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Phantom Abyss – (PC) First Impressions

by on September 16, 2021
 

Very few games have truly grasped the feeling of being Indiana Jones. Sure, there have been Indiana Jones games, but those were mostly point and click titles with an emphasis on puzzle solving instead of action. Tomb Raider gave it a good attempt, though nowadays the franchise is more about mowing down goons with bullets than dodging traps and slinging whips in tombs.

Phantom Abyss, on the other hand, is pure whip slinging, risk-reward fun in a temple that really wants you dead.

After stumbling into an ancient temple, your character discovers that their soul is now trapped within this stony grave. Ancient curses and all that. Your only lifeline, a mysterious god who tells you to delve into the depths and find idols to grant it power. To help you escape. Totally trustworthy.

A run in Phantom Abyss consists of jogging through generated rooms filled with precarious traps and glittering treasure chests. Traps are not your only enemy as the temple will also send an evil guardian to chase you down. Traps can be spikes, arrows, moving platforms, and even good old boulders. The temple has multiple layers, each bringing its own share of new traps and a difficulty spike for a higher tier reward.

Movement is fast-paced with a Mirror’s Edge momentum feeling. It takes a few seconds to get a good sprint going, but as long as you keep moving and avoid obstacles you maintain your speed. Momentum can also be maintained when sliding down ramps or under obstacles, jumping, and using your trusty whip.

Whips are your most vital tool. Whipping a ledge flings your character in the air above and toward it so you can climb platforms. These can also be used for maneuvering over bottomless pits, and to vault up walls or ceilings to reach hidden loot. While you start with a standard whip with no special features, magical whips with passive bonuses can be unlocked as you grab more totems and complete temples. Special whips do come with their own fair share of curses to offset the big bonus. However, if you complete a run with a whip, the negative trait is removed forever.

 

There are a few types of currency in Phantom Abyss. Gold is used in runs to purchase blessings to help you survive the terrors of the temple. Blessings include health restores, double jump, gliding, a percent chance to not take fall damage, and more. Gems collected are used to unlock new whips.

There are three types of guardians that can try to pulverize you. The Masked Defiler can can teleport and make acid clouds. The Eye of Chaos teleports and fires laser beams. The Devouring Rage goes the old fashioned route and menacingly floats after you from the start of each room to give you a good munch if you are too slow. The guardian entity is random per run and each becomes more powerful the deeper you dive.

Aside from the guardians, you will have more company in the dangerous depths. The more players that have attempted a temple, the more phantom ghosts appear in your attempt. These are recordings of the previous player’s attempts. Think of them like the ghost cars in racing games showing you a recording of your previous best lap. Ghosts can activate traps and steal most of the loot from chests if they get there first. These phantoms can also help newer players discover well hidden treasure behind nooks and crannies off the beaten path.

The big gimmick in Phantom Abyss is the idea that every temple is unique. Each generated temple can only be completed once by one player in the entire world. It is then locked away forever, making every victory feel a little bit special. The catch, a player only gets one shot at completing each temple. If you fail, then you are also locked out of temples for good and it is up to another person out there to complete it.

When a run ends in failure, there is a nasty consequence of temporarily losing your special whip. It is locked away until someone else clears the dungeon and frees your spirit. You can choose to experiment with other whips in the meantime or waive this lock with a hefty gem cost. Seeds for failed attempts can be shared between players. Die in a temple and want your whip back? Challenge a friend to complete it and free your soul! Of course if they die too, then you may need to find another friend to help the both of you.

Early Access has been out for a few months now and the issues I originally had with performance issues have since been patched. Though, network issues still seem to crop up here and there. As far as content, it appears the only updates so far are more types of traps, more room types, and the usual bug fixes. Quantity for more variety seems to be the main element to expect in future updates. Perhaps community events or weekly retryable challenge temples with a leaderboard could be implemented. A clear development roadmap has not been provided as of yet, leaving the future of the game in limbo.

Phantom Abyss is fun, but also extremely stressful. The game encourages you to be quick in order to beat the phantoms, but also cautious enough to not get snagged on traps or killed by the guardians. The main problem with the game comes with repetition. After a dozen or so runs, most players will start to see through the generation system with the same rooms and traps, but arranged slightly differently each run. The temple does get more varied the deeper you go, but these deeper zones are much more challenging. Death means you need to go to a new temple and start all over from the easier first layer again, so it is hard to get comfortable in a harder area if it takes so long to get back to that point. This is the type of game players revisit after a few hefty updates in order to have enough new surprises to spice up the gameplay.

I would still recommend the game to new players. What is here is good few days of fun if you are a fan of rogue-likes or first person platforming. Speedrunners may enjoy the idea of running a new randomized temple with each attempt.

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