“Phantom Abyss shows great promise, but at times does a little too little or a little too much.”
Ever fancied yourself an Indiana Jones-type, delving into booby trap-filled ruins in search of adventure, artefacts and ancient myths and magics? Perhaps you would like to live the dream without the impending threat to your own wellbeing? If you are, indeed, a would-be adventurer with a flair for fast-paced, whip-based, death-defying adventure, then you need look no further than Phantom Abyss!
Phantom Abyss is an asynchronous multiplayer game which challenges you to overcome procedurally generated trap-filled temples and claim the treasure and glory within. Doing so not only sees you as a victorious adventurous vs those who have failed before you, but also as the only person in the world who will ever complete that specific temple successfully. Once one treasure seeker succeeds, the legendary artefact hidden deep within is theirs and the temple is gone forever. Competition, then, is rife; but more often that not the majority of those adventurous who enter a temple will succumb to its challenges and fail to make it out alive…
The failure of others is one of your two best friends in Phantom Abyss. The phantoms of adventurers-gone-by allow you to find secrets or answers to puzzles those others have completed, and equally avoid the traps or mistakes that ultimately sealed their fate. The inclusion of the phantoms in the game also adds to the sense of pressure to get as deep and as far as you can through the temple before somebody else has a chance to claim it. I found myself moving at pace every single time I played, often to my detriment, as the desire to be “the one” carried me forward. Naturally, such mentalities frequently lead me to failure myself.
Your other buddy along for the run on your epic adventures is your trusty whip. Whips allow you to navigate the vast and varied floors of the temples, allowing you to cross chasms, avoid traps and test and traverse the area ahead and dodge its hidden obstacles. There are also a wide variety of unlockable whips to be collected on your travels, too. These come with both advantages which you can attempt to utilise to your benefit on a run, but equally a disadvantage that is the cost of this assistance. At the start of the game you possess simply an adventurer’s whip, which carries no pros nor cons beyond its simple utility. Beyond that, several levels of whips can be obtained with increasingly dramatic boons. I was fortunate early on in my adventures to obtain a low level but practically helpful cable whip; which improved my health at the cost of more expensive blessings (more on those in a moment). Whips help to keep the gameplay fresh and give a sense of progression that repeated failures can’t quite offer. Equally, I found my new whip to be a greater point of difference in my early attempts at temples than the procedural generation itself…
For a game which promises so much variety, I found my experiences in Phantom Abyss quite similar. That is not to say the game lacks variety; there is certainly a strong mix of different traps, layouts, Temple Guardians and challenges to overcome. Early on, though, I did get a strong sense of “ok, so it’s one of these again” upon finding these different obstacles amongst the mix in a dungeon. With similar aesthetics and a notably finite number of combinations of features, it is possible to feel as though you are repeatedly coming up against the same things in different places. Equally, I found that the Masked Defiler guardian, be it by coincidence or otherwise, was disproportionately a pain in my butt when I reached, and subsequently died in, the second level of a number of temples. Perhaps as development continues to progress a more distinct variety of features and visuals will emerge, but do be advised that, at least for now, some aspect of play become predictable and repetitive at times.
What does evolve significantly as you progress through any of the game’s dungeons, however, is the difficulty. Things are simple on the first level of any given dungeon, but as you delve deeper the traps become more sinister and the aforementioned guardians are relentless in hunting you down. I could never once get past my greatest adversary, the Masked Defiler. This guardian is a large, green, floating head which fires orbs of poisonous gas in your genera direction. In locations where there was little floor space to speak of, I found this enemy’s assaults exceedingly difficult to avoid, admittedly accumulating some frustration in each subsequent attempt to pass them. The Devouring Rage also arrived to thwart my efforts on a few occasions, too. This guardian perpetually chases you at a relatively steady and consistent speed, attempting to block your path if you take a wrong turn and capture you when trapped in a corner. I really enjoy the Death Run-style traps and tribulations which Phantom Abyss places in your path and the challenge to overcome them, but the guardians were truly my least favourite part of the game. They break your learning progress early on and add a somewhat unneeded element of persistent dread in an otherwise well-paced and puzzle-focussed adventure game. They have a place in the mix for sure, but perhaps not so early on in the dungeons, or indeed in people’s playtime.
To help you overcome the fact the guardians, the world around you and your own mistakes are all simultaneously trying to kill you off in Phantom Abyss, the previously-noted blessings can be a, well, blessing when it comes to your success. Whilst the legendary artefact at the end of the temple is the true prize to be found in Phantom Abyss, there are a variety of minor relics throughout each level, as well as gold which you can collect. Gold is well worth taking the occasional detour for (Devouring Rage-allowing) as you can spend what you find on a variety of simple-to-powerful blessing to aid your efforts. These can be as basic as restoring health to the more powerful Quick Whip, Double Jump or Wings; each of which largely does what it says on the tin. There are certainly more and less powerful blessings to choose from; Wings, for example, offers a major boost to your vertical and horizontal traversal of the temple whilst also negating fall damage. Crouch Jump, on the other hand, offers a greater vertical hop but does little to aid your manoeuvrability given that you have a whip that can allow you to achieve virtually the same results but more effectively. My feelings on blessings in the game are mixed. Where a tangible benefit is provided they offer a good variation on gameplay, but equally the need to gather bits and pieces of gold can act as more of a distraction from the main objective than a fun aside. Much like the Guardians, I feel that blessings are very much a “sometimes” aspect of the game, rather than something to consistently interact with (especially as you are just learning to play).
Phantom Abyss shows great promise, but at times does a little too little or a little too much. The core premise and activity are exciting, challenging and moreish, whilst the additional features around this and occasional lack of variety can take away from an otherwise exciting main objective. As development progresses, a greater mix of temple jigsaw pieces and themes needs to be met with a better range of options for how players would prefer to engage with the game. With some refinement, the game which is currently casually fun for a few runs could well evolve into a classic which is hard to put down. A solid release into Early Access for sure, but with a little more finesse to be worked on, Phantom Abyss has something to offer now, and hopefully much more in the future.
- Exciting core premise which is fun to engage with at this Early Access stage.
- Challenging and competitive gameplay.
- Interesting and appealing traversal sets the game aside from others on the market.
- Visually inspired and enticing.
- Multiple approaches and powerful, obtainable whips offer a mixture of strategies for play.
- Limited variety in building blocks for procedural levels can create repetition.
- Some features add unneeded elements to play, especially when you are learning. For example:
- Frustration at overly-challenging Guardians can be off-putting.
- A few too many distractions from the key objective of the game.
Grab this game on steam for £19.49 now.
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