A game can't be boring if it is not interesting enough. It takes an unlikely combination of events to make something truly unremarkable. Functional and mostly inoffensive, it is also flat and joyless. Babylon’s Fall is one such convergence: The generic dark fantasy storyline is pointless, and the worst-in-class textures and character models suck any visual appeal out of what could have been an interesting painted-canvas art style. Combat and level design are both competent but plain in single-player or co-op, with just enough good ideas sprinkled in to keep things from immediately growing stale… though it inevitably does. So no, it didn’t exactly keep me glued to my seat for its 15-hour campaign, and no, I don’t think I’ll stick around for much of the endgame.
The world of Babylon’s Fall could have been constructed via Mad Libs. You are a powerful [noun]Protection [place]The forces of [evil thing] With your trusted [weapon]. Platinum Games’ answer to these prompts are Sentinel, Babylon, the Gallus, and Gideon Coffin, respectively – there’s nothing remotely memorable about any of those things except the last, which is a weird device fused to your spine that projects a pair of ghost arms that let you wield a total of four weapons at once.
The narrative is told largely in exposition-heavy still photos, which zoom from one fibrous picture frame into another. The painterly art direction had potential to be interesting, but it never gets the chance because Babylon’s Fall is one of the worst-looking games of the last several console generations. Everything is covered in textures that genuinely would’ve been unimpressive on the PS3. The lighting is poor and the NPCs look almost like they were created by random character generators from the mid 2000s. It’s distracting how poorly done it all is, revealing it all to be a façade that does little to cover all of the hideous models and jilted action.
Dark Souls' early games would be a great place to find the monsters and settings you encounter. All manner of bizarre creatures can be found in decaying castles, dark caves, and ruined streets. Unsettlingly proportioned knights will battle you in one part, while you'll face off against a giant spider/human hybrid that has a skull for an abdominal in the other. Sometimes, you may hear a haunting orchestral score playing in the background. It’s a proven formula, and Babylon’s Fall dutifully checks off items on the list of things a dark fantasy game is supposed to have.
But while a Souls game can instill a melancholy as you explore a richly detailed rotting fortress, or dread as you face off against a hideous abomination, Babylon’s Fall fails to evoke any connection to the locations. The same basic structure is used for each level: You load into a quest, run from A to B, and navigate linear corridors to reach your goal. There’s very little room for exploration and virtually nothing interesting to find if you try.
Transparent barriers occasionally form around you to create a sealed arena in which you’re barraged by waves of generic enemies until you slay an arbitrary number of foes. While environmental hazards like lava, pits, and spikes keep you alert, it is easy for you to drift off while running down the same ugly corridors repeatedly. Jumping is particularly difficult. Gauging jumps is more difficult than it should because of a noticeable and persistent input lag. You can then stop and fight more enemies. Rinse repeat until you reach the boss fight at the end – one last damage sponge devoid of new mechanics or interesting attacks. It’s extremely linear, and the cycle grows tedious as you repeat it dozens of times.
This is a good thing because each stage will have a unique twist that freshens things up. One stage has you running for cover while a dragon attacks the battlefield with fire. The other has you scaling a mountain by jumping from one floating platform into another. Of course, they aren't necessarily all good twists, and some – like the sphere that protects you from a hazardous atmosphere at the expense of disabling your best attacks – are genuinely annoying. But they keep everything from being exactly the same, so on the whole they’re a good thing.
There are many fights to be had in Babylon’s Fall, and the combat is competent. You can equip up to four weapons. Two of these weapons can be held by the hand. They are your primary light and heavy attacks. One pair can float in the air behind the user, controlled by the Gideon Coffin. These ethereal attacks do the most damage and consume more stamina than regular attacks. I’ll give some credit here because this is a novel system, in that changing which slot each weapon is equipped in can dramatically alter your damage output and survivability in interesting ways. For rapid fire shots, a bow or arrow can be used. However, a Gideon Coffin can be charged with your bow and arrow and used as slow-firing artillery while shielded.
Screenshots from Babylon's Fall Review
Although it is satisfying to fire off a steady barrage of Gideon Coffin attacks and regular attacks, it can also degenerate into prolonged bouts of button-mashing against more difficult enemies. As the health bars decrease, it becomes very boring. Battling an undead dragon sounds interesting on paper, but in practice it’s just another hit box to tune out to while you stare at a health bar, running the same sequence of attacks in hand-cramping perpetuity. Although aerial attacks and dodge rolls add some variety, be ready to get. a lotYou can use the same buttons for multiple purposes.
You can move from one loadout of armor and weapons to the next by using different rarities and levels. You will not see the same swords or hammers multiple times. Each one has an incrementally higher level of power than the previous. Randomized enchantments provide a welcome element of uncertainty. You may get one version that increases attack speed, and another that converts damage into healing for your party. The effects of the enchantments can be minor, though. For example, your teammates might not know that they are being healed. The thrill of speeding through the hardest mission with your group and then eagerly sorting out drops and upgrading pieces to be able to face a more difficult encounter is as compelling as any loot-based actionRPG.
It is not possible to level up your favorite piece or equipment until later in the campaign. This smart decision forces you to swap between different weapon combinations to gain more powerful loot rather than finding the one that works well and sticking with it. That said, it would have been nice to know that this ability was coming – maybe I wouldn’t have sold off some favorite weapons when they became too low-level to be much use.
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There is an endgame once the main campaign has concluded, but it, too, has its share of pitfalls that make the idea of sinking more time into Babylon’s Fall unappealing. It’s made up of high-level variations on missions, called Skirmishes and Sieges, that become available as opportunities to earn the most powerful gear. Infamous enemies can drop special loot in Skirmishes. Sieges focus on combat and platforming. You can also unlock new attack patterns and additional abilities for the Gideon Coffin. It is questionable to hold these newer additions up until the end due to how repetitive the campaign missions were before I reached the final mission. Even so, they do little to change the actual experience of playing, so it’s not as if introducing them earlier would’ve solved all its problems.
The biggest of those problems is that Babylon’s fall doesn’t even come near to living up to its inspirations. Multi-social aspects, for example, are reminiscent of Monster Hunter. There is a central town that players can share with them. They have quest boards, blacksmiths, and item shops. Quests can be done with friends or with random players. These quests include story missions that advance the plot, as well as skirmishes that lead to better weapons and armor. It all works reliably well, and playing in a group of four people didn’t noticeably impact the framerate or general performance.
However, the strategic benefits of joining up with Sentinels are limited to speeding up missions. It even comes with drawbacks, like the fact that you can’t change your equipment once matchmaking has begun so it’s impossible to tweak your build to work well with your team – although even if you are playing with friends there is little incentive to try and create synergy between one loadout and another. Due to the lack of character classes that can do damage-dealing and tanking or support, there is no way to have more players than you already are. This means that more people will rush at the enemy, flailing their ghost arms recklessly.