The re-emergence of Babylon’s Fall at E3 this year probably didn’t rank among your show highlights. I had to double-check if it actually happened; it was that unmemorable. The idea of the Nier: Automata developers creating a live service game is one of the main bugbears of fans – the E3 2021 trailer has a like to dislike ratio of 1:6 – but the blurry visuals and plodding gameplay did little to temper concerns. The good news is that Platinum Games has remedied some of these issues for Babylon’s Fall’s recent beta, but I can’t really say it did much to get me excited for the upcoming PC game.
The clearest improvement in the beta is that the murky, muddy visuals have been cleared up considerably. A Babel-esque structure looms in the distance as you enter Babylon’s Fall’s central hub, blending into the horizon like a medieval oil painting. The shops and vendors of the Sentinel Force HQ that make up your more immediate vicinity are much clearer in contrast, and I didn’t find myself reaching to wipe my screen as I did with the E3 trailer. The stylised, painterly aesthetic remains, but now you can actually see the gorgeous structures that make up the world.
Accepting a quest from the town’s mission board sends me to the grandiose ziggurat in the distance. It was once home to the Babylonians, but is now besieged by a new empire that seeks to claim its treasure. You play as a new breed of superhuman soldier called a Sentinel, sent to unwillingly pillage a lost civilisation of its treasure at the behest of the Domitinian Empire. The relic implanted in your back – called the Gideon Coffin – grants you instant access to four different weapons, with each weapon assigned to its own button prompt. This General Grievous-inspired twist on combat keeps combat feeling fresh, and I had a blast slashing, bludgeoning, smashing, and piercing enemies, often in the same flurry of attacks.
Community feedback from the E3 trailer and earlier betas pointed to the combat feeling sluggish, and I can comfortably say it’s far from the case in the latest beta. I’ve got two light attacks and two heavy attacks at my disposal when launching into a fight – and one of each attack type is ‘spectral’, which means you’ll deplete an energy bar when using it.
Attacks change depending on which slot I place each weapon in, and I eventually settle on using a sword for my light attack, a bow for my heavier attack, and a hammer and sceptre as their respective spectral offhands. It allows me to dart into a scuffle with a sword combo while a tendril from my Gideon Coffin charges up a hammer swing. If I need to keep my distance, I pepper foes from a safe distance with arrows while simultaneously charging up the sceptre’s magic attack.
Each weapon also has three attack modes – standard, power, and technical – so supposedly there are even more options for comboing. I say “supposedly” because this feature was removed from the beta due to a bug.
Nier: Automata offers a similar sense of multi-tasking in combat by giving you a floating android to provide suppressing fire and charged attacks. Both games also have a ‘perfect’ dodge mechanic that rewards great timing. So why am I not falling for Babylon’s Fall like I did with Automata?
It all comes down to how invested I feel in improving my character, and Automata’s plug-in chip system is the difference maker here, letting me mix and match a variety of buffs, ranging from attack and defence, to XP gain and drop rates. The better the boost, the more space a chip takes up. A weapon in Babylon’s Fall may offer you a damage increase for nailing a perfect dodge, but I’m forced to leave it behind when another weapon with a higher power rating comes along. The perfect dodge damage boost is nice, but I can’t do the next dungeon level unless I hit a particular power level.
Babylon’s Fall’s weapons and armour are reminiscent of Destiny’s gear in that regard. They drop at varying degrees of rarity and boost your overall gear score, but you can’t afford to get attached to any particular piece as you’ll likely have to leave it behind. There are still plenty of features missing from the beta, including the crafting system, so it remains to be seen what can be done with weapons you want to keep or want to get rid of, outside of selling them.
While Platinum has adjusted the difficulty to make it easier to tackle dungeons solo, it’s not much fun without friends. I find myself playing passively, keeping a distance to whittle down hordes of enemies with arrows as they swarm me. It’s a comedown from the chaotic brawls you get when there’s a group of you, and after a while it turns into a bit of a slog.
The story of Babylon’s Fall is also missing from the beta, but I’m still keen to know more about the world. Scenario writer Kenichi Iwao describes your character as being like a Roman gladiator – you’re forced to fight for your captor in a bid to earn your freedom. I didn’t get any sense of that identity from the beta, which is disappointing, but I’m keen to see how this story manifests in a gear-grinding power fantasy.
Babylon’s Fall already looks better than it did at E3. It’s pretty fun hacking through hordes of enemies, and the setting is distinctive and beautifully presented. Live service games establish themselves over the long haul, as Destiny proved, but it’s not 2014 any more, and new entrants to this more mature market seldom get the chance to develop without a strong hook. Babylon’s Fall’s hook could be its world and lore, or its instant weapon swaps, but all I know is that I’m not hooked yet. Hopefully that changes in time for the Babylon’s Fall release date.