Achilles: Legends Untold most definitely has an enticing elevator pitch. Greek mythology, open hub maps akin to Diablo, challenging action-RPG combat blending Souls principles. In theory, it’s the kind of slam dunk Hercules himself would revel in smashing. In practice? Well, that’s a different matter. At the very least, Achilles: Legends Untold is an ambitious project, which has a lot of potential.
I like Greek mythology, especially games inspired by it (see Hades or the original God of War trilogy). I love both the Diablo series and the Souls games. I should have adored Achilles equally as much, emphasis on the should there. The pillars of the game’s design are great, but almost every facet of its execution crumbles as quickly as Zeus’ faithfulness to his partners.
A Legend That Should Have Been Left Untold
Embarking on your journey, you’ll take on the role of (shock horror) legendary battle commander Achilles in their assault on Troy. Political manoeuvring and the kidnapping of an important Greek leader’s wife mean you’re to bring destruction to the populace and win the day. Naturally, things go rather south rather quickly, resulting in Achilles’ demise. But wait, he’s not done in just yet, as he mysteriously resurrects years after the war.
So begins your odyssey of mindless fetch quests, boring exposition and predictable plot beats. Voice acting in Achilles: Legends Untold flips from comically abysmal to occasionally pretty decent. Achilles’ voice actor seemed to be given the instruction of “shout as loud as you can by whispering”, while his endlessly repeating line of “I haven’t seen a Shrine for a while” almost drove me to insanity.
Thing is, I wasn’t expecting an awful lot from the story. This is largely an action game, so the narrative was likely never a primary focus, but what’s here fails to even hit the bar of “okay”. Characters inexplicably summon you to places to tell you something they could have told you at the place you started the quest. The writing also criminally wastes the fertile material that is the pantheon of Greek mythology.
I found it all to be inconsequential and ultimately a bit pointless to pay attention to. There’s a story locked within this Trojan horse somewhere that could have been interesting. Sadly, it never escapes to develop any particular compelling narrative. Even if I do have the choice to spare or kill major bosses, I just don’t have any investment to care about the choice, so what’s the incentive outside of a trophy?
A Stunning Blow
Now let’s get into the Medusa’s head which freezes Achilles: Legends Untold into stone – the gameplay. You have your typical action-RPG setup, shoulder buttons for attack, block and shield ability, face buttons for dodge, interaction and your equipped power. There’s a Souls-esque aura the developers have attempted to infuse in here, with punishing enemy combos felling you in no time if you’re not careful.
The funny thing is, the hardest part about the game is the bull**** amount of stun-lock moves your opponents have. If there was a combat stunning simulator, this game would be in the running for the number one for most reviled game mechanic. Wolves and lions literally use a stun-lock move on you every time to open their attacks. Broader soldiers will flatly kick you the length of a football pitch with great glee.
If I’m being completely honest, it destroys any kind of rhythm or momentum the game might otherwise develop. Brutes, bosses and creatures can literally just hit through you, lock you into a combo, and kill you. That’s not difficulty, that’s tedious, mind-numbing boredom. Luckily, there’s a solution: abuse the AI and use your own cheese strategies to negate any challenge whatsoever.
Using an axe and the running heavy attack, I could turn the tables and stun-lock anything into oblivion. Is it boring? Sure, but it’s incredibly effective and saves me having to watch a 3-second animation every minute. What can sometimes be a seriously fun set of mechanics descends into utter tedium, as you’re forced to keep your distance and pick off foes.
Achilles: Mob Of The People
Of course, that strategy works up to a point. Achilles: Legends Untold positively revels in mobbing you with gank squads. The side activity rifts are the worst examples of this, ploughing dozens of brutes at you at once. You might think it’d incentivise creativity or problem-solving. It doesn’t. Basic enemies can simply be combo’d through without thought, while mobs are simply a war of attrition.
It seriously undermines what could have been an awesome combat and weapon system. There’s an abundance of swords, axes, spears and shields to use, all of which have their own move sets. Achilles also has access to a variety of powers, including a supped-up Spartan kick Gerard Butler would shed a tear for or a ground pound that Ares himself would strike a smirk at.
Weapons and armour can be upgraded via a blacksmith, with each increment level feeling powerful. Throw in items that can add elemental effects (bleed, poison etc) and even an ability to set your weapon on fire, and you should have a system even Athena would approve of. Sadly, upgrading only serves to trivialise the combat even more.
There’s no counter to the egregious stun-lock moves and basic enemies end up being dismantled in one hit as you become more powerful. It’s hard to take the threat of a goon seriously, as he meekly threatens me while I’m carving him in half in one swing. That’s not even mentioning the skill tree.
Yield Before My Untold Skills
To the game’s credit, the skill tree is actually very well-implemented. You’ll be accruing skill points at a rapid pace throughout Achilles: Legends Untold, meaning you’re always becoming more powerful. The tree has a variety of stat boosts (strength, endurance, vitality, luck etc.) and unlockable skills. Ranging from making your shield bounce between multiple enemies to providing a brutal parry and counter, it’s great.
I genuinely enjoyed picking up three or four skill points at a time, resting at a Shrine (read: bonfire) and coming out feeling supercharged. Unfortunately, it’s not balanced in the slightest. Between the Bloodborne-inspired “hit to regain lost health” ability and the means to recover health and Fury just through hitting enemies, it makes the difficulty a joke.
Fury is your limit for special moves, so by gaining the opportunity to replenish both just by hitting things, it makes items and consumables redundant. I went through what was supposed to be a mid-game gauntlet with consummate ease, safe in the knowledge I could swing my way through any problem. I never even used a Fury potion after the first hour.
Which extends to other consumables too. Why do I need to use a throwing dart when the hit detection is skewed and I can more efficiently cheese it? What’s the need for bleed or poison on my weapon when they can have it by default? Achilles: Legends Untold systems feel in conflict instead of in harmony with each other. The attempt to blend both isometric Souls and Diablo just hasn’t created the right cocktail.
Minotaur Of The Land
The Diablo comparison comes from Achilles: Legends Untold’s approach to level design, loot and isometric perspective. As you venture across Greece, you’ll unlock Hades Shrines which provide access to fast travel and the ability to rest. Splattered across the various hub maps are numerous “?”, basically hand-holding you to where the content is.
There’s no reason to truly explore the maps, outside of where each question mark basically leads you by the ear. There are chests, sometimes with loot or a new weapon, but when you’ve found your favourite there’s little reason to seek these out. Rune chests are ripped from God of War, requiring you to hit three panels to unlock it. Annoyingly, the targeting is awkward and clunky, making them a chore.
Achilles: Legends Untold does have a wealth of content – rifts with three waves of enemies, prisoners to free, cellars to clear and a small handful of side quests to complete. There’s a decent quantity here but the quality is lacking somewhat. Loot becomes superfluous by the second half, while rifts are more arduous than they’re worth. Side quests suffer from the same poor quality of the writing, making them uninteresting.
The world just also feels quite superficial. Why am I knocking down a ladder for a shortcut when there’s already a Shrine in that area I can just teleport to? Nothing really feels cohesive, even if the scale of a mountain fortress or a replica of a Greek city impresses. There’s a modicum of pleasing visual variety and level design, but that doesn’t overcome the lack of intrinsic or extrinsic reward from exploration.
Heel Of A View
Speaking of level design and spectacle, let’s talk about Achilles: Legends Untold’s graphics and performance, shall we? On the surface, Achilles doesn’t hugely impress. The environments look muted and there’s a sense of the colour palette being washed out. Effects don’t really sparkle and nothing truly pops in a way that impresses.
Look a little deeper, however, and there’s actually quite a lot to enjoy. The environments are varied, moving from Greek-inspired limestone and marble sites to a damp, foreboding swamp. Enemy design is relatively varied, while the attention to detail on the armour and weapons is appealing. In terms of raw pixels, you’ll be left a little underwhelmed, but the devs have made the most of what they have.
Disappointingly, that doesn’t translate to the performance, which is all over the place. Any introduction of fire animation breaks the framerate completely. More than once, enemy AI would just short-circuit, leaving me to wail on the unlucky troll that’s stopped moving. The game can chug when things get hectic (which is often) and whether it be shield-throw targeting or melee detection, things can get wonky.
The fire issue seriously detracts from the action, as you basically have to weigh up being able to actually fight by purposely avoiding hitting barrels or using flame buffs. Not exactly ideal, to be avoiding using elemental types of damage. I also took umbrage with the placement of Shrines, why is the first blacksmith between Shrines and not just next to one? Minor irk, but these little issues are bothersome throughout.
Recount The Legend?
Achilles: Legends Untold was a frustrating experience both in terms of playing and because of its compelling premise being poorly executed. There were moments when I could see the good game that could have been. The various weapons have a depth of move sets, the mythos and atmosphere are engaging and there could have been an absorbing story.
What broke the experience for me was how many times I questioned “why am I doing this?” from the mid-point of the game. Why do I have to keep dodge-rolling infinitely to avoid stun-lock squads? Why do I have to keep running past enemies to get to a blacksmith? Why is there a troll outside a door that blocks my ability to enter it every time?
In isolation, Achilles: Legends Untold’s problems would be minor and easily overlooked. Taken together, however, they mar the entire experience. There was rarely a 10-minute spell where I wasn’t cursing the Gods about some irritating choice of design or execution. It’s a great shame because I wanted to really like this game, I just couldn’t look past its issues.
Part of the problem is the attempt to meld two different approaches into one. I think this game’s Achilles heel is its efforts to make it feel Souls-like. Had it stuck with the Diablo focus and removed the more tiresome combat mechanics, I do feel there would have been a better game. In the end, it’s hard to recommend to fans of either genre, as it falls slap-bang into the middle of mediocre. A Spartan this game is not.
Achilles: Legends Untold is a disappointing game more for the missed potential and flawed execution of some great ideas. Combat quickly becomes tedious, the story is poorly delivered and though it has moments where it shines, they’re bogged down like the souls dwelling in the Styx. Achilles doesn’t need his heel to stumble from greatness in this case.
Achilles: Legends Untold is available November 2nd on PS4/PS5 (review platform), Xbox Series S|X, Xbox One and PC.
Developer: Dark Point Games
Publisher: Dark Point Games
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy from the publisher.