Last week I gave a quick overview of Godfall, the exclusive PlayStation 5 launch title - also available through the Epic Games Store since PC games no longer count towards the exclusivity battle Sony and Microsoft are so eagerly engaged in, but I digress - that showcases the power of the next-gen console. Diablo, Anthem, God of War, Destiny 2, even a little bit of Dark Souls; I saw pieces of all of them in Godfall in one form or another, and that's not a particularly bad thing. Counterplay Games has done a fine job copying what has been done before but adequate is never enough the 2nd (or 3rd or 4th) time around. The original will always shine brighter due to the attachment a player has already formed to it, so a new game must find a way to raise the bar to be recognized. Now it’s time to pass judgement on Godfall and answer the question of whether it improves upon what came before and ascends to the top of the looter genre or takes a quick fall from grace.
The Story As We Ignore It
The story of Godfall is fairly pedestrian. The 12 gods of Aperion - collectively known as the Archons - created a race of ultimate warriors, the Valorians. The Archons gave their greatest champions Valorplate, epic armor fashioned after their own visage and imbued with great power. In an eternal power struggle, the Valorian fought for their chosen god. Two Valorian siblings, Orin and Macros, knew the Archons must be usurped if there was ever to be peace on Aperion. One by one they defeated the Archons, bringing peace to Aperion.
Born for battle, and knowing nothing but battle for eons, the Valorians couldn’t keep their bloodlust at bay. To satiate their hunger, they turned their lust for battle towards the rest of the Archon’s creations, the Lesserborn. Orin still yearned for peace, while Macros only wanted more war. Their difference in ideology inevitably led to the two brothers turning on one another. In a final showdown, Macros proved the stronger of the two. Instead of a simple blade through the gut, Macros smashed Orin through the outcropping they battled on and sent him to his death in the waters below. With his pesky brother out of the way, Macros then turned his attention to a new goal - filling the void left by the defeat of the Archons by becoming a god himself.
But of course Orin wasn’t dead. Now Orin, played by you of course, must regain his lost power, chipping away at Macros’s forces as he... I mean you… plot to halt Macros before he completes his ascension to godhood.
This is a looter action RPG after all, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that the story is paper thin. What little storytelling there is takes place almost exclusively at Godfall’s mission hub, the Seventh Sanctum. You get your backstory at this stronghold between missions, with little more than updates to your objective being relayed as you move from point A to point B, shredding any enemies that stand in your way. At various stops along the way an elite warrior will block your path, but your primary objective is always a boss battle involving a key soldier of Macros’s army.
The main story is rudimentary at best but there are Codex stones scattered across the land to flesh things out. These journal pieces fill in the history of our brother’s struggle, covering everything from the creation of the Valorians all the way through the motivations that drive each brother down their path towards inevitable conflict.
The Seventh Sanctum.
This brings me to the first chance Counterplay Games had to make Godfall stand out from all the other looter shooters it mimics. Godfall is not a Games as a Service (GaaS) title, so there has to be more to the game than killing monsters and gathering loot if it is to be a memorable experience. If, instead of using the journal pages as collectibles, Counterplay Games had worked them into cutsceneses or audio narratives they would have elevated the ho hum, seen it a thousand times story into something greater. It would add a heavy weight to the internal struggle Orin would feel as he tries to come to terms with his ultimate objective and, at the same time, add a voice to the mostly invisible and unheard protagonist of the story. Mostly, though, it would create a bond between you and the brothers that would make the time spent playing Godfall last beyond your final weapon swing.
Combat Done Right
Counterplay Games is obviously counting on the melee-only combat in Godfall to differentiate it from the crowd. I love melee combat and always gravitate towards the up close and personal over ranged combat when given the option. That reason alone has made Godfall well worth the time I’ve invested in it, and anyone with a similar mindset should feel the same. Combat is fun and well implemented, but the melee focus is more a new branch in the family tree than it is an evolutionary leap for the genre.
Counterplay did a lot of things right with combat. As I worked through the story, even as combat progressively got harder, I never felt defeated by an artificial difficulty imposed by the developers just to lengthen the game. I never felt over or underpowered as I progressed through the levels. There was a steady gain to my rise in power, with additional skill points and the maneuvers they afforded flowing in just in time to keep fights fresh and exciting.
Any new skills and fighting techniques were always countered by stronger, better equipped enemies. As I grew stronger the enemy ranks began filling out with a variety of different fighting styles as well. Some attacked recklessly while others took a more defensive stance. Some had the advantage of ranged attacks and spells, and an unnoticed healer can cause a whole heap of trouble.
Brace for impact.
There are a wide variety of mechanics used by the various bosses, each one layering on more complexity to the fight. There were a couple of fights that had me pulling my hair out but at no point did I feel like lowering the difficulty level was the answer. Rethinking my strategies, adjusting my gear, and resetting my skills always proved to be the path to success. Just the way it should be.
Graphically, combat in Godfall is top tier. Each set of Valorplate has its own unique, intricate design; part Samurai, part medieval knight, with a splash of Transformer thrown in. The weapons are similarly grand and the pyrotechnics that ensue during battle are the icing on the cake.
The enemies also bring their own horrific look to the battlefield. Only the lowliest of minions - the Kraven and the Aberrants - are reskins of a different color. Beyond that, a quick glance will alert you to whether you are up against a Nyak Warrior or a Vargul Healer. And there’s no mistaking an Abyssian Medusa for a Black Tide Assassin. The elites and bosses are even more distinct, adorned in armored suits that rival your own Valorplate. And regardless of rank, each monster shared the same visual fidelity seen in every other aspect of the game.
Loot And A Troubled User Interface
When it comes to cross-platform games one side or the other usually gets an inferior product. This time I am declaring the PC version the loser, but only because of the mouse and keyboard implementation in the user interface or, more specifically, in the inventory screens. When using the controller there are buttons assigned to the menu options, such as the sort or compare buttons. There isn’t any such key assignment for the keyboard, making for a lot of extra mouse clicks.
One kill, lots of loot.
In reality, the inventory UI is a mess no matter how you navigate it. The main screen, half of which is taken up by an image of your Valorplate, shows icons of your current equipment as well as your attributes on the other half. This portion of the screen only relays the most basic information. Along with your three main stats - might, spirit, and vitality - you are shown your damage output, critical hit chance and damage percentage, and chance of inflicting an ailment, also known as elemental damage. You won’t find any secondary statistics or in depth breakdown of damage types or resistances. These are the types of numbers that RPG fans salivate for, so their absence on this screen, or any other for that matter, is an oversight that should have been caught.
Leaving the main equipment screen is an adventure in inconsistency and glitches. Other than an icon that can be clicked on to bring up an item’s statistics, the armory doesn’t show a 3D model of any items. You can see a weapon’s model (no other gear is modeled) when equipping items, but the screen space is once again shared and only part of the weapon is visible.
A more grievous error is the inability to sort items in any useful way. You can only sort by newest, rarity, or level of an item, none of which give any pertinent information for your character build. There isn’t any way to sort by weapon, by damage type, or by attribute keywords. As you progress through the game and your collection of loot starts to pile up the inventory screen is an area where Godfall doesn’t improve upon its predecessors. Inventory management is actually a step backwards.
Treasure crabs are a thing in Godfall.
When it comes to the actual loot, don’t expect anything out of the ordinary. All the regular rarities are here and they even follow the same green, blue, purple, gold color format that’s been around forever. Each item provides a base stat enhancement along with a primary attribute that provides a useful boon to your character’s stats or abilities. Rare and above quality items also provide secondary attributes, one for each level of rarity. Any item can be enchanted to a higher rarity and upgraded to improve its stats and attributes. If all of this sounds run of the mill it is because it’s just that. This is the same loot system that has been around since RPGs were first created but, honestly, why fix it if it isn’t broken?
Godfall does offer up a ton of different items with stats and attributes. Everything I found could be used in one build or another, and I was never left scratching my head in confusion as to why an attribute or effect found its way into the game. There is room for one improvement, though. Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to change the randomly generated secondary statistics of an item, making the grind for a perfect set of equipment a long and arduous journey. This single flaw has caused other players to leave other games in the past so I’m surprised Counterplay omitted a mechanic to change or replace an unwanted attribute on otherwise perfect gear.
Like the battle between Orin and Macros, Godfall’s mission structure is a battle between two opposing forces. Unlike most ARPGs that sprinkle in side quests as you progress towards your primary goal, Godfall doesn’t present any secondary missions as you advance towards your primary objective. I was pushed along a linear path towards whatever boss needed defeating at that moment. Then, once the main mission was completed, it opened up hidden objectives in the area I had just passed through. You can skip these new objectives and immediately return back to the Seventh Sanctum, but doing so means you will miss out on the extra fights and puzzles along with the extra loot they offer.
Knowing that I would be going back through the map a second time I only stopped to fight enemies if they were required to advance the main mission. I was spending more time fighting the bosses than I did getting to them in the first place. Then I would spend what felt like a disproportionate amount of time after the main mission was over exploring the entire map, opening chests, killing the enemies I had skipped, and completing the bonus objectives that had popped up. Unlike the praise I gave to combat, splitting the primary and secondary missions up only served to artificially extend my play time.
It may look like an open world adventure but it isn’t.
Having to complete the primary mission before starting any secondary missions also soured the exploration of each realm. What originally felt like a huge, living world was turned into a linear dungeon crawl. It is nothing more than a better looking Destiny 2 sprint to the finish line and a total waste of all the artistic effort spent on creating such beautiful, immersive environments.
An evenly paced mission would have kept me immersed in the world I was surrounded by. All of the beautiful terrain could have been opened up to allow for some actual exploration. Even the addition of a little more verticality to the maps would give more space without necessarily requiring a full open world area. In short, the poor choice of mission structure is the second of Counterplay’s design decisions that stopped Godfall from rising to the top of the genre.
The End Game
There are so many ways to approach the end game content of a looter game and Counterplay has taken what looks like a simple yet effective approach at keeping players engaged after the story is over. Believe it or not, after my rant about separating combat from exploration during the story missions, I have to commend Counterplay for doing that same exact thing for the end game content. End game should be about efficiently grinding for gear and is the one part of a game where no one has ever asked for more opportunities to stop and smell the roses.
Bosses use tricks like hiding in a dust storm during fights. Am I the hunter or the hunted?
Players still have the option to head into any of the three realms and explore if they so choose but we know that isn’t going to happen. Developers could provide a plethora of maps to grind through but players will always find the quickest way to get what they need, oftentimes running to a single, easily obtainable chest, looting, and then resetting the map over and over again. To that end, the three ways of gathering loot and resources at end game - Hunts, Dreamstones, and the Ascended Tower of Trials - all focus on quickly getting players into fights where they can gather loot as quickly as possible.
Hunts, which are available very early in the game, are the quickest way to get gear and resources. These simple missions take place on the regular realm maps and your objective is to get to the specified encounter and defeat it. You can gather resources and make a run for chests along the way if you wish but completing the main objective and possibly one of the bonus objectives as quickly as possible will be the way to go. Most creatures are a short run from the load in point, and these well-practiced fights will only take seconds to complete, so completing a hunt in a minute or two makes them a great way to gather up items to be salvaged for resources.
Dreamstones work in a similar fashion and become available once you complete the story. Again, these missions are built to get you into a fight with previously defeated bosses, but this time there’s a twist. Dreamstones have multiple preliminary rounds where you get to choose one of two battles. Each victory gives you rewards as well as the possibility to add additional bonuses to your skills. You’ll need them too since the final boss will come with additional enhancements of their own.
6v1 and it’s only the first floor of the Tower of Trials
The last activity is the Ascended Tower of Trials. Like endgame towers from other titles, floor after floor of ever increasing difficulty will pit you against some of the longest, hardest fights in Godfall. Expect wave after wave of multiple enemies to test your fighting prowess. Just make sure you are ready before you enter. With a minimum recommended level of 50 (the level cap in the game) poorly geared participants will find their time in the tower to be short lived.
These end game missions may seem like they would get boring and repetitive quickly. Really though, what game isn't repetitive when you are doing the same thing over and over? Well, it's the games that, like Godfall, make those repetitive cycles quick and give rewards proportionate to the time spent.
Pulling It All Together
No matter how much I like Godfall, it doesn’t rate a 10 out of 10. That doesn’t mean it’s a piece of trash either. At its core, Godfall is a fun hack and slash ARPG. Stunning visuals give Godfall a leg up against the competition, whereas mostly well executed yet uninspired design decisions mean the rest of the game doesn’t live up to its potential. The negatives don’t outweigh the positives, but there are enough design errors to ultimately cause Godfall to blend in with the crowd. As I already mentioned, Godfall is not a Game as a Service, so we won’t be seeing the continual updates and upgrades that games like Destiny 2 or The Division 2 have received. Hopefully that doesn't mean Counterplay is finished with Godfall because it would only take a few tweaks here and there for it to complete it's ascension to gaming godhood.