There’s a warlock sleeping at the bottom of a terrifying chasm and the creatures of his dreams are spilling out into the world, slaying everyone who stands in their path. Your job is to venture into those depths, destroy the nightmare creatures and wake the warlock from his slumber. Welcome to Abyss Odyssey.
Built by ACE Team and brought to the PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 via Atlus, Abyss Odyssey is a side-scrolling action platformer that mixes elements of roguelikes with those of a fighting game. No, seriously. And it turns out to be a pretty great pairing, too.
At the start of the game, players take on the role of Katrien, a warrior who, like the creatures crawling around in the abyss, was born of the warlock’s dreams. Set in a Chilean village, a hole has appeared in the earth that’s overflowing with monsters. The local soldiers have done their best to hold back the threat, but they lack the strength, speed and abilities of Katrien, who takes it upon herself to tackle the challenges of the abyss and put the warlock in his place.
To do this, Katrien must make her way through a procedurally generated series of dungeons on a quest for the bottom floor. Each dungeon is built on the fly, offering up unique monster combinations to fight, secrets to discover, treasure to gather, environmental hazards to avoid, loot to grab and more. Eventually, additional openings into the abyss will become available, offering shorter routes but bigger challenges on your way to the bottom. Many levels also offer side exits, allowing you to move from one path to the next. This is important because, as I said, the entire dungeon is built from scratch each time you take a dive. While most rooms are standard dungeons, some offer unique encounters, boss fights and more. With a little planning and a little luck, you can optimize your dives based on what, exactly, you hope to achieve.
While exploration is mostly light (each dungeon only offers a few breaks in the path for those who want to risk additional encounters for possible rewards), the real meat of Abyss Odyssey is in its fighting engine. Katrien, as well as unlockable playable characters Ghost Monk and Pincoya, is equipped with a handful of basic attacks, unlockable special attacks, a dodge and a block. The trick to the combat is figuring out a mix of these moves that works best for you, as well as determining which moves you want to upgrade along the way, turning your initially sluggish warrior into a faster, stronger, meaner adversary.
The hook to Abyss Crown are those roguelike elements. There’s no save system to speak of and, since a typical dive can last between an hour or two, this isn’t exactly a quick fix game. But death isn’t necessarily permanent, either. Along the way, you will come across alters that allow you to plant a flag (which you have to purchase) to serve as a spawn point. The level of the flag (between one and three) determines how many times you can spawn there before the flag disappears. Upon your first death, a friendly soldier actually jumps into action, which the player then takes control of. These soldiers are nowhere near as powerful as the main characters, but they get the job done. Their goal is to find an alter and resurrect the hero. Do that, and you won’t have to use one of your respawns.
You also have the ability to capture enemy spirits if you collect enough mana, which adds another interesting way of avoiding death. If you have a captured spirit equipped, you can activate it to become that monster, complete with their own move set and health bar. Fight your way through the dungeon as a monster and, when their life runs out, you’ll revert back to your original form. It’s a clever mechanic and, considering how slowly that mana bar fills and how many monsters are available for capture, it gives you extra reasons to keep on heading back into the depths.
Run out of respawns, though, and it’s game over. The player retains their gold, experience and level, however, so at least the next dive should be less daunting.
While I feel like you should be able to save at an alter with a spawn point, thus making shorter play sessions possible, my only real gripe with Abyss Odyssey is that movement can sometimes feel less precise than I would like. I went in expecting the free-flowing shenanigans of, say, BloodRayne: Betrayal, and was a little disappointed by how stiff some of the movement feels in the beginning. Turning around, for instance, requires more effort than simply tapping in the opposite direction of where you’re facing, which can be a bit of a pain when trying to climb up to higher ledges or fight enemies coming at you from both directions. Once you get used to the speed of the game, though, and actually gain a bit more freedom from improved stats, things start to click into place. Eventually, you’ll be chaining combos and dishing out massive damage, but there’s a bit of a learning curve to get there.
Finally, it should be noted that actually reaching and defeating the warlock isn’t the end game. I managed to die rather quickly the first time I dove into the abyss, but then completed the game on my second dive. Subsequent dives offer more rewards, new encounters and, since the dungeons are built on the fly, unique experiences. You’ll gain better gear, unlock more monsters and help add your strength to a pretty nifty community feature that ACE Team has only teased up until this point. Apparently, after the warlock has been defeated enough times, his current mask will break, a new mask will be added and, with it, new enemies and features will be added into the dungeons. No word yet on what all that will entail but, coupled with features that are already available (online/offline multiplayer, battle mode, training), those extra touches should give Abyss Odyssey some legs.
Abyss Odyssey is what I would call a flawed gem. It’s a smaller game from a smaller studio, but it experiments with a lot of big ideas and creative gameplay mechanics. Some will be turned off by the initially sluggish movement, the inability to save or the unavoidable friendly fire in cooperative play, but those who are willing to ignore those few blemishes will find plenty of content worth digging into and a plethora of risk/reward systems that will keep you coming back for more.
Disclosure: This review was based on a PlayStation 3 digital copy of the game provided by the publisher.
Platforms: PS3 (reviewed), PC, Xbox 360