Preview: Achilles: Legends Untold

10 Feb 2022

There’s no shortage of games that have taken inspiration from From Software’s Souls series. Following the breakout success of its second title, Dark Souls, many developers have crafted titles of similar feel and seen them across not only unique boundaries of gameplay, but unique boundaries of setting as well.

Achilles: Legends Untold is, to my knowledge, the first heavily Souls-inspired game to take those gameplay conventions and adapt them to the mold of Greek mythology. Developer Dark Point Games is currently eyeing a full release in Q1 of 2023 on PC, but I had the chance to get my hands on its first beta test this past week. After playing it through twice, I found myself interested in the future of this Early Access title, but the experience was a bit too short to leave me fully convinced.

The preview begins with Achilles reaching the shores outside the besieged Troy by ship. The player is then tasked with reaching the city’s gates through battle, but before you take a single step, it’s easy to see that Achilles is an exceptionally pretty game. There’s a ton of detail in the environments to keep things interesting as you sprint through them, and all of the assets and lighting work together to create a cohesive aesthetic that’s not altogether stylized, but not exactly hyper-realistic either. It’s a fitting look for a game taking direct inspiration from Homer’s Iliad, and the presentation of the distant battles of Troy were fun to watch for a bit before moving onto my own.

Though it sports an isometric perspective, the controls will be instantly familiar to anyone who has so much as booted up a Souls-like. Equipped with a sword (or spear) and shield, our Grecian hero has access to both light and heavy attack strings, a block, and a dodge roll right out the gate. You’re able to spend souls from fallen enemies on a skill tree that offers stat boosts as well as a few choice abilities to add to that arsenal, but they feel a bit vestigial when your core attacks are more than capable of seeing you through every encounter this preview has to offer. Similarly, while the swords and spears available in this beta have different attack strings, they don’t differ enough to make the choice of one weapon over another feel meaningful. This is particularly true for comparing the swords to the spears: it isn’t very fun to go from swinging a sword around to swinging a spear around without gaining much in the way of extra range.

All attacks feel responsive enough as far as hitboxes and attack duration are concerned, but there’s a degree of visual clunkiness to some animations—and I do mean a purely visual clunkiness. Each attack window lasts for as long as you would expect it to, but the actual display of the animation feels sluggish. Especially for heavy attacks, it’s as though the animations were made without the frame windows in mind and then stretched, for want of a better word, to be slower. It causes specific animations to have an unnatural heaviness, as though Achilles is underwater, despite them connecting with the enemy just fine. Some of them feel good without looking good, and bringing both elements up to parity would go a long way in improving the combat.

One of the bolder design decisions in Achilles is the locking of environmental interactions the moment an enemy is aware of your presence. If there’s a chest to pilfer or a ladder to progress with, you won’t be doing either until you’ve dealt with the enemies surrounding it. Quite a few Souls and Souls-like games have a tendency to allow you to run past enemies and avoid combat altogether if you’re quick enough, so it was nice to see this title set itself apart in that respect. It’s a nifty way of encouraging the player to not run away from engagements, but instead meet them head on.

On that note, there’s a lot of intention behind the fighting as you work your way through the beta. No two encounters are exactly the same, which means each grouping of enemies encourages you to do something a little bit different. Whether it’s trying to deal damage to multiple enemies at once with your attacks, circumnavigating to space them out more, or utilizing firebomb items to thin the herd a bit before jumping into melee range, having to take different approaches is a great way to avoid repetition.

Further complementing variation in battles is the enemy AI, which has no problem shaking things up at the drop of a hat. You can be standing in front of three enemies in a line, and while you’re deciding which one to engage with first, another will break off from the pack and sprint behind you. It’s easy enough to defend yourself from the flank maneuver, but that’s when the other two start to approach from what is now behind you, and suddenly the situation has changed greatly from what you were expecting. This happens often enough for it to be a tangible threat, but not enough for it to be a guarantee, which is a great balance to strike.

Speaking of the AI, a relatively large negative is found in the fact that it’s far too easy to run away right now in Achilles. A group of enemies can be just one attack away from killing you, but when faced with their opponent making a short jaunt backwards, they have no problem sheathing their weapons and returning to their original positions. Worse is that they do so without any form of healing whatsoever while you’re now free to chug potions completely unthreatened. It doesn’t seem right from a story perspective or a gameplay one, and feels at total odds with the aggression the enemies show when you don’t flee.

Thankfully the game bars you from escaping its primary boss encounters, of which there are two in this beta. Both of them fall under the “man in armor” category similar to Achilles himself, but their attacks are varied enough to both differentiate themselves from each other as well as be interesting in their own right. If you play it safe, it’s easy for the fights to feel a little bit like waiting for your turn to deal damage before backing off again, but an aggressive, riskier playstyle is still possible, and I found a combination of both to be the most engaging gameplay option.

There are also several optional paths that lead to their own unique bosses, and it’s in these optional paths that Achilles leans more heavily into the fantastical elements interwoven with Greek mythology. I enjoyed their inclusion greatly, but it did leave me wondering why the more interesting enemies were hidden behind missable pathways while the mandatory route featured mostly soldiers and two bosses that also happened to be soldiers.

All told, this first beta for Achilles felt more like a proof of concept than anything else. It featured only a very small slice of gameplay lasting just under an hour with some notable drawbacks in its execution. and yet I had a fun enough time to play it through twice.

Despite this early stage of the game being a bit rough around the edges, I can absolutely see it growing into a great experience so long as it’s given the time and polish it deserves. That says a lot about the quality of the framework here, and I look forward to seeing how Dark Point Games refines and improves Achilles: Legends Untold as time goes on.

Preview beta access provided by Dark Point Games for PC. Screenshots taken by writer. Featured image courtesy of Dark Point Games.