Godfall Review in Progress – IGNNovember 11, 2020
New consoles have an illustrious history of launch-day games that are fairly entertaining and technically impressive, but in hindsight don’t make much of a lasting impact on the generation they help debut. Godfall feels like a game that will probably occupy that space for the PlayStation 5 (to which it is a timed console exclusive), putting it in the company of games like Ryse: Son of Rome on the Xbox One, Red Steel on the Wii, or even (dare I say) Knack on the PlayStation 4. So far it’s an amusing loot-based hack-and-slasher with a gorgeous look and loads of loadout choice, but a thin story and strategically similar missions have kept it from feeling like much more than skin-deep fun.
Alongside its PS5 launch Godfall is also coming to PC, and that’s where I’ve spent around eight hours with it so far (while I await the delivery of my PS5). I have lots more to see and I’d estimate at least a few more hours until I beat its campaign, but I’ve still played more than enough to get a good understanding of its chunky combat, surprising structure, and concerning obsession with bloom lighting effects.
Despite having loot, three-player online co-op, repeatable missions that you can grind for gear, and the promise of endgame content, developer Counterplay Games says this is not a “game as a service” in the same vein as Destiny – and from what I’ve played so far, it doesn’t entirely feel like one either. Instead it plays like a linear campaign wearing the skin of a live service game, obviously designed for replayability but without the trappings of microtransactions and an endless update cycle.
Part of that skin is a story that’s the very definition of passable. Godfall’s opening cinematic (which you can watch above) does the bare minimum to loosely establish its beautifully designed world and a warring feud between you – a fallen king named Orin – and the big bad Macros, your brother who is trying to become a god even if it means destroying the world as a result. Your quest to stop him is a threadbare setup to go fight some dudes that’s mostly told through info dumps at your base, not doing much to pull me from one mission to the next but also not so bad as to stop me from wanting to do them altogether.
Those missions take place on three open-world maps called realms, which are dotted with a decent variety of enemies to kill, chests to open, and resources to gather. A mission will generally give you a specific goal or target within a map, but you’re also free to wander around and find other stuff as you do it – or even stick around after the mission to complete extra encounters for even more loot. It’s a structure that surprised me, one that reminded me a lot of Warframe’s sprawling, reward-filled levels but with a set layout instead of a procedurally pieced together one.
All three of these realms – earth, water, and air – really are beautiful to look at, and their bespoke designs mean they can sometimes have a logic to them that I appreciated. On the earth map, for example, there’s a large fortress built into a mountain that is visually distinct from the flat battlefield strewn with destroyed siege weapons just outside its gates. These are cool areas to run through… the first few times, at least. The other side of this coin is that Godfall’s missions all have similar objectives that will send you running through the same areas of these maps over and over again – so while it’s fun to stumble upon secret resources and cool sights initially, they inevitably lose their luster upon repeat visits, especially when nearly every mission so far can be summed up as “follow this waypoint, then kill this thing.”
Godfall really does look great though, with vibrant environments and incredible character, world, and equipment designs. That said, I think it needs a bit of bloom intervertention. Part of the “next-gen” feel it gives off is that everything in this world is shining like the dang sun. It’s not always an issue, but there are times where particularly strong lights make it hard to actually see the objects they are shining on, as well as corners where the opposite is true and a lack of light makes them far too dark. You can turn bloom down on PC at least, but it’s seemingly used to make Godfall look newer and shinier (literally) than it actually is.
Thankfully, the combat itself has kept me amused so far. While it is certainly clunky at times – for example, there’s no way to quickly swap between locked-on targets, and why in the world is light attack on R1 and heavy attack on R2 with no way to rebind them? – the rhythm I eventually settled into was satisfying and impressively flexible. Godfall has loads of different combat mechanics to explore, all of which feel like powerful avenues no matter which of its distinct-feeling weapons you decide to use.
Some of it is familiar, like using heavy attacks to build up an enemy’s “breach” gauge, exposing them to finishing moves and more damage when full. But while that emphasizes leading with heavies (especially against guarding enemies), the novel Soulshatter mechanic encourages the opposite: on top of their regular damage, light attacks will essentially bank part of an enemy’s health bar, and when you follow up with a heavy hit it triggers that effect to deal all of the damage you banked in a single burst. Use that to finish an enemy off and they’ll actually explode in a lovely puff of particles. Soulshatter adds an engaging and easy to understand combo mechanic to every fight, and I enjoyed trying to figure out just the right amount of light attacks to hit with before using a heavy to pop an enemy like a balloon.
On top of that, there’s also the polarity system, which is an interesting method of incentivizing you to both stick with and also swap between your two equippable weapon slots. Dealing damage with one weapon will charge the polarity of the other, and switching to a fully charged weapon will empower its attacks for a while – but if you switch too early, the charge starts over. Weapon effects can use this in interesting ways too: I spent some time with a longsword (which provides a good balance of speed and power) that charges polarity faster, while my secondary weapon was a set of dual blades (a much quicker alternative) that would cause a status ailment when it had its polarity buff active. It’s a neat mechanic that made my choice of secondary weapon feel just as important as my primary.
Another place for you to flex your preference is in your choice of Valorplate, which are basically suits of armor that slightly alter your capabilities and all look incredibly cool. There are 12 total that are unlocked at a fairly fast pace just by playing, and each one shares your overall character level and equipment. Every Valorplate is designed to amplify one of Godfall’s other mechanics: one increases breach damage while another increases Soulshatter buildup, and there’s one for each status ailment, including Ignite, Chill, Shock, and Poison. One of my favorites so far has been Bulwark, a Valorplate that increases Bleed chance, since I’ve been able to pair it with weapons that also cause Bleed and deal extra damage to enemies affected by it.
Every Valorplate in Godfall
It’s very fun to find these combos with your equipment and build around those synergies – the only problem is that every Valorplate largely feels like a different flavor of the same puzzle. Whether you’re using Phoenix for fire or Typhon for water, it doesn’t functionally change much in the heat of combat (in fact, according to the load screen tooltips, effects like Ignite, Bleed, and Curse even share the same generic “deals damage over time” effect). That’s slightly less true for Valorplates built around other systems, like the Soulshatter-focused Greyhawk, which might have me leaning into that mechanic more, but even their unique Archon Fury ability is practically identical across the board, giving you a temporary boost to whatever mechanic or ailment they are centered around. As a result, how you play is influenced far more by the weapon types you choose than the fancy armor you put on.
As you might expect, using a greatsword or a giant hammer is a very different experience from the dual blades or pike. And despite gravitating toward the faster options, so much loot is thrown at you that I’ve so far found myself swapping fairly frequently as stronger options are picked up. The different effects these can have are compellingly diverse, tweaking polarity charging, weapon abilities, ailment effects, and more, and really letting you decide what direction interests you most. And in case this trend wasn’t already clear, they are also extremely cool to look at, with a massive amount of visual diversity even within a single weapon type – blades can range from fantasy cleavers to ornate hybrids of ancient and futuristic design, and I’m still finding new options that continue to impress.
However, I do wish Godfall’s menus and upgrading systems were just a little less cumbersome to use. Inventory management and equipment upgrading is fairly simple, and I appreciate how much opportunity you have to keep your favorite pieces of gear relevant longer if you can spare the right resources, but there are a lot of rough edges when picking your loadout: The descriptions of items take a moment to slide onto their card when you hover over them, which slows down the process greatly when weighing your options or just looking for that one hammer you had with fire damage; you can’t salvage an item from the screen you equip on, and you can’t equip from the screen you salvage on; and perhaps most frustrating of all, you can’t salvage an item if it’s equipped on a different Valorplate, but there’s no indication for which of the dozen suits it’s equipped on and no easy way to find out apart from slowly checking every single one. These aren’t huge issues, but they add friction to the already laborious practice of inventory management.
That all said, I still have a lot more to play. First up, I need to beat the main story, after which I can dive into its promised endgame content. I also still need to spend more time with Godfall in co-op – it’s been fine to play solo, but I’m curious to see how the online works and how missions and fights scale differently. Finally, as this is a PS5 launch game, I want to make sure I see how Godfall differs on that system once mine arrives (and if there’s some use of the DualSense that justifies the mandatory binding of your basic attacks to the shoulder and trigger).
As of right now, however, I’m enjoying Godfall, even if it’s not doing much to wow me and the repetition of its missions is wearing a bit thin. It’s got some fun and satisfying combat, a few genuinely novel mechanics, and graphics that range from absolutely gorgeous to a little over the top – but unless its thin story morphs into more than an excuse to go stab stuff, the grindable action-looter structure doesn’t seem like it has enough variety to sustain its otherwise expansive customization.