As the term Souls-like has made the transition from journalistic buzzword to legitimate genre, we're seeing more and more examples of developers that namecheck From Software's series to convey what their game is all about. For a fan looking for their next fix, this can be confusing. Among the games that aim to build on their ideas and take them in other directions, we also find games that simply use the comparison of a successful franchise for marketing purposes. Fortunately, If I had to put Immortal Planet into one of those camps, it would be the former. Tomasz Waclawek, or teedoubleuGames as the RONIN creator is now known, isn't shy about citing his influences and has referred to Immortal Planet as a "Love letter to Dark Souls" and "My own take on the emerging [Souls-like] genre."
The comparison is a fair approximation of what you get from the game. This is a challenging ARPG with some subtle storytelling, well thought-out level design and impressively imposing, bosses. Everything from combat mechanics down to atmosphere feels familiar. The game has its own twists on these systems, as you would expect. It would still be easy for something so mechanically similar to the games that it's trying to tribute to come off as a pale imitation or worse. So the question is; does Immortal Planet succeed at pulling these familiar threads together and do enough retain its own identity, or is it more 'been there, killed that, got the "You Died" T-shirt?'
Immortal Planet's introduction is as cryptic as they come. After the briefest explanation of the setting, you'll find yourself awakening from a long slumber at your Cryopod, which serves as a respawn point and a place to level up your character and switch equipment. As you explore the immediate area you'll find instructions on how to fight and some basic enemies to practice on. Venture slightly further and you'll start to see how the level fits together with the first shortcut back to your Cryopod, which will later become a key mechanic. Keep exploring and you'll come across your first boss in no time. Beat him, and you'll get your first bit of real story exposition. This introduction serves as a great, if demanding, tutorial for what's to come. It introduces the concepts you'll have to become familiar with one by one and in an intuitive way. With the bare minimum of hand-holding Immortal Planet opts to show you, rather than tell you, how to get to grips with its systems in these early stages.
Once the game deems you worthy of progressing, you'll find out who you are and what this quest is all about. Known only as the Awakewalker, you are among the last of the Immortals on your planet whose sanity remains intact. It seems that your society of Immortals used to operate by having one group sleep while another gets on with their lives. After a while, the waking Immortals sleep while others take their turns in the waking world and so on, kind of like a never ending cycle of shift work. It seems something went wrong while you were sleeping, though. The cycles were disturbed and the Immortals have all remained awake for too long - something which causes them to gradually lose their minds. As the last to be awoken, your task is to find the rulers who control the cycles and come up with some way to reinstate them. It's an intriguing setup to the story and having to work to even find out that much information only served to heighten my engagement with the plot of the game.
As you move further into the game, NPCs and the exposition that comes with them are few and far between. There are a few folks who will do more than just attack you on sight, though their words tend to be mysterious and you'll have to rely on other means if you want to find out the full story behind what happened while you slept. As well as the obligatory reading of item descriptions that 'Souls fans will be familiar with, your Compendium will become an invaluable source of background information as you progress in the game. This bestiary will record each enemy and boss you fight. Absorb the required amount of experience from an enemy and you'll fully unlock their Compendium description. I really liked this touch as knowing that defeating the same enemies again might gain you more knowledge of the world around you gives an added sense of purpose when repeating sections. The information you gain from the Compendium, items, and the NPCs you meet is all interconnected, meaning that those who enjoy piecing together the story from various sources will particularly appreciate the way Immortal Planet tells its tale.
Mechanically, the game is more than capable of delivering the precision needed for the satisfying 'hard but fair' gameplay to work. With its top-down, fixed-perspective view, the overall feeling the gameplay gives is akin to a slower, more deliberate Hyper Light Drifter. The combat itself takes many cues from past FROM Software titles, and your choices when starting out can make a big difference to how you'll play the game. This is down to being able to choose your starting weapon and gift. Weapons have a normal and 'Awakened' state which affects your available attacks, but gifts can have an even greater influence over your experience. For example, one may allow you to regain health with quick counter attacks, while another will grant the ability to perfectly time blocks to negate damage. This, along with the various items and spells that can be found in the game, leads to some intriguing build variety and adds a bit of replay value for those who want to go back and experiment. One gripe that I had with these systems is that weapons seem a little unbalanced. There are one or two weapons available to find or buy in the game that are just out and out better than anything else available, despite having their own minor drawbacks. I would have preferred to see more viable options among the weapons but the main build variety will come from your spell and item choices.
The combat is tied together with one of Immortal Planet's most useful original mechanics. Like Deck13's recent Souls-like The Surge, enemy stamina bars are visible to the player. The twist here is that enemies low on stamina give you an opportunity to stun them with a dodge in their direction, giving you a huge window to attack or even knock enemies off ledges for a one hit kill. It's risky, as dodging into an enemy whose stamina is not depleted will stun you instead, but mastery of this mechanic can be a huge help in the long run. This system is a bit of a double edged sword though, as larger enemies can take up quite a bit of screen real estate in Immortal Planet's somewhat cramped environs, which can lead to you dodging into them when intending to dodge around and cause some frustrating stun lock deaths. On the whole, there's a great sense of risk versus reward in combat, not only from this mechanic but from a culmination of all your options. As you choose what actions to take on the fly, making the right decisions can be a matter of life and death. This leads to tense encounters that really get the adrenaline pumping.
Enemy design and variety are excellent and each enemy and boss have logical reasoning behind their placement, which will be revealed to you as you defeat them. The AI can be exploitable however and enemies are quite rigidly pattern based, so once you've learned the optimum way to fight a given enemy, you generally won't have much trouble with them in future. However, the game often forces you into fighting enemies in groups or non-optimal situations like cramped spaces over bottomless pits so you can't just rely on your enemy knowledge in every scenario. Level design is also a highlight. Each of the game's four main areas will usually have only a single rest point. That means it's up to you to find the winding paths that will lead you back there and give you the easiest run to the two bosses you'll have to fight for each zone. There are also secrets and goodies aplenty to be found if you explore and the way the levels just fit together is a delight. The boss fights themselves are intense and will test all of your skills as well as your ability to read and deal with their attacks. The game's levels are filled with only melancholic, ambient sound until you reach one of these fights, at which point the music will swell to a pulse-racing orchestral crescendo, helping to highlight these moments as the standout events that they are. What's slightly disappointing is that the final boss of each area is essentially just a harder version of the one you fought earlier, but there's enough variety in the actual encounters that it's only a minor complaint.
The art style of Immortal Planet manages to convey a great amount of detail in both environments and enemies despite its retro aesthetic. There are mild amounts of environmental storytelling going on in most areas, though I found myself wishing the game had gone a little further with this idea. What it does do well is convey the lonely, foreboding feel that permeates the game and sells the setting of a ruined society that is a shadow of its former self. I encountered very few technical issues in my time with the game but there's one thing I feel is worth mentioning. There are challenges in each area that can be accessed after going a little way into the game. Despite the game running fine the rest of the time, I encountered a slower frame rate every time I entered one of these challenges. It seemed to be more to do with the separate environments the challenges take place in than the number of on-screen enemies, as the game easily coped with similar enemy numbers outside of challenges. It didn't make them unplayable but it was very noticeable. This may be down to the fact I'm using a low spec PC in this scenario but others have reported this issue on the game's Steam forum, so be aware that it may be an issue for laptop or low-end players. On the flip side of that, any machine out there is capable of running Immortal Planet due to very low technical requirements.
Before I render my final verdict on the game, I have to mention its take on new game plus, delightfully titled Nightmare mode. You'll start from scratch but are able to select from a wider variety of the game's weapons and your gift is all three of the standard mode's gifts rolled into one. This allows for perfect blocks, perfect dodges, and health regain and lends a more nuanced feeling to your options in combat. It's worth playing Nightmare mode just to marvel at how different the game can feel with all these abilities combined. Further still, it also mixes up enemy placements and subtly alters routes so that your experience isn't quite the same as the first time around. Of course, enemies also have more health and hit harder. Even if you couldn't care less about the game's alternate ending, I'd recommend playing this mode just for the fresh experience if you enjoyed anything at all about your first play through. As for how long it'll take you to get there, it'll likely vary for each player. I'm informed that the game can be comfortably completed in 5-10 hours, but after a particularly bad hump on one boss and a detour to level up my initial completion time was closer to 13-14 hours.
Despite wearing its influences on its sleeve, Immortal Planet does enough with its story, setting, and combat that it cements an identity of its own. It's one of the most effective efforts at a 'Souls tribute that I've played because it understands and implements several of the design ideas that made those games successful, rather than focusing on obvious features like difficult combat. It's also a good game in its own right, which is obviously far more important. For gameplay, story, and replay value, I'd recommend this game to anyone who likes a good ARPG, as well as anyone looking for another souls-like to play.
A love letter to Dark Souls that is more than capable of holding it's own. An intriguing story and setting, well designed enemies and levels, a great art style and keen sense of musical direction all contribute to make Immortal Planet an excellent ARPG.
- Smart Level Design
- Intriguing Storyline
- Impressive Boss Fights
- Replay Value
- Repeated Bosses
- Frustrating Cameras in Cramped Areas
- Weapon Balancing is a Bit Off