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Monday, May 23, 2022

Achilles: Legends Untold in review – Alas, not a new Titan Quest

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After playing Achilles: Legends Untold extensively, we have one big question: How early is too early for Early Access?

Achilles: Legends Untold combines the action role-playing game in isometric view that has been world-famous since Diablo with combat à la Dark Souls. This is not a far-fetched comparison: the developers themselves use the term “Soulslike” in official trailers and in their game description (Steam).

As the title hero, you are supposed to fight your way through the ancient world and take on all kinds of villains and mythical monsters, fighting tactically, using your stamina sparingly, mastering different fighting styles a kind of mixture of Dark Souls and Titan Quest.

The latter has been around for a few years, but thanks to its many outstanding features it is still one of the strongest Diablo competitors out there. Especially since it got a brand new addon from new owner THQ Nordic:

It’s quite interesting at first, if “Soulslike” doesn’t sound as trite to you as Battle Royale or zombie survival horror and you like the Sandals setting with mythical creatures and ancient locations.

If that sounds like a perfect combination to you, then you can now, with a clear conscience … wait very carefully, keep an eye on the game and for God’s sake keep your money for now!

Because at the Early Access launch of Achilles: Legends Untold, almost nothing works yet. And the promise of a full release as early as the first quarter of 2023? After the test, we’re sure: This won’t work in a million years!

Day-0-Patch: For this test we had a pre-release version at our disposal, which was released for testing. In the night of 12 May, however, the developers released an unannounced Day 0 patch that is supposed to fix some of the bugs criticised here in the text. However, this made all previously created saves invalid.

We are currently playing the patched version again from the beginning to check which problems persist and which have been solved by the update. We will update this article with our findings as soon as possible.

Tough game entry

In a fancy cutscene with amateurish English voice acting, Achilles lands in Troy with a bunch of soldiers. Tutorial: dodge roll, shield blocking, light and heavy attacks. Works theoretically with mouse and keyboard, but we prefer to switch directly to the controller.

Regardless of your peripherals, the fights feel clumsy and fumbling from the first moment. When pressing the dodge button, Achilles takes a half-hearted step to the side; he only performs the roll when double-tapping.

(The facial features in the cutscenes could use some fine-tuning.)
(The facial features in the cutscenes could use some fine-tuning.)

You can perform light attacks exactly four times in a row at the beginning, then your stamina is used up, which is especially great when fighting enemies who can take five or more hits.

You can forget about heavy attacks for the time being, because they take so long to execute that your target is more likely to die of natural causes than to stay in the area of effect of your attack long enough.

Shortly afterwards, the first boss fight starts against Hector of Troy. He hides behind his shield and constantly dodges backwards, otherwise he can’t do much, he’s just the very first practice boss.

(Hector is the first practice boss and quite a wimp.)
(Hector is the first practice boss and quite a wimp.)

A few moments later, the second boss, Paris, is waiting. He will flatten you mercilessly, then you will land in the underworld and will be revived by Hades. In return, you fight for Hades from now on and first go in search of his nephew Hephaestus the blacksmith.

This is not terribly exciting, nor does it get much more interesting at first. At Hades’ shrine you can unlock the ability to collect the souls of your enemies if you stumble across them, because this is not explained anywhere yet.

The pure frustration

In the first area after the tutorial, there are tons of skeletons lurking around every corner. One skeleton can take six hits, but your stamina bar only lasts for four attacks, then you have to recover. In most fights you will be surrounded by four or five skeletons. The result is slow, tough, constant fighting.

At least the bone jocks drop 15 souls each when you flatten them. For something around 500 souls you can distribute points in the talent tree at the Hade shrine. The description of Strength says: “The more Strength, the more damage you do.” At the start of the game, Achilles has ten points of Strength. His light attack does 47 points of damage to a skeleton. The number rises to 48 points per attack as we level up Strength for the ninth time in a row, nothing changes at all before that. Super.

(Until you find your first real weapon, skeletons always take 47 points of damage. That's frustratingly low.)
(Until you find your first real weapon, skeletons always take 47 points of damage. That’s frustratingly low.)

Soldiers are waiting in the area behind the skeletons. Some beat us up with swords and spears, others shoot with bows, sometimes over the edge of the screen. An archer robs us of up to three quarters of our lives with a single hit and paralyses us for a moment, which makes escape attempts or reaching for the healing potion a pain.

If we kick the bucket, we wake up at the last hades shrine visited, without our souls, of course. When you die or rest, all enemies respawn, just like in Dark Souls. Healing potions only go into our item slots, if we have any in our inventory at all. There is no Estus flask that fills up with every death or any tears like in Dark Souls and Elden Ring. At least enemies drop the potions reasonably generously.

A touch of fun

Levelling up any attributes initially brings zero. Even when we have enough stamina to theoretically perform more than four attacks, Achilles automatically takes a short break after four blows. A few more life points don’t help us much against the much too strong archers, and strength is demonstrably useless anyway.

Then we finally find our first new weapon in a chest: a spear. And lo and behold: not only does it kick ass and have cool animations, but it actually scales with our attributes, so that our level increases are finally noticeable.

We also find a new shield, and find that Achilles is adopting this badassery from Dark Souls, where most shields block less than 100 percent of your opponent’s physical damage, which means you still lose life despite being in a defensive stance.

But since we have also found a smart new sword, we realise at the same time that Achilles can simply wield a second weapon in his secondary hand, and from now on we fight with two swords at the same time. This increases our damage effect enormously. In addition, Achilles now attacks much more quickly, so that even heavy attacks are no longer completely useless and occasionally hit. At the same time, fighting with two weapons costs much more stamina. There’s always something.

It only gets worse

In the talent tree, we now get access to special attacks like a sprint attack or an unparalleled heavy attack. The enemy AI is an additional help, albeit involuntary: sometimes enemies don’t attack at all and watch idly as we beat the crap out of them, others stand in a bonfire and linger there until they drop dead.

Meanwhile, there is nothing to be seen of the cool team attacks of the supposedly so advanced AI from the Steam trailers. A cyclops alone sometimes throws surrounding skeletons at us. But we never saw any warriors jumping on the shields of their comrades-in-arms, being whirled into the air and then attacking us in flight; we only saw them in the promotional video.

Most of the environment graphics are quite nice, with the occasional cyclops and gryphons alongside guys in sandals and capes. In the first dungeon, a pitch-black cave, the camera goes berserk after a few minutes. We suddenly follow the action from the side, sometimes we only see outlines of figures through rock walls, then the collision detection goes bye-bye and we walk through walls or over chasms of some kind.

Finally, we get stuck irrecoverably in the landscape and have to restart. Thankfully, this teleports us to the next Hade shrine, but a fun game experience looks different.

The next dungeon is huge, almost completely empty, contains no shrines at all and makes us run for several minutes to the final boss, the “Skeleton King”, for every attempt. Instead of souls, we suddenly capture points there. Is that the way it’s meant to be? No idea, nothing is explained.

Bosses can be annoying sometimes, no question. But why every good role-playing game needs them anyway

All Alpha

The more we play, the more the whole story falls apart. Sometimes an eternally long, unskippable cutscene plays without any audio, sometimes we get stuck in the landscape or fall through the game world until we restart, sometimes the entire game says goodbye with a black screen and forces us to restart because the graphics driver has crashed.

The game jerks again and again without end, regardless of our settings. Where it exists, the music is not bad, but in many areas of the countryside the same birds just roar again and again as background noise. Some descriptions in the talent tree are translated, others are not. After about six hours of play, we’ve covered everything, our last remaining quest has a “coming soon” in the description, that’s all there is to see here so far.

Not only is this pretty meagre, even for paid early access, but it would also have been done a whole lot sooner if various bugs and dropouts hadn’t forced us to restart repeatedly.

To put it very favourably, we can say that the idea behind Achilles: Legends Untold is quite interesting and that theoretically it could still become a good game. At the moment, however, the thing is still so half-baked and unfinished, even the first Early Access versions of Wolcen and Last Epoch ran comparatively more smoothly and were less unstable and frustrating. The announcement of being able to deliver a full release by Q1 2023 is therefore very optimistic, to say the least.

Preliminary rating box

Editorial conclusion

We game testers are a privileged lot and usually get our copies for free. If I had paid for Early Access myself as a user, I would have been really pissed off. On Steam, the developers promise a playable first chapter of the story. But almost nothing is really playable here yet: one dungeon completely collapses, the second dungeon is almost completely empty, in many areas I come across huge gates, caves and walls that really invite exploration, but are not (yet?) interactive at all. Sometimes enemies spawn in heaps under the map, sometimes the AI stops working, sometimes the camera fails, then you can’t get up or down a staircase, get stuck in the landscape and are assassinated by a dozen enemies. Two-player co-op is theoretically available, but the developers warned us not to try it out. Always a good sign!

Above all, this game has done absolutely nothing so far to convince me that this genre needs a stamina bar. Because it doesn’t enrich the action here at any point, doesn’t make the fights any more interesting or tactically challenging, but is a never-ending source of frustration. It sucks so much when you finally get to a damn archer with dodge rolls, who can kill you effortlessly with two hits, only to stand idly in front of him because you don’t have enough stamina left for the attack! But hey, maybe you’re lucky and the game runs better on your systems, maybe the developers are fixing all the gross bugs in no time now, or maybe you’re immensely rich and love bad games. Otherwise, I’d rather wait and see.

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