Atlas Wept Review – Machine (And Humans) Learning

From its menacing, bizarre trailer to its turn-based, action command/bullet-hell combat, Atlas Wept is the kind of RPG that would wind up on my radar sooner rather than later. I live for weird games and for turn-based systems mixed with action ones, so to see so many new titles combining these two principles has been great. Just because I like the type of game, however, does not mean I like them all individually. Atlas Wept is, unfortunately, one such case.

If there is one feeling that defines playing Atlas Wept, it is undoubtedly extreme animosity. The entire 14 hours felt like the game wants to make me feel in danger like I am being beaten down. The thudding, menacing music sticks around for both combat and exploration, and the bullet-hell element is similarly overwhelming right from the start.

A leafy enemy blowing wind projectiles from left to right inside a box where the player's dot is meant to dodge
Every enemy design and attack is nightmare fuel, only scarier with the blasting soundtrack

It is something that I initially thought was intentional, given Atlas Wept is about some force removing all negativity from humans. But seeing the full picture now, it seems like the missing emotional contrast is unintentionally removing depth. Moments that define relationships, ones which characters look back at down the line to reminisce about the good times, feel like they were trying to get through points at a company meeting. Meanwhile, all I felt was the sense of some impending tragedy, as the music continued its oppressive reign.

The always heavy, eccentric soundtrack dictates the sort of atmosphere felt through the whole game, with many tracks going overboard on one aspect or another. The few dialogues made early scenes feel like just a fleeting moment, as if only later on, once the upcoming danger shows its full hand, will they truly start to bond. “Perhaps they lost their ability to communicate with each other due to their controlled emotions and will learn it later,” I thought.

The two kids and their robot dog standing in front of another kid. The big textbox reads "yes."
There are a few too many textboxes like this that just sort of state things shortly.

Every moment, as it turns out, was very purposeful, and is meant as a key memory, a step towards blooming friendships. A character may create a snowball and throw it at another in a playful manner, but their reactions always feel very state of the matter. There is little flair to their speech, it lacks individuality, and even once they start speaking openly about their emotions, that aspect never changes. Though characters do not interact often, they nearly always seem deadly serious and purposeful with each word, even if they were seemingly meant to appear casual.

The same goes for world design. All side paths lead to a reward. A little bonus to customize your character, give them more magic or physical power, etc. Despite that, they often feel empty. The structures you explore are just these platforms made for gameplay purposes rather than real places. An old abandoned station consists of six platforms with a magical floating sticker at the end of each path or some money scattered around, with the only sign of humanity from beginning to end being a huge looming statue in the background. A little interactable or two somewhere in there would go a long way.

Floating platforms, with the two kids and dog sitting on a bench in the middle of one. Various floating collectibles are around.
So many locations feel like they are made out of floating platforms like this, with collectibles just kind of lying around

Distracting the player from this emptiness is the combat, which is good! Given the length, a lot of it is varied and enjoyable, characters share mechanics between their attacks, but even by the end I would still sometimes struggle with finding the right balance between buffing and attacking, as Atlas Wept incentivizes aggression thanks to its stun system, which builds up faster with magic attacks.

Some really fun twists and gimmicks are introduced around the end, especially with the bosses (though maybe we could tone it down with the multiple phases). Makes me wish some were used to add some spice to exploration in the form of activities, as my drive for it started dying down when I noticed just how many resources I have lying around even on the highest difficulty. So much of Atlas Wept feels purposeful that I think limiting resources should be a bigger part of that.

A combat box with plenty of bullets around
The combat is great, even if it gets overwhelming there are many ways to bounce back in a fight

As the other elements lack variety, combat was the part of Atlas Wept I was always looking forward to the most. I was excited to see what new bizarre creature was hiding in each area, so it was a bit disappointing when some of the craziest designs were sort of missing from the middle part of the game. It is hard to go from “collection of insane dark ropes with hooks” to “a smile with wings” and not feel a bit disappointed.

Undoubtedly Atlas Wept’s biggest issue right now, however, is its audio levels. Many sounds seem to not be governed by the options found in the menu, meaning that occasionally certain sounds would be way louder than anything else. Even worse were the effects stacking up on one another while attacking multiple enemies; that is not just an issue with the sound options not working, that is a designed assault on the eardrums. It should be changed as soon as possible.

A mess of gray lines and two hooks floating from the top of the screen
Like I said, pure nightmare fuel

The story is something that thankfully started picking up about the same time the enemy designs were drying up and I began to take serious issues with the sound mixing. Just as my mood was souring, the game finally started to let these characters talk. Though the writing did not change much in style, it fits long, emotional tirades a lot better, and it felt that the characters were finally developing bonds, even if a bit rapidly.

There is an especially touching revelation related to the character Charlie around the middle point that immediately gave me several reasons to get invested in her adventure. Not all of these scenes worked though, some were still way too sudden. This was especially prevalent with the first group of characters: Hal and Lucy. They meet a robot dog, jump into some overly dark stuff very suddenly, and ditch it behind for hours at a time, only to build up character right before the very end.

A collection of statues of people holding back immense weights seems to go to infinity in the background
Atlas Wept could use a a lot more worldbuilding setpieces like this

With Charlie and Dezi, Atlas Wept soon after began to focus a lot more on the grand plan that they are fighting against, playing minigames as slides explaining their backstory appear every minute or so. Aside from the ending, and how everything connects to the aforementioned revelation, it ended up feeling rather predictable and unimpressive. It feels like stories about powerful beings not understanding negative human emotions, and the heroes fighting back to prove that they also make us human are all too common in games, and Atlas Wept does not differentiate itself enough to stand out.

The world may be interesting, but how the characters react to it is not. By the time they were facing their final dilemmas, all I could think of was “Wait, already?” When I finally began to feel something, it was already over. All I am left with is remembering the intensity brought to Atlas Wept‘s least intense moments, which in turn desensitized me to what followed.

A text explaining what the metro is: a series of publically available transport tunnels intended to connect key travel destinations
What I wouldn’t give for the two characters to just talk about the metro a bit instead of getting a journal note like this…

Atlas Wept is poignant in some ways, but hollow in others. Hard to recommend, but not misguided. It is mechanically sound when it comes to combat, desolate when it comes to exploration, and confused when it comes to the emotions it is trying to elicit. I want to enjoy it more, but will be looking forward to future projects from Kbojisoft instead of trying to break through the rough shell of this debut any longer.

Mateusz played Atlas Wept on PC with a review code.

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