demo, but I came away impressed. I liked the setting and visuals. The mechanics were entirely predictable but that shorthand just made it easy to get into.
Fast forward several months, and a longer version of the game is ready for gamers to try. We all know that most games really benefit from that extra time in the early access oven. Achilles has some great ingredients but needs more time to cook. The early access version starts with the prologue and one chapter.
Achilles: Legends Untold is an isometric action game with a fixed camera. There is loot to pick up, but almost nothing is destructible. Enemies stand around immobile, just waiting to be aggroed. In just about every way, Achilles feels like a game from a couple of generations past, with a Dark Souls varnish. You know, Dark Souls before it became accessible.
Heroes and Hades
Action RPG fans have come to expect some measure of character customization. While you can outfit Achilles with new weapons, armor and consumables, there’s no choice of hero. As Achilles, you travel the Greek countryside of myth at the bequest of Hades, killing monsters and the occasional boss that takes inspiration from Greek legends. Sometimes the choppy skeleton animations reminded me of a Harry Harryhausen film at the dawn of special effects. There are some nice lighting and particle effects, however.
Unlike even the original Dark Souls, Achilles’ healing is limited to consumable flasks which don’t replenish when he rests. They’re not dropped much out in the world, so it’s very easy to get into a loop of dying over and over without any healing items to be found. Is this “challenging?” No, it’s just a pain in the ass.
Of course, eventually Achilles earns enough coin (or souls or whatever) to upgrade stats like health, stamina and strength on a multi-branched skill tree. Unlike most RPGs, which usually ramp up the cost of upgrades, increases in stats start expensive right away. Apparently, the ancient Greeks of myth had some issues with inflation, too. Eventually, Achilles can upgrade his weapons at armor at a Dark Souls-like blacksmith.
Swords and Pointy Sticks
If there’s one thing a Soulslike has to get right, it’s combat. Following a tutorial level, Achilles dies, meets Hades, and the game proper begins. Achilles starts with a useful but weak sword, no shield and no healing items. He has to pick his way through the level, looking for consumables, a basic shield and a better weapon.
As in most Soulslikes, blocking and attacks reduce stamina. In Achilles, stamina is quick to disappear and slow to build, leaving our hero open to attack from the enemies that are most often found in groups. It takes a quite a bit of grinding to increase the basic stats. There isn’t much variety in early game enemies, either. This adds up to the early hours feeling a little like a chore. Things do get better once Achilles gets stronger, with better gear. Combat is pretty good, though the lock-on needs some serious fine-tuning. There are some death-dealing framerate stalls and hiccups, too. In general, the developers need to examine balancing the game as it moves through early access.
I like the isometric, old school visuals. Environments are detailed but very static. There aren’t a large number of shortcuts or secrets to find and generally, the critical path is pretty linear. There’s no map, but there is a directional hint tool. Elden Ring’s plentiful Sites of Grace have spoiled me. In Achilles, save points are relatively rare, another throwback to early FromSoftware games. The lack of a map means those savepoints don’t really relate to the bigger world.
Visuals and character models in the cutscenes are really behind the curve, but not seen very often. One area that really needs a bit more variety is sound design, which is minimal. While no one probably plays this genre of game for the story, Achilles: Legends Untold has a hard time nailing down a consistent tone. Sometimes it goes for a heroic feel, before being undercut by a weirdly out-of-place attempt at humor.
Sounds Like Greek to Me
Unlike the short demo from several months ago, the current Achilles build reveals more of the game’s strengths and areas in need of attention. The core gameplay and combat are solid, and the visuals are a pleasant reminder of RPGs of the not-that-distant past. Choppy animations, a dull early game grind and balance issues are just a few of the problems waiting to be solved. Despite those stumbles, I still enjoyed Achilles: Legends Untold and look forward to the final, release-ready game.
***PC code provided by the publisher for preview***
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Achilles: Legends Untold is Dark Souls in Sandals