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Apotheon Review: Mediocrity of the Gods
As a gamer, the ongoing quest to find original ideas, titles or concepts in games can be arduous. It has become the norm, as in most mediums of entertainment, for bits and pieces to be taken from multiple different works to create something fresh and appealing. Apotheon, the new 2D platformer by the independent game developer Alientrap, finds itself in the unfortunate position of creating a unique idea only to have it sullied by mediocrity.
Apotheon’s mythic story takes place in ancient Greece and follows a very old, but ultimately favorable train of storytelling. The protagonist, Nikandreos, finds himself and his fellow man on bad terms with the famed Greek gods. His hometown, Dion, has begun to wither as the gods turn their backs leaving the forests empty with no game to hunt, the fields of crops barren, and the sky itself in perpetual twilight.
To mend the broken bond between gods and men, Nikandreos travels to Mount Olympus only to find that Zeus, king of the gods, has grown to hate this age of men and wants only for them to fade into oblivion so that the gods can return again to an empty universe amongst themselves. Nikandreos, with no other options, begins his quest for the salvation of his people by taking a very God of War approach.
Without the option of reasoning with Zeus, you are tasked with claiming the gifts of the gods themselves, whether they oppose Zeus and aid you, or oppose you and face death. You must traverse to the dwellings of each deity and endure a test unique to each of them before you can acquire the gift that they hold. Each gift to be collected is not only to make you capable of tearing Zeus from his throne of tyranny, but also to provide the men and women on earth below with the means that the gods once provided to keep them alive.
This story and stories similar have always held sway in my eyes. Apotheon in particular did so as well, seeming to combat the classic “fall of a righteous hero by his own flaws” notion. It feels very Hercules (or I guess in the Greek case, Heracles) as well, completing trials until you face your final adversary. This, unfortunately, is where problems begin to arise. I have never really been opposed to the idea of a silent protagonist as it often lets you paint yourself into the character, allowing you to mold the story by your decisions. This method works best, in my opinion, when you can rarely ever see your character, or have full control over their appearance and attitude.
In Apotheon, however, you only seem to control the basic motor functions of Nikandreos, and are left to make his “decisions” as they are laid out for you one by one without ever feeling like you had much choice. You are paraded around by plot points and orders and are never given the benefit of having Nikandreos actually show some form of emotion besides a lowered head or a raised sword.
The unique selling point that first caught my eye was Apotheon’s art style. The entire game appears as though you are playing on a sprawling, ancient Greek painting on the wall of a temple of the times. The paper-like layering of limbs, weapons, shields and so on provide an almost overwhelmingly pleasant visual experience. As I mentioned earlier, however, I was frustrated that this rare spark of originality was dampened by an overall alright-at-best game.
The combat system in Apotheon is, at first anyway, visceral and enjoyable. The controls, on my PlayStation 4 copy anyway, were intuitive and easy to learn. Your strikes and blows have satisfying weight and you are able to choose from a large variety of weaponry as you progress through the story. Unfortunately, the more you play, the more you notice its issues bleeding through.
Each weapon and shield that you acquire is subject to degradation. After extensive use, either will shatter and you will be tasked with the mild inconvenience of switching to one of your five copies of that weapon, or another equally useful one and forgetting about the problem entirely. Normally, degradation is supposed to push you to either repair your gear often (which isn’t an option in Apotheon) or try out different weapons in the absence of your current favorite. The problem that this game faces is that degradation of weapons is so quick and you are surrounded by so many replacement alternatives that you are essentially just hitting every enemy with whatever stick that hasn’t broken yet.
Combat aside, credit should be given where credit is due. For the duration of my time with Apotheon, I was greatly appreciative of how expansive and explorer-friendly the environments were. That, coupled with the appealing art style and I was excited to see more. I was often finding myself riding a rollercoaster of disappointment and delight, shifting from what appeared to be a boring, dull environments to some truly impressive works of platforming ingenuity.
Apotheon, in its best description, is a Metroid-vania style game. The expansive environments coupled with the classic 2D platformer combat formula are to be held responsible for this branding. On top of this, given you clear a few bosses, the game feels very reminiscent of the Megaman titles. You’ll often find yourself on a path acquiring the gifts from the deities as upgrades from bosses, each assisting you in the gameplay that follows them. The powers you are granted are not so much “use fire sword on fire door” and more practical, like regenerating shield durability or increased draw speed with bows.
Now, confirming that my PlayStation 4 is in fact fine, I highlight my biggest frustration with this game. Crashes. After putting about 23 hours into Dying Light and half that into Rogue Legacy recently, I experienced about two crashes between them. In the nine hours I spent with Apotheon, I suffered nearly 10 crashes, many of which having me thanking the gods that it has a three-autosave system.
Finally, the brief time I spent with the game’s one versus one arena-style multiplayer with a friend had me close it not long after opening. Besides providing a few good laughs, it grew boring quickly and is not much worth mentioning.
I went into Apotheon with high hopes and was ultimately let down. I have always found it admirable for developers to take risks to be original, but I have never respected any decision that has a title relying on a single aspect to make it great. If you enjoy the run of the mill “action-RPG 2D platformer” recipe, then you may be able to squeeze about as much enjoyment from this as I did. A fair warning though: you may find yourself thanking it’s “momentum” based movement system for helping you push through the mediocrity that much quicker.