Earth's Dawn presents an interesting proposition. From developer oneoreight and Western publisher Rising Star Games, here is a game that attempts to fuse side scrolling, combo-driven combat, RPG-style skill with equipment progression and the aesthetic of a sci-fi manga. Originally released in Japan under the title 'Earth Wars,' the game comes to North American shores on November 1st on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. I've been diving into Earth's Dawn all week to let you know whether it's worth taking the fight to the alien menace known as the E.B.E, or whether this is a futile resistance.
The story that greets you in Earth's Dawn is simple enough, Earth has been invaded by an alien threat known as the E.B.E. Conventional weapons can't hurt them, and so they overran our resistance in short order. Through some shady government research program, we have managed to use the very bodies of the enemy to enhance our own troops. This gives birth to a new group of soldiers known as A.N.T.I, and that's where you come in. Dropped into New York for your first mission, you're tasked with eliminating a boss enemy that has taken over the underground system. Getting through this represents mankind's first real victory against the E.B.E, and your resistance starts from there.
The story unfolds through mostly static cutscenes with characters animated in a hand-drawn manga style and there are three distinct perspectives from which you will derive the overall plot. The first is your mission briefings from the military brass; these detail your objectives and what impact it has on the war effort - you're attempting to make territorial gains until you can undertake an attack on a key enemy facility throughout the story. You also have the insights of the creepy female science officer who created the A.N.T.I troops and who presents an unsettling picture of the lengths humanity has gone to for the success of the project. The final dimension to the story comes through the video diaries of the A.N.T.I commander, who's development over the course of the story shows that all may not be well with the enhanced troops and the ability to resist the alien threat comes at a price. While the cutscenes themselves aren't all that exciting, they do a good job of presenting an interesting story as a backdrop to the mindless fun of the missions.
Personally, I liked the voiceovers, the game is entirely in its original Japanese with subtitles which help to preserve the sci-fi anime tone of the story - but be warned there is no English voice option if that kind of thing puts you off. The characters themselves fall firmly into anime-trope territory; creepy scientist, stiff military official, etc. but in fairness, this is the vibe that the narrative is going for. The story isn't anything groundbreaking, but it helps keep you invested in the action and comes complete with the almost obligatory twist ending.
The mission structure of Earth's Dawn takes its cue from the story. Essentially, you complete a story mission, which normally involves taking down a boss, and are then given a limited amount of time to complete the various side missions on offer until you are called out to the next 'counter-offensive.' The time until the next plot-advancing mission is displayed on your home screen and will count down as you sit on the menu, or decrease in chunks as you take on missions. One the mission timer has counted down, you have no choice but to go on the next story mission. If you fail the mission, you can then freely take on side missions until you've leveled up or upgraded your equipment and want to take on the mission again.
Each main mission completed unlocks further side missions of increasing difficulty. All missions have a star-based rating system, allowing you to see before embarking whether it's appropriate to your character's level and equipment. In addition to this, you can select the base difficulty from Easy, Normal, and Hard on an individual mission basis and will receive a separate ranking and varying rewards depending on your choice. The difficulty also affects the health and damage of enemies and the number of continues you will have in longer main missions. As for what you'll actually be doing on your missions, it varies. The main bulk of the gameplay comes from using the game's fast-paced combat system to defeat hordes of aliens, but there are also missions that will task you with racing to the finish line, collecting items, and defeating optional bosses.
The combat itself is the main focus of Earth's Dawn, it's reminiscent of the visceral combo chaining of the early Devil May Cry games and it certainly empowers the player with all manner of options to eviscerate the E.B.E. You start off with a single sword and gun combination, but there are a variety of weapon classes that unlock as you progress. The dual sword style was a favorite of mine, but there are also two-handed greatswords, bows, and shuriken to experiment with. As well your standard combos, you can add in directional modifiers, slides, launchers, and aerial attacks to juggle your opponents into oblivion. The 'boost' ability represents your dodge move, which you'll need to make effective use of, and has a limited number of charges before you need to wait for the gauge to refill.
The easy difficulty will allow you to simply button mash your way to success, but on normal and hard modes you'll need to be proficient with combos, dodging, weapon styles and more to get through the more challenging missions. Combat works well and the pace allows you to be reactive to your opponents and vary your tactics according to the enemy you're facing. The only complaint I had in this regard is that certain actions were a little less responsive than I would have liked, especially when attempting to switch weapons or change your character's direction. I can understand being unable to change direction mid-combo as a design choice, but to stop attacking, input a direction and attack, only to continue without changing direction can get frustrating in more frantic fights. It wasn't prevalent enough to spoil the fun too often, and I enjoyed the combat throughout my experience with Earth's Dawn. This is particularly fortunate as there isn't a whole lot else to the game.
On the downside, the feedback you get on your performance in combat doesn't quite hold up to the quality of the combat itself. My combat rankings were all over the place, from coveted S to shameful E, and I found it very difficult to ascertain why a lot of the time. It's not that it's a broken system, it's definitely evaluating something I'm doing - I'm just not sure what. Mission rankings, too, left me a little confused. I'd receive an S rank after dying on bosses, and a B rank on missions where I had slaughtered enemies gracefully without taking a hit, for example. On the whole, though, finishing the missions quickly, using lots of skills in combat, and not taking too many hits seemed to produce decent rankings most of the time. This is more important than just an arbitrary letter ranking, as completing missions above a certain rank will earn you additional skills for your RPG-style skill grid.
The skill system in Earth's Dawn offers a decent amount of depth. As you level up and complete missions, you'll gain additional combat moves, passive skills, resistances, and movement abilities. In addition, you have the ability to link passive bonuses to attack and 'tec' (armor damage) to specific attacks or combos based on which you use the most. You're free to change these arrangements as you like and you have five 'slots' that you can switch between outside of missions, allowing you to setup different skill arrangements for the different weapon types. While there is a limitation on how many skills you can have active, I found it mostly redundant. You collect 'capacity' in missions which determines how many active skills you can have, but by halfway through the game, I found I could have all my skills active simultaneously without any worries.
The equipment system is similarly robust. You have the option to craft and equip weapons, armor, accessories, special units called 'EXCEED' that give you an attack boost when activated and grant special abilities, and cosmetic items that change the look of your character in battle. There are literally hundreds of options, and you can upgrade your favorites using spare parts you collect from your enemies in battle. Weapons vary within their types and will have different abilities rather than simply being a damage upgrade. For example, the guns can vary from machine guns to sniper rifles, rocket launchers and more, the various bow types will have different projectiles and firing methods, and the shuriken have differing strengths and secondary abilities like protective mines. As if that weren't enough, you can also use rare ingredients to grant your crafted weapons with abilities like life steal or fire damage. This system actually offers more depth than the skill system and will keep you hunting for rare crafting parts even after the campaign is done. The only slightly disappointing aspect is that, while the weapon art designs are something particularly special about the game, some accessories and defensive items are without images entirely. You could understand them not appearing on character models, but to not even have images in the crafting menu makes a generally laudable presentation look a little bit sloppy.
The art style is one of the real standout features of Earth's Dawn. The game's effortlessly cool manga style brought to life looks great and leads to some very interesting enemy and boss designs. Weapons and armor also look fantastic, especially once you've completed the campaign and your cosmetic options become a bit more varied. The only problem is that the sheer number of missions lead to endless reskins of enemy types that becomes a bit repetitive after a while. The most telling example of this is the optional bosses; all bar two are reskinned versions or multiples of previous bosses. It doesn't mean the fights don't have new dangers and challenges, but it does lead to a bit of visual fatigue. The music suffers similarly from repetition, the synth riffs and frantic metal tunes of battle grow dull by the time you reach the endgame.
Therein lies the inherent problem with Earth's Dawn. The combat is fun and looks great, the skill and crafting systems are deep enough, and the story chugs along nicely. However, the missions are repetitive and if you don't get hooked into the crafting system there's not a lot to keep you coming back after the story's over. You get to play on when they story is finished and can tackle harder versions of bosses and any side missions you missed, or just take on missions in harder difficulties with your skills and items intact. You won't see anything that is actually new at this point, though, and with no other modes or aspects to the game, that's a bit of a flaw. It's still a fun game to actually play and the brief nature (sometimes a couple of minutes at their shortest) of most missions means it's one you can dip in and out of if you find yourself getting bored. Overall the experience is a positive one, even if a little lack of polish here and there stops it from achieving greatness. If you're a particular fan of hack and slash gameplay or a highly varied crafting system, you'll have a lot of fun here.
Earth's Dawn was reviewed on PlayStation 4 with a code provided by the publisher. It is also available on Xbox One and coming to PC at a later date.
A competent 2D hack and slash with a great manga aesthetic and a deep crafting system. It's not going to blow you away, but there are hours of content to get through if you get hooked on the gameplay. Otherwise, you might find the repetition a little grating by the end of the game.
- Fast, Fun Combat
- Flashy Moves
- Deep and Varied Crafting
- Great Aesthetic
- Repetitive Mission Structure
- Reskinned Enemies and Bosses
- Lack of Polish