When it comes to roguelikes, I feel a bit left out in the cold. The genre’s popularity has exploded in the past few years, especially on the console scene, and while the appeal isn’t entirely lost on me, it’s not a genre I return to often. Games like Rogue Legacy and The Binding of Isaac offer enough incentives to keep drawing me back, but beyond a sparse few titles, the roguelike philosophy just isn’t my cup of tea. Unfortunately, even though it’s one of the easiest offerings to hit the scene, Abyss Odyssey: Extended Dream Edition just doesn’t introduce enough to be more than a short diversion for genre veterans.
Serving as a definitive version of the recent PS3 release, Extended Dream Edition hits PS4 with a clunk, adding multiplayer functionality, prettier visuals and a few new move sets but never fixing the problems the original suffered. The intriguing plot remains intact, however: the world is under siege as the dreams of a powerful warlock break free and enter the physical realm, and it’s up to a stranger named Katrien to enter a cavernous hole in the Earth called the Abyss and make her way to the bottom. While most of the story is revealed through story documents dropped at random throughout the game, it’s a surprisingly strong aspect that would have only gotten better had it spent a bit more time up front in the spotlight.
However, the gameplay takes front seat, and that’s not really a blessing. Katrien makes her way to the warlock in the Abyss by fighting through large chains of rooms. Rater than following a linear path, she has the option to cross through levels laterally or continue straight down. This gives players a chance to choose whether they’re looking to reach the end quickly or efficiently. Heading straight down will certainly test your strength, as you’re more likely to come across tougher levels and mini-bosses, but moving laterally to avoid tougher areas leads to a longer stretch of play, putting you at a higher risk of dying and needing to start all over.
Although a few enemies put up a fight, the clunky combat is the most likely cause of death in the Abyss. Following the standard hack-and-slash formula, Abyss Odyssey implements directional button presses for your three special attacks, meaning you have to press up, down or right and triangle to activate certain attacks. While this works in theory, the combat animations are slow and erratic, making it easy to miss enemies by leaping too far or standing too close. The controls are more suited for a 1v1 fighter, and they don’t quite fit into the style that the game is aiming for.
The RPG elements are pretty basic, allowing you to gain experience by defeating enemies and giving you a skill point to feed into one of your special attacks every three levels. Your special attacks can be upgraded to deal more damage, earn more mana or to become impenetrable for a span of time. Mana works in reverse to the norm, having you earn it with special attacks rather than use it. Once the bar is filled, you’re able to cast a special attack that will capture the spirit of an enemy, which can then be switched between as a second combatant, complete with their own attacks and full health bar, giving you an extra bit of help when things get hairy. Special levels found throughout the Abyss can also give you a spirit for free, and usually a decently powerful one.
While the ability to earn a free character with full health lessens the difficulty a bit, what makes Abyss Odyssey such an easy offering is the gimmick that allows Katrien to be restored after she dies. Rather than immediately being sent to the beginning, a soldier will take her place, and if he manages to make it to a shrine without dying, she will return with full health. Although the shrines can be few and far between, the soldiers are just as strong and capable as Katrien, making it a cinch to recover from an untimely death. Camp tokens can also be purchased from merchants and used to set up checkpoints at shrines, although in my experience they were rare.
New characters are unlocked as progress is made, as well as new portals to the Abyss that drop you in at a lower stage, opening up quicker paths to the warlock. Characters keep their experience and their earned gold, and since each one has their own unique weapon, the gold is necessary to collect better weapons. Although weapons are dropped at random throughout the game, 90% of the time they are for another character. Gold can also be used to throw in fountains for luck or given to NPCs in exchange for help.
Although the visuals are appealing at first, there’s not enough variation between stages to make any one of them stand out above the rest. The art also tends to get in the way of gameplay, obscuring spike traps and blending poisonous plants into the background. The design is beautifully colorful, but everything blurs together too often and makes traversing stages a pain.
Ultimately, Abyss Odyssey: Extended Dream Edition relies on the bonus content to stand out from last-gen’s edition, but the bonuses aren’t very enticing. The new moves don’t offer much in the way of variety, and the multiplayer is hardly enticing enough to purchase the game again. The co-op adds a bit of color to the game, but the competitive mode focuses mainly on the weak combat, making it easy to pass it up without a second thought.
While much of Abyss Odyssey: Extended Dream Edition is functional to an extent, the whole project just feels sexless. Aside from the intriguing story, everything feels like a committee approach to creating a roguelike, adding basic RPG elements and simplistic fantasy settings that don’t evoke much wonder or fear of death. There’s also the matter that the game is surprisingly easy for a roguelike, taking an amateur like me just a few tries before besting the warlock.
Unfortunately, the clunky combat and repetitive stages made it hard to come back once I’d reached the bottom. Since it’s available at such a low price point ($14.99, although it’s currently on sale for $8.99 for PS Plus gamers), it could be recommended to the most diehard roguelike fans looking for a quick fix. For that price, though, you could find something much more absorbing and replayable.
This review is based on a PlayStation 4 copy of the game given to us for review purposes.
Suffering from clunky combat, low difficulty and cluttered environments, Abyss Odyssey: Extended Dream Edition's intriguing story can't save it from mediocrity.