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The RPG Files: Babylon's Fall Review

So Many Bad Decisions

Mitch Gassner Posted:
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Reviews The RPG Files 0

I generally try to do a review in a vacuum. While it's impossible to avoid all of the media attention surrounding a game's release, I always skip reading Steam and media outlet reviews until after completing my review. I didn't initially plan to review Babylon's Fall, and since there was nearly nothing in the way of PR before its launch when articles finally started popping up in my newsfeed about it, I read them. And they were overwhelmingly negative. Has Platinum Games and Square Enix really put out a dud? Does Babylon's Fall really deserve the title of Worst PS5 Exclusive of all Time? Or is this just another instance of the vocal minority whining because a game isn't exactly what they wanted, with the press jumping on the bandwagon for extra clicks? I’ll tell you what I think in our Babylon's Fall review.

The Ziggurat

The city of Neo Babylon serves as Sentinel HQ. The city lies at the base of the ruined Tower of Babylon, the Ziggurat, and is the last bastion of defense against the demon-like Gallu pouring out of the tower. You are a Sentinel; a warrior conscripted into the Empire’s army that has had a Gideon Coffin grafted to your back. The Gideon Coffin not only imbues its host with heightened abilities, but it also complements a warrior’s regular weapons with two additional spectral weapons.

There’s a catch, though. The Gideon Coffin is a parasite and, as such, it is constantly trying to overcome the host's will. Whether weak-minded or strong-willed, it’s only a matter of time before you succumb to the power of the Coffin and transform into yet another denizen in the Gallu army. You must ascend the Tower of Babylon and destroy the Gallu if you wish to have any hope of the Empire removing your Gideon Coffin before its power consumes you.

Babylon's Fall

The story starts just as you'd expect - grab a weapon or two and start fighting your way to the boss at the end of each level. And for those not willing to sit through the still frame cutscenes, that's all you're going to get. However, there's a decent story full of lore for those who take the time to listen. You will question motives and allegiances, and not every character is who or what they seem. It isn't the most profound story ever told, but there were a few moments where unexpected twists left me pleasantly surprised.

In true Platinum Games fashion, each mission in the Ziggurat involves running through a linear path of connected battle arenas. The level design is very basic early on, with only a few obstacles to jump over and a few chests to open. Even though the Ziggurat is split up into several zones, each one consisting of five or six levels with a similar theme, each level has a generic and uninspired layout, making missions feel a bit repetitive in the early game. A few levels scattered through the story have some sort of environmental effect to deal with, but it isn't until you reach the late levels that you get some truly interesting level design. Once you get to that point, though, some jumping puzzles and other surprises make the missions more exciting.

Audio And Visuals

Graphically, the world of Babylon’s Fall is rendered as a painting, similar to but nowhere near as beautiful as the art style of Guild Wars 2 or the movie What Dreams May Come. The story is presented as blank canvases filled in as competent voice acting pushes the story forward, and the art style actually works well for this format. However, as soon as you move your avatar around Sentinel HQ, the coarse texture of the canvas and the brush strokes swirling about as though they are constantly reapplied are rather distracting. I don’t know if the paint filter is the cause of the blurry, unrefined graphics or an attempt to conceal them, but it’s a poor choice either way. 

Fortunately, the art style is less noticeable during combat. With multiple enemies to worry about, you are more focused on the fight than your surroundings, and the oil painting look fades away behind the flurry of attacks and dodges you are performing. And even with the fast-paced action of multiple enemies and allies darting around, the game engine runs smoothly and provides adequate frame rates with no noticeable stutters. 

Unlike the visuals, the audio in Babylon’s Fall is solid on all fronts. The sounds of combat, from the swoosh of a blade followed by the satisfying thud as it hits an armored foe to the little things like the grunts and groans of players as they execute a combo attack or let loose a charged attack, all blend together nicely. Even the predominantly classical and operatic soundtrack helps to pull you into the dark fantasy setting and add to the immersion of the combat sequences.

Character Progression

When choosing a character, you are given three factions from which to choose. Other than a vague description of how each faction has unique special abilities, the only other difference between classes is their starting weapon. By the end of the tutorial, you have already acquired more weapons, so during the story missions, the choice I made felt more like flavor text than a decision that affected my gameplay, and it wasn’t until after the story missions that my faction choice had any impact at all. Even at that point, most of the special abilities are shared between factions, and only one or two unique abilities have any impact on your playstyle.

With only two regular weapon slots and two Gideon Coffin attacks, the initial impression is that you will enter combat with a limited skillset. Since each of the four weapon slots alters a given weapon’s characteristics, each of the five weapon types and their variants can yield multiple attack styles. Placing a sword in the light attack slot, for example, gives you a quick but weak thrust attack, whereas placing the exact same weapon in the heavy slot yields a slower but more powerful slashing attack. Different weapon combinations also open up new attack combos, providing yet another factor to consider when choosing your weapon loadout. In the end, what initially feels like a limited number of choices ultimately caters to a variety of playstyles, from a purely offensive melee or ranged build to a defensive tanky build to a balanced build ready to take on whatever the Ziggurat throws at you.

Along with the different weapon choices, Babylon’s Fall also utilizes the typical gray, green, blue, purple, and gold gear qualities to add random effects to your weapons, armor, and accessories. There isn’t anything unique about how this is handled in Babylon’s Fall, but like other ARPGs, it serves as an adequate way to add some depth to your loadout, not to mention a reason to grind away the hours looking for a specific skill set.

As for your Gideon Coffin, the extra weapon slots aren’t its only purpose. Your Coffin is equipped with a shell specific to your chosen faction that grants a unique group-based skill and a personal skill tree. Additional shells can have a variety of effects and trees that, when combined with the enhancements on the rest of your gear, allow you to specialize your character further as you see fit.

Combat

Just like character progression, if you’ve ever played one of Platinum’s previous action games, you already know what you are getting yourself into. Combat takes an over-the-shoulder third-person perspective and is full of dodges, parries, and blocks to gain the advantage, followed by a string of attacks that decimate a regular enemy or whittle away at a boss's health bar.

The addition of co-op combat in Babylon’s Fall is the biggest departure from Platinum Games’ typical hack and slash recipe. Unfortunately, they didn’t capitalize on co-op's potential to the genre. While the group-focused enhancements and abilities show that Platinum Games understands the need for group synergy, they don’t take it far enough.

With so many enemies attacking at once and such a strong focus on evasion combat tactics, players quickly become separated from each other and continue beating on whatever enemy is in their general vicinity. And when fighting a single boss, the enemy AI tends to focus all of its attacks (most of which are uni-directional until late into the campaign) on a single party member, allowing the rest of the party to lay the beatdown with little regard to strategy.

This ends up creating a huge disparity between the solo and group experience. The strategy necessary in solo play - picking priority targets and dodging and blocking enemy attacks for example - is missing in group play, making it a mindless bash fest where fights rarely last more than a minute or two. On the flip side, there’s nothing as unrewarding to a solo player as completing a long, drawn-out boss fight for a few useless pieces of gear, while a group can reap the rewards of multiple missions in the same amount of time.

Game As A Service

Babylon’s Fall has been given the Game As A Service treatment. All of the typical GaaS trappings are here - an in-game store with real money purchases, a Battle Pass, Season Rankings, and what looks to be a steady stream of new content. Currently, the in-game store only offers cosmetic and vanity items, while the Premium Battle Pass (free to everyone for Season 1) does offer up some gold and crafting materials. Overall, I am okay with the current real money offerings when compared to what can be acquired through regular gameplay, and the lack of purchasable character slots or inventory space still leaves some wiggle room for Square Enix to make additional revenue before they have to flood the game with major pay-to-win items. That is a personal choice, though, so it can be a deal-breaker for some potential players.

Living Up To Its Pedigree

Although any game being reviewed should stand on its own merits, a developer's past titles, especially those of the same genre, will always creep into the review. Every MMORPG since 2004 has been compared to WoW, Cyberpunk 2077 launched in the shadow of The Witcher franchise, and Diablo 3 is still overshadowed by D2 to this day. It's not always a negative comparison, though. You've probably heard how a small hit called Elden Ring is better than previous efforts in the Souls franchise and has set a new bar for any future titles in the genre.

Look, I get it. Suppose you are a fan of Platinum Games' previous action RPGs - specifically Nier: Automata or Bayonetta 2 - and are expecting Babylon’s Fall to be a multiplayer spinoff of those titles. In that case, your first impression of Babylon's Fall will be that it's a piece of crap. If you happen to push past the disappointment and play more than a couple of missions, odds are you still won’t get to the good stuff before you give up and move on to something else.

You see, it’s not the graphics quality or the decision to go with a Game As A Service model that will push you away from Babylon’s Fall. Sure, those are easily identifiable pain points for some gamers, but many RPGs have overcome those flaws, Valheim and Destiny 2 being perfect examples. The real reason most players will prematurely exit Babylon’s Fall is how utterly horrible Platinum Games has handled the pacing of character progression and mission delivery.

For most ARPGs, you have been introduced to the bulk of character progression within the first couple of hours. You get a quick introduction to skill progression, craft some gear, and pick out your favorite weapons. Sure, some sort of ultimate skill or epic crafting may await you later on, but all the basics are laid out early on. Players then spend the next few hours playing through the story while tinkering away with crafting and experimenting with different combat skills and weapon combinations. That way, when you reach the end game content, you are already invested in your character and have a vision of what your ultimate build looks like. It makes the upcoming grind bearable and keeps you playing for hours on end.

In Babylon’s Fall, Platinum Games takes far too long to deliver all of the goods. Instead of laying all Babylon’s Fall has to offer on the table right off the bat, I spent about 15 hours playing with little more than the most basic of characters. Working through the story missions, the only progression I saw was in the form of weapon and armor upgrades. About three-quarters of the way through the story - about 15 hours given my fairly even mix of solo and group play, add or subtract depending on how much you group up - I was finally introduced to the basics of the crafting system and had just started collecting the blueprints needed to create more powerful gear. It wasn’t until I had finished all 31 story missions that I had finally unlocked all of the crafting options like upgrading and enhancing weapons and my Gideon Coffin. 

Completing the campaign took me the better part of 20 hours. 20 hours before the bulk of the character progression finally opened up. 20 hours before I was able to choose from the three advanced fighting modes and completely unlock all of the crafting options available. 20 hours before I was able to sink into the gear grind. 20 hours before nearly any missions other than the 31 story quests opened up. 20 hours before anything even marginally interesting was available. 20 long, mediocre hours that constantly urged me to quit playing. 20 hours I would never have made it through if I wasn’t doing a review. Yes, I know that saying 20 hours over and over was repetitive, but so were the first 20 hours of Babylon’s Fall.

Mission delivery followed this same recipe. Other than a couple of skirmishes - optional side quests that give a decent amount of loot - that opened up as I neared the end of the story, all of the cool stuff was locked away until I completed the story. This made for a wholly linear experience that offered a relatively small amount of gear to choose from. And with the purely random nature of gear rewards, I could go three or four missions without finding something I would consider an upgrade, leaving me with no other option than repeating old story missions to get the gear I wanted before continuing on.

I understand saving some of the more difficult mission types like Sieges and Duals for the end game grind but keeping it all locked away made the story a slow, repetitive grind. It's almost as though Platinum Games was dangling a carrot on a stick to entice me to continue on, except they stuck the stick into the ground at the finish line and forgot to tell me about it.

Final Thoughts

Babylon’s Fall should have fared better than it has. Hidden somewhere behind a myriad of poor choices is some enjoyable hack and slash combat. Going with an online-only, GaaS model and still sticking gamers with a $60 price tag. The strange choice of the watercolor painting art style. Taking nearly 20 before introducing any of the interesting pieces of character customization. Waiting until the player completes more than three-quarters of the story before opening up any of the side quests or resulting rewards. All of these could have easily been avoided

And let’s not forget one last mistake Platinum Games and Square Enix made with the release of Babylon’s Fall - a full launch window. What executive in their right mind would sign off on the beginning of March 2022 to release what is arguably a mediocre to average action RPG? In the two to three weeks leading up to Babylon’s Fall release date, we had the release of Horizon Forbidden West, Elden Ring, Pokemon Legends: Arceus, Guild Wars 2: End of Dragons, and Destiny 2: The Witch Queen. Trying to launch alongside even a single title off that list would severely hinder a competing title’s chance of success.

Launching a week or two after all five of those highly anticipated titles virtually assured Babylon’s Fall would release into a vacuum where only the most diehard Platinum Games fans were left. Fans that were most likely amped up at the thought of a multiplayer Bayonetta or Nier successor. Fans whose (warranted or not) high expectations came crashing down in the first few hours of play. 

Now the only question left is whether Platinum Games and Square Enix have the fortitude to recover? I hope they do, but once players label a game as average (or worse), it can be an insurmountable task to change their minds.

6.0Okay
Pros
  • Good story
  • Solid combat mechanics
  • Fun late-game missions
Cons
  • Strange art style
  • Poor balance between solo and co-op play
  • Boring Story Missions
  • Low Player Count


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Mitch Gassner

Part-time game reviewer, full-time gaming geek. Introduced to Pac-Man and Asteroids at a Shakey's Pizza in the '70s and hooked on games ever since.