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October 2022

Babylon's Fall

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Platinum Games
Release Date: March 3, 2022

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PS5 Review - 'Babylon's Fall'

by Andreas Salmen on April 1, 2022 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Babylon's Fall is an online multiplayer action RPG where you take on the role of a Sentinel and face ferocious enemies and dreadful dungeons alongside companions as you journey to reach the peak of the Ziggurat.

I've rarely had issues finding words for any review in the past, but Babylon's Fall is a different beast. The game is not broken to the point where it's unplayable, but it's also light-years away from being an enjoyable or rewarding experience. It exists between those extremes. It's an exceedingly mediocre experience that doesn't find good ways to reward your time except for a basic loot-loop that is a copy of any live service game. Square Enix has done it again; Babylon's Fall is its third published live service game in as many years, and it's arguably the worst effort of them all. Overloaded with battle passes and premium in-game currency, the little bit of gameplay here falters rather quickly due to otherwise repetitive mission structures, poor visuals, an awfully uninteresting story, and not much else to incentivize spending time in the world.

Platinum Games has gained renown for tight and excellent combat design. From Nier: Automata to Bayonetta, the studio has been quite consistent with its combat design. It has produced its share of titles that didn't reach that level of quality, but those are relative outliers. That's essentially why I had high hopes for Babylon's Fall, regardless of whether it was embedded in a live service structure. The result is a hack-and-slash-style game — it's Platinum Games, after all — that otherwise functions as most other live service games do. Grab up to four companions, embark on a quest to kill a bunch of enemies and the occasional boss, get new gear, and rinse and repeat. It's frankly not original or engaging most of the time in what it does. Babylon's Fall has even deeper issues than that, which are apparent from the moment you get into the experience.

I think I have not seen any game look this rough since the PS3 era, and even back then, this title likely would've received some criticism for its visual style and execution. Babylon's Fall has a watercolor painting-style presentation that doesn't work in its favor. It looks murky all the time, with very low-resolution textures that are devoid of detail, so things look unsharp and unattractive. The dark color palette with a penchant for browns doesn't help, either. It also seems to apply at least one filter to further smudge the visuals. I'd venture that either the game did not have enough budget to properly make the visual style work, or it was rushed — or perhaps a combination of the two. Most of the cut scenes are told in a picture-by-picture style, further implying that Platinum was likely going for an oil painting look that backfired.

What makes this especially frustrating is that the game gives you glimpses into the undoubted talent of the team that worked on this. Some character models and enemy designs, especially of bosses, look quite intriguing if you ignore the distracting visuals. If the story and setting were able to compensate for its messy visual style, the experience wouldn't be too bad. It doesn't help to sit through mostly inanimate cut scenes that are not great to look at while listening to an uninteresting story that doesn't make sense.

In essence, you can create your own character with a standard creation tool, and the story kicks off. Fused with a mighty apparatus called a Gideon Coffin, which seems to directly melt into your spinal cord, you take up arms as a Sentinel. Your job is to protect Babylon from the forces of the Gallus, and that is pretty much all you need to know. The game throws a range of characters into the mix that your protagonist interacts with during freeze-frame cut scenes, but the story doesn't hold your attention with either its content or its visuals. I don't necessarily mind a paper-thin premise or story, but this feels especially lackluster in presentation and execution. Thankfully, the combat — the meat and potatoes of the experience — is slightly more convincing in comparison.

Babylon's Fall is a button-masher title at heart. It won't scratch the itch that titles like Nier or Bayonetta left behind after the final credits rolled. If you expect anything akin to those games, you're likely to be disappointed. There are some interesting nuances, though. Instead of swinging a single weapon, your character can wield four at a time for each attack type. You have light and heavy attacks, and you have two spectral attacks via the Gideon Coffin that don't use your arms but depend on an SP meter that refills as you land attacks.

Early on, that system won't be too clear since Babylon's Fall does a poor job of introducing you to the combat. It also exclusively pits you against low-level dudes that repeat constantly, making it difficult to experiment with this style of gameplay against a variety of foes. This changes as you play and advance (there is enough content for about 15 hours), and later combat scenarios become slightly more interesting, but I found button-mashing to be more useful than consciously planning out attacks. The main issue is that you increasingly face damage-sponge enemies that take your hits until they eventually drop dead. It's neat to have a system that lets you simultaneously attack with physical attacks and SP Gideon Coffin attacks. It means that players can combine different weapons in any of those slots and in any order, whether it's bow, hammer or sword. At the same time, it feels like enemies require a ton of damage to remotely register as being hurt. No matter how great my options are, my efforts to whittle down their health feel like felling a tree with a kitchen knife.

When you get in the flow of things, it does work and keeps you busy, but that's it. There's never a feeling of accomplishment beyond opening new loot drops and finding a slightly better item to equip and fight even larger damage sponges. There is a limited selection of weapons that you keep finding over and over, and they differ with slight color variations, damage output or buffs. Armor is more diverse in its appearance but also suffers under the title's rough visual style. At a bare minimum, it creates the usual grind, loot, and upgrade loop, but so do many other games that are more fun to play and prettier to look at. Most of the competitor games are entirely free. Babylon's Fall was released as a full-price title with a separate battle pass and a deluxe edition that scratches the $100 mark.

I was playing on the PS5, and it was relatively difficult to find others to play with online from the very first day. I found single matches here and there, but with the quick match function, I rarely managed to get a full party. Any time I wanted to play the next level that I had unlocked, I was usually unable to find anyone to play with online. Babylon's Fall feels like it's dead on arrival. While I cannot say anything about the factual player count on PS4 and PS5, the player count on Steam so far has rarely peaked over 1,000 players in its first week since launch, and in its current state, I'm almost confident that the damage done is so large that neither Square Enix nor Platinum Games can turn this ship around. I'm happy to be proven wrong, though.

I also want to give a special mention to the fact that you will be required to sign up and log into a Square Enix account to play this game on any platform. The fact that this is required doesn't sit well with me, but that wasn't all. At one point, an error on the Square Enix website prevented me from resetting the password on my account, which can only be done once every 24 hours. That locked me out of being able to play the game for an entire day. This is not a good experience for any game, but in this case, it merely added insult to injury.

I hate to be this negative and scolding in this review, but in its current state, Babylon's Fall should not exist, especially not with such a hefty price tag. It's a live service game that's hell-bent on monetizing everything, but it's uninterested in being engaging, rewarding, or nice to look at. There are plenty of glimpses of the familiar Platinum Games talent involved, teasing the game that could have been, but it ultimately fails to make an effort except for microtransactions. Even hardcore fans of the genre or Platinum Games should likely avoid this title.

Score: 3.5/10

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