There are few Japanese developers as fascinating as Platinum Games. "Fascinating" is the choice word for the disparate spread of their quality instead of their consistency. One moment they're cranking out reputable hits, the next you're left wondering how they tarnished Star Fox or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It's a coin toss whether their next title will hit or flop. With Square Enix in tow as publisher, Babylon's Fall marks Platinum's first attempt at an online-only action RPG/hack-n-slash. The coin landed on tails this time.
The Babylonian Empire still reigns. Your created character has been conscripted into this empire and forcefully strapped with a Gideon Coffin: a parasitic backpack whose magical tendrils enable you to wield more weapons, grapple across parts of the environment, and so on. Officially you're called a "sentinel," but effectively you are a slave who could be killed if disobeying orders. After you and fellow conscripts, Slyvi and Gallagher, barely survive the wretched procedure, The Empire calls on them to use this newfound power in defeating the powerful Gallu and climbing the Ziggurat. Only at the top do they have a chance to free themselves.
Story For Its Own Sake
Given that this is a Games-as-a-Service (GaaS) title, story is really a decoration for the action above all else. There are exceptions, but even venerated storytellers like Bioware who've gone down this route have failed (see: Anthem). Platinum is more interested in lore-dumping than paying any mind to pacing, dialogue, or direction. For one early example: your mute character is greeted by a beautiful god who decides to dwell within your Gideon Coffin. She's obviously meant to be an ethereal guide, but most of her screen time consists of regurgitating canned dialogue that varies from sensing obvious danger ahead to... teasing about their upcoming wedding date. She's a superfluous extra that's stalking every player.
Even if not smelling like fresh roses, there's more here than Destiny's aimless approach of droll Peter Dinklage/Nolan North commands and quips. There is a proper narrative with cutscenes split between motion capture work and animated paintings; in fact, the narrative feels so complete that I wondered if the GaaS route was pried in midway through development. Every cutscene explicitly frames you and your team moving forward within the Ziggurat, but then Ludonarrative dissonance kicks in and you're magically transported back to home base after each level.
Babylon's Fall's story is poorly-composed on its own too. Among the worst sins is its habit of withholding specific information for no benefit. Supposedly dramatic story beats occasionally tell you why they're emotional after the fact. There's rarely proper build-up to character revelations, plot payoffs, or a chance to breathe in this world. It's also annoying because despite the obnoxious structure some of the lore is rather intriguing. But it feels underserved in a fantasy epic that lacks a real punch: no standout characters, languorous pace, and so on.
There And Back Again... And Again... And Again
Although the story has natural ebbs and flows, Babylon's Fall's level design is insanely monotonous. Outside of the creative boss fights, every other level consists of going through four or five fighting rooms. There's a path to follow, some platforming bits, and occasional enemy stragglers between the arenas, but the one key assurance is the monotonous structure. It's all about room-clearing and acquiring as much currency (Conches) and loot as possible. Granted, these stages do vary in atmosphere and occasionally implement small mechanical wrinkles too. One area will demand you stay within a mobile bubble shield lest you take damage while another has platforms that magically materialize. Outside of those fun extras, I can't stress it enough: Platinum relies so much on Xeroxing this one template.
Contrasting such simplistic repetition, Babylon's Fall's baseline mechanics are modestly expansive. You're afforded four weapon slots; two physical and two spectral. Your arsenal can vary between swords, battle axes, hammers, magic rods, and bows; moreover, there's no limit to how many of a type you can wield. Each has its basic quick or charged attacks, which come with its own costs and benefits. Finally, these considerations are mixed in with a split-second dodge countering move and a Spirit meter dedicated to your spectral attacks.
This all translates to a modestly-fun finger workout as you're mixing your physical attacks with your so-called "Gideon Arms" (the spectral version of said weapons) in unison. When it clicks, I feel like a cat at a laser show: getting wholly distracted by the pretty golden damage numbers and managing my Spirit meter to continue the assault on two fronts. Even at an early stage, Platinum knows how to make your power feel palpable.
If I were being generous, I could see the benefit of such a safe mission structure with this combat system. Perhaps its GaaS identity serves as "Action-RPG comfort food" to be enjoyed with some friends after work. It's trying to burrow its own niche like the Destiny series. Hell, it even utilizes a similar framing structure: a small hub world for secondary activities while The Tower of Babel looms large at a distance. But the issue is how many other papercuts THERE ARE beyond a generic structure.
That story critique about "withholding information" applies triply so for gameplay. What I would do to see the conversations Platinum had about locking off standard mechanics past the campaign's halfway point. You know more about the Season 1 Battle Pass and purchasable currency (Garaz) hours before you're given permission to craft anything; further, options at the Forge – like buffing weapons to a higher power level – are given out piecemeal even in the late game. Similarly, two of the three combat modes (Power and Technical) can't be discovered until after the main campaign.
These sizable faults are annoying; and yet, as routine and limited as those early hours felt, I still felt cozy with The Ziggurat’s early stages (also called Cloisters). You're able to keep pace with each level's increasing level requirements and play with its various systems. Then, it takes a turn for the grindy. Instead of netting a collection of new randomized gear, Babylon's Fall's RNG starts getting stingier. You're given fewer options on weapons and armor in favor of additional crafting material; to make matters worse, it cost a pretty penny to not only purchase several desired blueprints but to pay to forge them. You're getting pilfered from both directions! You'll either have to rely on other players joining your later-game mission lobbies or grind easier missions for higher-level RNG loot and rewards from daily/weekly tasks.
A Lack Of Luster
What's the most surprising inconsistency is the presentation for an AAA title. When looking at the majestic architecture of the Greco-Roman era and the canvas visual filter, you can understand what Platinum was going for; unfortunately, timing and/or budget constraints made them settle for the kindergartener’s finger-painted version of a Baroque painting. There are all these little details within the background that wildly contrast with the vibrancy of effects during fights. There were times when I earnestly wondered if some textures hadn't loaded in yet until realizing that was their actual quality. Aside from the nice scenery in boss stages, most of the quasi-painterly aesthetic looks like colors were mixed with Vaseline before being brushed on a canvas.
On the other hand, sound design is among Babylon's Fall's best qualities. Once you discount the inconsistent English voice acting, it's easy to appreciate the sound design and soundtrack. There's a solid, punchy oomph! between physical and spectral attacks. Even when the screen gets too polluted with various effects, the in-game audio still succinctly communicates every action. Although this isn't among Hiroshi Yamaguchi's best works, I still enjoyed some of his stranger choices.
There's this bind in how Babylon's Fall's presentation & gameplay never keep Platinum on the straight and narrow track. When it comes to the visual/audio splendor specifically around action and coffin combos, it feels engrossing – especially for the few major boss fights. It's when the messier elements interfere that it loses any semblance of good taste.
A Fatal Fall
Babylon's Fall Review | Final Thoughts
There are times when Babylon's Fall can capture anyone's attention, but it's also smothered by inane decisions. The APRG structure is fundamentally sound – consistent framerate, interesting coffin-weapon dynamic, and satisfying feedback – but all of the supplemental design surrounding that core severely diminishes that enthusiasm. It dawdles this weird line between being content-complete, with a 20-hour campaign (give or take), and still feeling like Platinum's proof-of-concept work for a GaaS game. As a result, it's the latest example of a decent core concept being flagrantly corrupted by the live-service template, and whose prospects for improvement dwindle with each passing day.
TechRaptor reviewed Babylon's Fall on PlayStation 5 with a copy purchased by the reviewer. It is also available on PlayStation 4 & PC.
- Enjoyable ARPG Core Combat
- Engaging Boss Fights
- Solid Sound Design & Soundtrack
- Insanely Monotonous Mission Design
- Artificially Withholds Useful Gameplay Features For Hours
- Lackluster Voice Acting
- Off-Putting Painterly Art Style
- Live-Service Model Feels Artificially Inserted