Here is a funny story that is also entirely true. Square-Enix PR reached out to us to see if we were interested in covering the Babylon’s Fall beta test. Now, I hadn’t really been following the game closely up to this point, but given the pedigree involved I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. So I agreed, I waited a few days, and then I saw my beta email pop up, registered and all that… and then a day later I saw another beta email in my inbox, this time from PR. I had forgotten that I signed up for the beta test separately, and thus got accepted twice.
This actually has no bearing on my evaluation of the game itself; it’s just funny.
Being a double beta tester for the game during the network beta would at least theoretically make for an interesting segue if I could say that the game is really a thing of two halves, but the reality is that my impression of Babylon’s Fall is that it’s pretty straightforward. It’s like someone mashed up the looter-shooter genre with a Soulslike framework, in need of a bit of launch polish and a throughline, but I was certainly having fun with it just the same.
I’m sure that there are already fans who are far more invested in the lore for this particular title than I am, but the beta was more or less completely absent in terms of explanations or elaboration along the way. There’s a tower, I think? You’re trying to… invade it, or stop something? People keep talking about a thing called the “Gideon Coffin”? Like, it sounds bonkers and weird in all the general “Western fantasy through a Japanese lens” ways that this stuff tends to be, but I have no larger framework to place any of this in.
And you know, that’s fine. It’s a big baroque fantasy world in which I load up on not one, not two, not three, but four weapons at a time and I’m supposed to use all of them to hack and slash through monsters. That’s enough explanation for a beta. I’ll want more in the full release, but this isn’t it.
What was a bit detrimental was the fact that this beta version also lacked much of anything in the way of a tutorial, which meant that what I am absolutely sure is a deeper combat engine than I understood was kind of a flailing mess, at least at first. The elaborate list of all the things you did or failed to do after each combat encounter makes it clear there’s a lot going on there; I just can only barely summarize it.
So, remember how I mentioned that you have four weapons before? Well, there’s a lot going on with those weapons. You’re not swapping to different sets; you’re swapping between four attack types. Two of your weapons are bound to your light attack and your heavy attack, while the other two are bound to “phantom” abilities and wielded without hands. Each weapon has a different sort of attack for all of the above; your light attacks are different if you tap the buttons or hold them down, while your shoulder attacks vary based on weapon.
For example, if you have a sword in one of your “phantom” slots, you can send the blade out at range to slash away at enemies even while you’re attacking at the cost of a continual spirit gauge drain. Putting a bow in there instead grants you access to a powerful ranged shot you can charge and execute on the move. You get the idea.
Oh, right, the spirit gauge. This is kind of halfway to being a stamina gauge, only not really. It controls your ability to use your “phantom” attacks and your ability to dodge out of the way of incoming attacks, but that’s also where the Souls comparison stops; you recharge the gauge in part with time and in part by smacking away at enemies, with jumping and your heavy/light attacks independent of the gauge. So it’s a bit like a stamina gauge, but not entirely like one.
I am sure there is more going on here. There are lots of indicators as enemies attack so that you can see precisely what you’re doing. I didn’t really experiment with shields. There’s a list of different things you can supposedly do that pops up after enemy waves marking out how many times you did things like “punish” or “parry” that I can’t speak to. This is Platinum Games, there’s depths to this system, but the lack of a tutorial in the beta meant that I was kind of flying blind. For that, I’m sorry.
That’s all how you’re doing things, of course. The question is what you’re doing, and it’s a pretty straightforward “march in a line and hack away at things” ride. It’s very much in the co-op action looter mold; there are a few side paths along an otherwise linear course, you get sectioned off into little arenas for big fights against multiple enemy waves, and the core of the experience is to enjoy the combat while trying not to die with your limited supply of potions and resurrections. Straightforward enough.
It’s notable that while you’re in the middle of the map, you don’t actually get any loot per se. What you get are “relics,” which are unlocked when the mission completes and thus become loot. On the down side, that means you don’t get something cool in the middle of the run; on the up side, it means that there’s no need to do anything but go through the map hacking and slashing away during the main adventure.
Again, there are clearly a lot of systems at play here. The stats were not explained for gear just yet, and there are a fair number of them, ranging from four “main” stats to a selection of additional enchantments conveying benefits under specific circumstances. It’s a bit confusing at first, but that’s also partly by design and partly to encourage you to keep farming for more drops along the way. You can also flag certain pieces of loot to just sell right away, which is useful for minimizing inventory clutter.
The other major wrinkle I ran into was simply one of the realistic issues you have to worry about with any game of this type. With other people, the game is fun, the missions move along briskly, and I found myself generally enjoying my time. Without other people… well, the difficult seems to be tuned a bit into tedium rather than fun, which is a definite downside. And that runs into the central issue of the looter gameplay in the first place.
I’m not sure how many people are really in the market for this particular gameplay loop in 2021, and that’s a bit of an issue. At the same time, the game is fun and rewarding with what I played. It needs a little more refinement and tutorial along the way, but if you’d rather be slashing your way through baroque architecture instead of shooting things, this is well worth keeping your eyes on.