From developers ACE Team and published by Nacon comes a new entry in the Zeno Clash series of games. Well, when I say in the series, that isn’t strictly true, as what we have here with Clash: Artifacts of Chaos is a game merely set in the same universe; unrelated. With that hopefully abundantly clear, it’s time to cast my beady eye over things to see if it lives up to the source material.
We’ll pop over and have a look at the story first, and the narrative in Clash: Artifacts of Chaos follows the exploits of a wanderer by the name of Pseudo. Pseudo is something of a hermit, it appears, but also a master of martial arts. Think David Carradine in Kung Fu – and if you don’t know who that is, ask your parents.
At the start of the game, Pseudo comes across the Boy; an orphan that looks a bit like an owl that has been stuck up a chimney, and as we come across them, he has just lost his only living relative. Clearly unsuited to surviving on his own, Pseudo decides to take him under his wing, and when he refuses to give the Boy up to Gemini, a kind of crime boss, the scene is set for a clash. Very much like in the title of the game.
Presented as a third person, over the shoulder, kind of an affair, Artifacts of Chaos comes with a very weird aesthetic to the world. Yes, Zenozoik is a weird place, with multiple odd looking creatures to interact with. Come to think of it, Pseudo himself is no oil painting either.
The world is surreal, with a strange landscape hosting multiple paths for you to find and explore, along with a host of enemies to interact with as well. The sound is pretty cool as well – voiced cutscenes and interactions are in place, each character complete with their own unique personality. All in all, in a weird kind of way, Clash: Artifacts of Chaos reminds of a Dark Souls game; not particularly in terms of the size or the look, but in the feel.
The majority of Clash: Artifacts of Chaos is spent fighting, but there is a bit more to it than that. Taking the combat first and there is both good and bad news.
The good news is that the fighting has a flow to it, and this begins with the Ritual, a challenge that can either help you or hurt you, depending on how it goes. Let me explain. When you come across an enemy that has a modicum of intelligence, you can challenge them first of all to the Ritual. If they accept (and they always do), you can choose to lay an artifact on the field first of all. These have effects that range from allowing you to poison your opponent, to restricting their movement, to being able to summon them in a future battle, assuming you win the second stage of the Ritual.
Once you have laid your Artifact down, we now enter a game of chance, played with a bunch of dice. You roll your dice, and the enemy rolls theirs – whoever has the higher score wins. However, it isn’t as simple as that as you have various items that can change the score on certain dice. Playing these items onto the board can reduce the score of every dice in a straight line, for example, or reduce the score in a certain area. The goal is to reduce your enemy’s scores to below yours, but while you are doing this, they can also carry out their own interference. The person who loses has a forfeit, and their Artifact doesn’t have any impact on the upcoming fight. If you lose, the enemy gets to hit you with a stick (yes really) and so you begin the fight with reduced health, which doesn’t usually end well.
The combat itself is very interesting as well. As Pseudo goes on his journey, he can not only learn new techniques that will make him/you stronger, but you can also find new artifacts to help you get better results in the Ritual. Combat is pretty simple, with a basic attack at the fore, complemented by a special attack thrown in for good measure. The skill of the system comes in dodging and parrying attacks, and then counter attacking. You see, in the tutorial, it is explained that while Pseudo has great skill, he isn’t as strong or as durable as the creatures he is going to encounter. His greatest asset is his speed, and in dodging attack and counter attacking, he can take on and defeat creatures much bigger than himself. And that is fortunate, as every creature found in Artifacts of Chaos seems to be bigger and stronger.
It all plays nicely, however the only thing that I cannot get on with in terms of the combat is the complete lack of any form of lock-on; which is a massive issue. With dodging and trying to slip attacks, it is all too easy to end up next to a foe, punching thin air. As you’d expect to hear, they never fail to take advantage of this situation. Seriously, this one feature would have ensured that Clash: Artifacts of Chaos could play a massive amount better, saving much frustration.
You see, the fighting is brutally hard, and one mistake is enough to land you in a world of hurt; coming back from the brink is almost impossible. But don’t worry if you do get defeated, as if you do, you can come back as a kind of skeletal version of yourself, and attempt to reunite with your corpse. The only issue is that the enemy that defeated you is still waiting for you – you’ll need to best them to get your body back. In effect this allows for two bites at the cherry, although your foe’s health will be restored all the way in the meantime.
The rest of the game is spent exploring the area around you, and with verticality built in to the areas and chests to find, there is a pretty cool feel as you wander about. The exploration is fairly standard to be honest, and all works well, but it is the combat that is the star of the show.
All in all, Clash: Artifacts of Chaos has a lot of good ideas and some well worked execution – it is just that lack of a lock-on that is a glaring omission. If you are looking for a different experience though, then Clash: Artifacts of Chaos is certainly that.
Clash: Artifacts of Chaos is on the Xbox Store
The game does have a lock-on though…