Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, PS4
Reviewed on: PS4
Apotheon is the type of indie game that people like me have been waiting for. It oozes with style, quality, and care on par with the amount of effort put into an AAA title. the game is brutally hard depending on your play style, full of historical interest, and rife with sympathetic characters. While the premise has been done before, Apotheon pulls it off with great aplomb.
The story of Apotheon begins with a humble civilian named Nikandreos. The Greek town he lives in is suddenly thrown into utter chaos with raiders murdering the townspeople, crops burning to the ground, and horrific storms tearing apart the housing. Nikandreos finds the nearest blade and shield, and takes up the battle against the raiders. Upon defeating their leader in a brutal manner, he is greeted by the Goddess Hera.
Hera informs Nikandreos that the god Zeus has abandoned mankind. Whereas the benevolent god once loved the human race, he has now decided to turn his back upon them. Hera feels guilty for this and tasks Nikandreos with the journey of overthrowing Zeus and the many other gods, to receive their powers in order to recreate the human race.
The story is told via quality voice acting, as well as various plaques littered around the game world that provide you with background of the game’s characters. I found the plaques very helpful in setting the scene for the game and fleshing out the world just a little bit more. These are completely optional but definitely help with the atmosphere of the game.
The various gods and guards will derisively underestimate you, showing nothing but disdain and surprise upon their defeat. The game did a really good job, making me feel like the gods were spoiled, arrogant, and generally quite nasty to converse with. With the exception of a few, you will be more than pleased to steal their powers from them as you progress.
The game-play is where this game really shines. Borrowing a page from the Dark Souls series, the combat is insanely in-depth for a 2D side-scroller, with deep roleplaying game elements, dangerous foes, intuitive AI, and a plethora of different weapons.
Nikandreos will have access to a number of impressive weapons throughout the game, including but not limited to throwing axes, swords, shields, spears, maces, bows, explosives, traps, and even the weapons of the gods. The special weapons that belong to the gods are of course the most powerful in the game, and later on can be purchased via the black market should you deplete them. All weapons and shields have varying durability, with the exception of a very special weapon acquired near the end of the game. The durability problem never really becomes an issue. By the end of the game you will have more weapons than you know what to do with and will have broken hundreds, possibly thousands to finish Apotheon.
Nikandreos has an array of abilities and attacks, depending on how you manipulate the left stick. The combat is incredibly smooth and has left me wondering why nothing like it has existed in the indie scene until now. The feel of fighting and avoiding attacks for me was incredibly reminiscent of the Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls variety, respectively. While the game is far easier than the aforementioned Souls titles, you can alter the gameplay at any time or visit an altar to make the game much harder. The nice thing about the game barring the occasional glitch with AI being caught on objects, is that when I died it didn’t feel cheap. I understood entirely why I died and endeavored to improve. Whether it was the wrong tactic used against said foe or just that I missed a few opportunities to block, I know why I died and that it wasn’t due to an artificial difficulty.
The game doesn’t always tell you what you have to do next. While the map is incredibly good at telling you the area you need to progress to, in regards to what you must achieve, it can be quite vague. While the puzzles and required actions aren’t difficult to complete, you will occasionally find yourself a little stuck until you put some deep thinking into how to open a door or trigger a switch using an arrow or another item. The puzzles are clever and innovative and aside from the occasional backtracking, you’ll never find yourself needing to grind for resources to finish a specific challenge.
Coins can be used to upgrade armor, buy new weapons, weapon abilities as well as buying new weapons and ingredients to craft items with. You can only craft items once you have a specific blueprint. Most are acquired early on and aren’t too hard to locate, but they are a must. If you are unable to craft repair kits or health tonics, it can cause serious detriment to your combat prowess.
The bosses in Apotheon are another aspect similar to the Dark Souls games. They require specific tactics to beat, with split-second timing on dodges, blocking, and occasionally using the environment or their own weapons against them. The boss fights never feel cheap and simply are a delight to conquer, whereupon you will be awarded that God’s power and a plethora of decent weapons and temporary stat-boosting items.
The game is graphically modest, featuring a two-dimensional aesthetic similar to that of the ancient Greek pottery. It’s very crisp and beautiful. While it focuses mainly on the artistic style of ancient Greece, it’s also surprisingly detailed. Every object on-screen is big enough to be seen with little effort, the ratios of enemy size to Nikandreos varies but is never ludicrous whether fighting a giant, god or humanoid. The game is very violent, especially within the God of War‘s domain. Blood flows freely down slopes and pools at the player’s feet while enemies die in rather brutal and unpleasant ways. The whole scene and atmosphere of Apotheon is very satisfying and delightfully visceral.
One especially impressive aspect of Apotheon‘s presentation is the physics system. Enemies rag-doll and crumple very realistically, and characters’ muscles and animations have had a lot of effort put into them. This aspect helps immerse you in the game, ignoring the stylistic artwork and ensuring you feel as though you are fighting real creatures and people. The screen will develop this sort of paper-like tear in the graphical interface when Nikandreos’s health drops below 30. This user interface concept was effective at informing me when I needed to heal to avoid death.
Sound design for the game overall is pretty average. The soundtrack works to fine effect, but doesn’t stand out in any way. The voice acting helps bring the characters to life and really ignites your spite towards the gods who spew their arrogance like they’re being paid for it. Most characters are incredibly unlikable, and this is deliberately done. I truly feel like the puny human that was being given a chance to right the wrongs inflicted on the rest of my race. At the same time when I met a character who was kind and willing to reach out and help me, it came across as a real breath of fresh air. You come to trust them and believe their plight as they give you the last of their remaining power to help you on your way.
Ultimately Apotheon is just a lot of fun. Brandishing the feel of a Metroidvania set in ancient Greece, the game is surprisingly in-depth. While it’s not an incredibly long game, I played it for two days straight and could not put the controller down. I’ve not been engrossed in a game so addictively before since the Dark Souls games. Apotheon shows what smaller budget developers can pull off. The game-play is probably the best in a two-dimensional game that I have played since Metroid Fusion. Currently, it’s available for Playstation Plus subscribers and I feel it is definitely worth a look for anyone looking for a rewarding rich experience that will destroy their sanity, should they give it half a chance.