If you’ve been reading Popzara for a while – you have, right? – you’ve probably noticed that we generally rate games on a Pass, Nay, Yay and Editor’s Choice scale. You might have also noticed that when I’m writing about video games, it’s unusual that I’ll use the former two ratings. That’s probably got something to do with my take on gaming as a medium. There’s plenty of negativity, but I tend to think it’s a little more interesting to look under the surface of games, especially when the party line is that they’re not worth playing.
Sometimes, though, a game or product just goes a little too far off the deep end. Sometimes it’s a game that’s broken. Sometimes, well, a lot of bad ideas come together to produce something that just Should Not Be. That’s where we are with Babylon’s Fall, the latest half-baked action-RPG from PlatinumGames. I take no joy in this, but it must be done.
As a prisoner captured by the city of Neo Babylon, you find yourself fitted with a parasitic Gideon Coffin device and pressed into the service of the Sentinels. The Sentinels work as a sort of combination scout and police force for Neo Babylon. They’ll climb the Ziggurat that the city sits at the foot of, searching for resources and protecting citizens from the threat of the malicious Gallu.
Thankfully, the Gideon Coffin is more than just a set of chains – it also allows Sentinels to wield miraculous powers, such as brandishing four weapons simultaneously. That might not be enough, though, as the Ziggurat has plenty of threatening secrets in store.
Babylon’s Fall is essentially something out of Platinum’s post-Bayonetta playbook with some action-RPG elements stapled on top. If you’ve played one of their games, you know the drill: spectacle fighters with an emphasis on timed dodges that offer gameplay benefits in return for increased risk. It’s a formula that works, and even combining it an RPG can work, as we saw in the superlative Switch brawler Astral Chain. Here, though…
Let’s start with the central gimmick of the game: the Gideon Coffin and the associated ability to quad-wield four different weapons. This amounts to setting a weapon to your light attack, heavy attack, and each shoulder button for a pair of Spectral attacks, in order of what does the most damage. Light and heavy attacks occupy your character and regenerate Spirit, while Spectral attacks can be performed while otherwise occupied but consume Spirit. Your Spirit represents the central mechanic of the game, essentially a mana bar that’s drained by dodging and using your more powerful attacks. There’s problem number one, by the way: you can run yourself out of juice, leaving you unable to dodge. It’s just as pleasant as it sounds.
Sure, the Souls games and many associated me-too titles love stamina bars that behave in this way, but the Spirit meter is not your friend. That thing refills slowly. Very, very slowly, even when you’re actively attacking to push it forward. You’ll find yourself watching the Spirit meter more than your enemies most of the time. Oh, and taking damage can drain your Spirit meter, so it’s entirely possible to get kicked while you’re down. Given that enemies are incredibly robust and the vast majority of your damage comes from your Spirit-draining Spectral attacks, Spirit management is of paramount importance.
Babylon’s Fall is less a game about approaching combat in a creative and stylish way and more about watching meters – enemy health meters, your own health meter, your Spirit meter, you get the picture.
Meanwhile, you’ve got a selection of several different weapons that behave in different ways depending on how you’ve equipped them. Swords are slashy, hammers are smashy, bows do a bunch of damage at range, shields can block and rods are…not especially great, taking forever to charge and consuming enormous amounts of Spirit.
You can customize your character to behave how you want based on their gear, but this means fighting against Babylon’s Fall’s Destiny-style gear level system, where you might be forced to use weapons you’d rather not just because they tick you up a gear level or two. If you aren’t using your highest-level stuff, you aren’t finding higher-level stuff and that’s going to be an issue with your progression. While different gear has different randomly-generated modifiers, they tend to fall into the sort of percentage-salad category popular with MMORPGs that doesn’t feel too great to mess around with.
Personally, I got a lot of work out of basic sword-focused builds with a hammer to deal with enemy shields. Why bother being fancy? The fancy stuff probably eats too much Spirit anyway.
Know what, though? If we’re talking about combat, we’ve already gone two or three layers too deep to really appreciate what’s wrong with Babylon’s Fall. Just as it’s important to appreciate when a game has hidden enjoyment underneath the surface, it’s equally important to appreciate when the ugliness is right there, plain to see. Babylon’s Fall is the ur-example of a Game As A Service™, which is to say it’s the clingy spouse of the gaming world. It wants you to log in every day. It wants you to complete weekly missions. It advertises microtransactions and a battle pass. Babylon’s Fall wants to be the only game you ever play and it’s very, very insistent about that.
You probably won’t be down for that, especially if you’ve been burned by games with similar mechanics like the aforementioned Destiny or any of the vast array of free-to-play games.
So it’s a pushy, naggy experience with questionable resource-management combat. Maybe Babylon’s Fall has a great plot? Eh. Climb the tower, deal with bosses, discover the secret at the top, unlock new game mechanics as you go–wait, what? Oh, right, I didn’t mention that you don’t have access to the full spread of Babylon’s Fall’s game mechanics until you’ve finished its 10-to-15-hour campaign. Every weapon has several different movesets, for instance, but you can’t switch until you’ve defeated the final boss. Brilliant.
That’s to say nothing of how you’ve got a solid chunk of hours ahead of you before you can even craft gear or wield your character’s more impressive Gideon Coffin powers. We’re not talking about gently tutorializing mechanics here, we’re talking “it’s shocking to find you have these new, basic abilities because the game took so long to give them to you.” It boggles the mind.
Look, I could go on about this for hours, but we’ve got to wrap this up at some point. Let’s talk about presentation. It’s nice. Mostly. There’s definitely a unique, muted ancient-art aesthetic here, including a cool-looking filter to make the game look like an oil painting. Sure, some of the early-game gear is ported straight from Final Fantasy XIV (yes, seriously) but you can look pretty cool if you drop cash on microtransactions or grind currency until your eyes bleed. Enemy designs are also pretty nice when they’re not just Blue Guys.
If you want to play multiplayer, that’s certainly an option, but it’s a pain to get groups together unless you’re already squadded up on Discord or such – random groups are only available for random missions, which isn’t super satisfying. The game also runs well enough, so there’s no real performance issues to complain about.
There’s plenty else to complain about, though. From lackluster gameplay to predatory mechanics, Babylon’s Fall just doesn’t feel like a game that’s especially fun to play. It’s hard to say who greenlit most of the bizarre decisions on offer here, but greenlight them they did, and we all suffer for it. I can’t imagine this being a great experience even if you bring in some friends. I’ll admit it: I played this one because the demo convinced me it was so bad that it wouldn’t last a year before being shut down. The full version…doesn’t change those convictions. I can’t recommend this game.