Review: Abyss Odyssey

The Warlock dreams deep under the earth, and his nightmares come to life. Giant holes in the earth spew creatures into the town and the army can only hold them off so long. The only thing that can defeat the warlock’s visions is someone made from his dreams, fighting down to the deepest cavern where he sleeps and putting an end to his nightmare’s incursion into the world.

Abyss Odyssey is a 2.5D semi-randomized brawler with platforming elements and a little bit of exploration, set in a dungeon that’s never the same from one visit to the next. You choose one of three characters, scavenge or buy better equipment as the opportunities arise, collect enemy souls, and level up until you’re strong enough to survive the near-endless monsters and bosses you encounter on the journey to the depths of the abyss.

While there’s a little bit of simple platforming, Abyss Odyssey is primarily a side-view brawler for one or two players. The three characters are a fencer who fights with a fast one-handed sword, an undead monk with a slower, stronger two-handed sword, and a basically-naked spearwoman. Each has their own moveset comprised of four regular and three special attacks, and a big part of combat is figuring out the best way to chain them together. Additionally, each of the main characters has six special attacks to choose from, so deciding which three to work with and then assigning them a command allows for a nice bit of combat personalization. The special moves need to be earned by playing the game, though, so you’ll have plenty of time to get familiar with one before it comes time to consider replacing it.

There are also a pair of defensive moves to go with the offense, in the form of block and dash. Block is unidirectional- hit it and you’re defending against everything but a throw. Block with precision and it becomes parry, opening up the enemy to a counterattack if you don’t whiff the timing. Block doesn’t last forever so no playing turtle, but couple it with the dodge move and it’s theoretically possible to avoid most damage. Dodge does a dash left or right, depending on which shoulder button you use, and once you’ve sunk a few points into Cancels it opens up a world of movement possibilities.

As you level up you gain points, one every three levels, that can be spent on bonuses to special moves (more damage, higher mana rewards, or become uninterruptible by enemy attack) or buying a Cancel. Cancels are used automatically during attacks by hitting the dodge button, allowing you to quickly transition through different moves and rack up the combo meter. You only get a maximum of three usable in a single attack sequence, so even with practice it’s going to be hard to keep that combo alive. Once you’ve got the hang of it there are some good, damaging sequences that rely more on creativity in recognizing your opportunities than simple dial-a-combo button mashing.

It is going to take practice, though, because the initial move set is limited and can feel very stiff. Turning around in combat isn’t instant, so it’s very easy to try to turn, hit attack, and swing at an enemy who’s been standing behind you the entire time and more than happy to take advantage of your defenseless back. This can be alleviated somewhat by switching from hitting the regular attack button to using the right stick, but the stick only has three moves available instead of four (up, down, and forward attacks, missing the fast attack that doesn’t require a direction to be held) and also requires moving your thumb away from the special attack button. The thumb stick is, however, fast and intuitive, so it’s got its advantages.

While each of the three characters has a deep fighting style to learn, you can also capture any monster in the game to fight as, including some bosses. Cracking open chests and containers awards mana, and once the mana bar is full you can hit both attack buttons to shoot out a powerful blue orb that does heavy damage to anything it touches. If the enemy dies during this move then it’s dead and wasted, but if it survives it gains a blue glow indicating you can get its soul. Once you’ve defeated it and picked up the glowing blue sparkly soul you can switch back and forth between playing as the regular character or captured monster, each with their own health bar and move set. The mana bar fills slowly, and getting out the special capture attack isn’t a guarantee of earning a soul, but once you’ve got one the combat options almost double. Enemies aren’t quite so flexible in combat as the main characters, seeing as they can’t find stronger weapons or choose from a variety of special attacks, but they’re highly capable once you’ve figured out their strengths. Having that second health bar is also a lovely thing when you’ve got 60 hit points left and are desperately hanging on hoping to find another health potion.

Fun as the combat is, the other draw of Abyss Odyssey is the abyss itself. The trek to its depths is randomized each time, divided up among three paths that occasionally interconnect. Each path is a series of rooms, with the easiest being longest and hardest being shorter, and a map at the exit of each room lets you plan the journey. Some rooms have a “?” on them, indicating an arena where you fight as a monster with the reward of victory being the creature’s soul, while other rooms are marked with a violin, where you can trade a nice bonus now for a tricky enemy encounter later. There’s treasure on the map, bosses both marked and unmarked, hidden areas in each room, different kinds of altars, and tons of hidden goodies waiting to be discovered. It’s possible to go straight from top to bottom and fight the warlock as quickly as possible, but so much more tempting to go sightseeing along the way. Assuming you survive the trip, of course.

Death is going to happen on a regular basis, but it’s not the end of the world or even a particular round of the game. Once dead you’re replaced with a helpful soldier who may not be quite so battle-capable as the main character but has the advantage of being alive and with a full health bar. If you can fight a path to an altar then the main character is revived, but the soldier is hardly a get-out-of-death free card. They’re no so much Video Game Hero-caliber combatants as one last desperate chance for success, so finding the altar after carefully managing every encounter during the search is always a wonderful moment.

There’s a lot more to write about Abyss Odyssey, even after all those words above, but it does come with a disclaimer- the game on release isn’t going to be the game in a few months. One of the features of Abyss Odyssey is that, as players defeat the warlock, his mask slowly crumbles releasing new monsters and other unspecified features into the abyss. Other than a bit of stiffness in the controls everything so far is a load of good, randomized fun, but it’s very possible the score below may change over time depending on how the game evolves. So far so good, though, and I’m definitely looking forward to discovering the new content along with everyone else.

Closing Comments:

The important thing is that what’s available now is really good, utilizing a fighting engine that rewards creativity in using its moves and set in a dungeon loaded with replayability. The art nouveau style is more apparent in the 2D character portraits than the polygonal graphics but still give the game a unique tone, like playing a Grateful Dead album cover. There’s endless secrets, hidden encounters and even Chilean mythological references to discover. Once you’ve gotten used to the stiff character turning, the game opens up into a world of fast combat and fluid attack sequences, spiced up nicely with exploration and a bit of platforming. Abyss Odyssey is a quirky little gaming gem, and as long as its warlock keeps dreaming, it’s worth fighting through the beauty of his visions.
Version Reviewed: PC