Coming from Manchester based Clever Beans, Gods Will Fall is something of a departure from their last release, the WipEout Omega Collection. Swapping the high speed, frantic combat of anti-grav racing for Rogue-lite/Souls-Borne type action is quite the change in direction. Well, maybe not a massive change. Their portfolio includes the co-op brawler When Vikings Attack! which is a bit more akin to this latest venture, though definitely not as serious. Still, a 3D dungeon crawler with permadeath and a randomly generated cast isn’t something you see every day, so maybe they’re on to something. The key is the difficulty balance though, so have they managed to make it a walk in the park, tough yet rewarding, or frustratingly hard?
Billed as a dark fantasy game, and woven with Celtic mythos, it’s set in a world that has had enough of being run by beings that think they deserve being worshipped simply because they created the lands people inhabit. The population decide to do something about what they feel is unjust, and set sail with a massive army to tackle the overlords once and for all. That’s too easy though, and the gods wreck the armada leaving only a small band of warriors washed up on the island that leads to their individual realms. This motley crew are ragged, shaken and saddened, yet determined to free their world from tyranny, and pledge to carry on with the mission. Armed with nothing but some basic weapons and their wits, off they trudge to find the portals that will lead them to freedom… or death. Mostly death.
The task is straight forward in Gods Will Fall – find a dungeon, traverse it with one lone warrior, fight whatever enemies are on the way, and slay the being at the end of the path. You control the band of eight warriors that have made it to the island alive, and each one has different traits and abilities. You also know the locations of the doorways that lead to the gods, so there are no tricky concepts to grapple with. Job done. If only it were that easy… the challenge is built around the fact that each of the realms you can enter have different difficulties which isn’t signposted, and they’re randomised at the start of the game, and if your chosen champion enters and fails, they don’t come back out and it all resets and has to be started again. A dilemma is born – should you re-enter and risk another warrior to try and save first? Or do you pack up and head for another location hoping for either an easier time, or an upgrade or two that might help? The next one might offer some encouragement, or it might be even worse. The choice is yours.
Unless you’ve unluckily stumbled on the hardest dungeons straight away, you’ll find after a few goes with the different character builds that tackling the standard enemies that litter the realms isn’t too bad. Combat is kept as easy as it can be: light attack, heavy attack, jump and dodge; and there’s no lock on and little in the way of ranged attacks. Gods Will Fall is designed to make you rush in and keep the pressure on to win. Hammering foes builds the rage meter, and more gets added with successive strikes. Staying out of a fight or getting hit will knock it back, as well as impact your health, and given that rage builds to let you unleash a roar that knocks back enemies, increases damage and replenishes vigour, you’ll want to keep it topped up. Discovering this flow and how to tactically use it is key to navigating each of the realms and making it to the god in charge. Take out enough minions and you’ll even have chipped away at the boss’s ridiculously large health bar before you meet.
The gods are the showpiece of the game, and each is introduced with a short cutscene of them in all their glory. As the warriors backstories are randomised at the start as well, sometimes you’ll get personalised dialogue if there’s a particular axe to grind. These are great, hulking, tanks of enemies that do incredible damage and have without doubt, massively unfair advantages. Whether they’re using simple strikes or employing magic, none of them are a pushover. In fact, despite a lot of hours put in, I’ve come close, but still not taken one down. This isn’t necessarily down to getting pummelled too easily, it’s mostly been due to either the arena layout or the god’s powers. Half of my failures have been caused by being pushed off a ledge by an attack – most notably in the first 3 seconds of coming up against Osseus. Didn’t even get a hit in, whacked by a spindly leg, fell to my doom. Similar happened against others, and came up on more than one occasion when traversing a realm and finding the dodge or jump not really aligned with keeping the warrior alive.
Plummeting off a cliff doesn’t kill the character, merely shuts them in and when the doors reopen to the outside and no one emerges, it hits the rest of the crew in different ways. Depending on how the backstories have intertwined you might see some characters gain a stat boost and be desperate to get in and save them. Equally they might take the failure badly and have negative effects applied. It’s a neat touch that comes into its own in Gods Will Fall as you persist with a particular realm and start to learn which weapons work the best and the tactics to employ to counteract the enemy types within. Then you reach the end and get splattered again. It’s very disheartening. One example that really is stacking the odds against you is Breth-Dorcha – a sort of moth/butterfly monstrosity – that immediately puts out a cloud of gas that continually depletes your vigour… as well as stripping the replenishment bars off as well. It’s one thing to lose health from a powerful hit, another thing entirely to have it taken away just for reaching the boss.
Whilst most of the time losing means getting locked in like a particularly nasty version of the Crystal Maze, it is possible to die. Bad luck in combat can result in a permanent death, as can falling foul of the odd trap or environmental hazard. The first time you get squashed by a falling column that your throw has accidentally targeted is not the best experience. At least it looks nice when it happens, with its soft pastels and cartoon-style belying its core of absolute evil. Each dungeon has a huge amount of detail which makes it distinct from all the others, and ties into a theme around the god you’re trying to dethrone. It has a nice sound design too with ominous voices singling out members of the party, the wind and sea bringing the ambience to the world, and the crack and slash of steel on flesh and bone. Gods Will Fall has a great presentation, and no noticeable graphical issues either, which has you believing in this horrible land that you’re exploring, even if you know ultimately the adventure is futile.
Even with a lot to like about Gods Will Fall – the character randomisation, the shared stories, the art style, the bonding of the team as they continue to battle, the variety of bosses – it is a game for masochists. There’s so much about it that’s trial, error and luck, with the wrinkle that failure removes progress, that it becomes far less enjoyable the more you’re defeated. It’s missing that glimmer of hope or the feeling that you’re making headway, and that’s its biggest (and only) problem. There are elements I’ve enjoyed like the different ways of playing depending on the weapon and character stats that promote a completely different approach; yet it’s always been undone by that unfair feeling you get when facing off against a god. Yes, that’s what this game is all about, they’re not supposed to be a push over, but now that I’ve sent the equivalent of a small village their doom, I’m beginning to think that maybe we’ll all be better off turning back to worshipping them.
A PS4 review copy of Gods Will Fall was provided by Clever Beans PR team, and the game is available now on PS4, PC, Switch, Stadia and Xbox One for around £20.