The games-as-a-service model isn’t exactly barren ground these days, with some of the most popular titles in the world embracing this method of content delivery. The goal is to hook people for the long haul so that they (hopefully) provide a steady stream of revenue for years to come. Sure, some of the notables such as Apex Legends and Halo Infinite are in completely different genres, but fundamentally they’re all competing for the limited time players have available.
Given all the competition out there and that players can only support so many with limited time and money, any live service that isn’t something special is likely to fail – and right now, Babylon’s Fall isn’t looking particularly special.
In Babylon’s Fall, players take control of a ‘Sentinel’ — a fully customizable fighter with four weapons attached to their back. After choosing from a limited list of options such as hair type or skin color, players take their first tottering steps into this new world. Not that they have much freedom to explore initially as they start out in a hub with little of interest aside from an equipment chest, a questing board and some equipment vending services. The few NPCs in the area don’t have much to say, so I headed on a quest as soon as I could.
The developers don’t seem too keen on having Babylon’s Fall feel like a singleplayer title, so I soon found myself paired up with three other new players and the lot of us ventured off into the first (of six) available stages in the closed Beta I participated in.
First, the good news. The combo system is actually pretty interesting, even if it’s not necessary for the most part. See, Sentinels don’t have just one weapon available to them. They have four, all bound to an individual button. Initially, I had four hammers strapped to my back, but on subsequent runs I swapped them in and out for a medley of swords, hammers, bows, shields and the like, all offering a different type of utility.
While four weapons per run is the limit, these four can each be attached to a different input unlocking different effects on each. The X and Y button are for weak and heavy slashes respectively, and depending on the weapon, can be charged to bash enemies into the ground, launch them into the air, parry incoming attacks or unleash volleys of arrows at unfortunate foes.
More interesting are the weapons players attach to the triggers. These operate independently of the player character’s body, floating mid-air and performing various attacks when used. They do drain a meter which is filled by using standard attacks, but since they’re floating and don’t require physical motion, they can be used to attack enemies even when the player’s body is crumpled in a heap or getting back to their feet.
It’s a cool mechanic, and allows for a real onslaught of attacks. Both trigger weapons can be used simultaneously alongside physical attacks, which leads to a swarm of blows demolishing anything unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end. Swords will unleash a spectral flurry, hammers can be charged to deliver a bonecrushing blow and, above all, it just looks cool in motion.
Unfortunately, the enemies are bog-standard at the moment, with the various orcs, bandits and knights lacking interesting attack patterns and having far too much health — killing even cannon-fodder foes can become a tiresome slog. They also have hefty amounts of ‘super armor’ which resists interruption so they can push through player attacks to inflict damage, which is an annoyance not helped by some of the excessive graphics filters obfuscating the action. It looks cool, but it makes picking enemies out from underneath visual smog a chore.
Boss encounters aren’t all that impressive at this point either, rarely providing additional challenge and they tend to be surrounded by minions. It’s pre-release, of course, but every boss I faced went down quickly with all four players getting stuck in and ripping them to pieces with almost no additional tactics required.
Weirdly, dodging doesn’t seem to be encouraged in Babylon’s Fall as it rarely provides an advantage, even when perfectly timed. It also drains significant chunks of the player’s special gauge upon activation and potentially restricts access to more powerful attacks until it recharges. The general flow of combat felt like it was more about hammering away relentlessly until everything died, rather than having to concentrate on evasion and skilfully picking out moments to press an attack.
Not helping matters is the almost complete lack of exploration within each mission. Players run through a corridor, usually filled with traps or environmental hazards such as spikes or meteors, come to a larger room where they get shut in alongside some angry monsters, and then exit out into another corridor which leads to another room, corridor, room, corridor, room, and so on until the end. It’s hardly enthralling, and trying to explore off the beaten path typically leads straight to a dead end. It’s intensely limiting and unrewarding.
The loot’s just as mundane. Sure, a few things I picked up looked shinier than my previous gear, but a couple of additional percentage points in some skill I didn’t even recognize didn’t get my juices flowing. Worse, new items can’t be equipped or even appraised mid-level. No, they need to be carted back to base, so picking up new gear never feels like an exciting find.
It’s a shame. I want to like Babylon’s Fall, and if the full release offers a more substantial package, it may be able to deliver something worthwhile. However, the beta failed to deliver a compelling reason for players to look forward to the full release. A unique visual style and a potentially interesting freeform battle system simply aren’t enough to ignite my interest in replaying the same dungeons over and over against damage sponge enemies in the hopes of getting the dull loot needed to progress further.
That said, I’ve been wrong before and I’d be delighted to be wrong again. There’s something buried underneath the less desirable elements that I find appealing, and I can only pray that some of these things are surfaced in the final release. For now, though, it’s a game that looks like it won’t be able to compete against other live service titles.
I wish Platinum Games the very best of luck here. I think they may need it.
Babylon’s Fall will be released for PC and PlayStation consoles on March 3, 2022.