When Fall Guys launched, it was very much seen as the battle royale game for those that didn’t like battle royales. When Hades launched, it was very much the roguelike for those that didn’t like roguelikes. Similar too for Temple Run – the endless runner for those that didn’t normally enjoy them. And now Phantom Abyss is here, feeling a little bit like a game suitable for people who prefer something like all those others and yet different altogether.
Phantom Abyss is a competitive multiplayer game with a twist. It is asynchronous, meaning you aren’t actually competing live with others. Instead, you see their Phantoms when playing. And you can use these to your advantage, learning from their mistakes, the same way you would when you see a bloodstain in Elden Ring.
But what are they going to advise you to do? Well, Phantom Abyss tasks you with retrieving relics from procedurally generated temples. The difference here is that once a relic has been retrieved, that temple will disappear forever. The Phantoms you see are of other players who have tried to complete this temple but perished on their way to the relic.
That’s how it is supposed to work in theory. My first relic victory was slightly behind another Phantom collecting the relic at the same time. Phantom Abyss is in Xbox Game Preview currently though, so bugs and glitches are expected at this early stage. It is also available through Xbox Game Pass, so it is well worth at least giving it a try.
Also expected is a lack of content in this early build, and this is definitely true. At the moment Phantom Abyss feels a bit repetitive. Your first relic will occur during a purposefully shorter temple; your reward is the relic on a pedestal and a slightly longer and more difficult temple to repeat the feat. There are different biomes you can unlock the further you progress with varying obstacles and traps to avoid, but the basic premise remains the same.
In an attempt to add a bit of plot to Phantom Abyss, you are not alone. A woman called Una will appear in the hub area – and sometimes even in the temples – providing you with tidbits of story. Also, hidden under where you keep your relics is a large room with some decipherable stone carvings on the wall. There is a mystery to Phantom Abyss that may just keep players exploring long enough to work it all out.
On the subject of the relics, these don’t feel as unique as the besting of the temple would suggest. It just sits there on the pedestal, no doubt looking like everyone else’s. What would have been really nice would be a plaque commemorating your victory with a date and time, or something like that to make it feel a bit more special. After all, you work hard for these relics, and no one else in the world managed what you achieved.
However, you do get a practical reward for completing a temple in the form of a new whip. During the tutorial you will collect your first whip and learn how to use it. Proper whip control is crucial, as it can get you out of some deadly situations by using it to hoist you up ledges and collect items.
New whips can carry blessings to assist your attempts, but also curses to hinder them. The more you collect, the more choice you have. And completing runs with the same whips will allow you to level them up.
Phantom Abyss doesn’t hold your hand, allowing you to discover things at your own pace. Helpful hints will appear when you encounter new curios, but they are optional. You should read them though, just maybe not in the middle of a run.
Indeed, it wasn’t until a good few attempts in that I actually realised the phantoms aren’t actually live and I am not competing against them in a race. There is no need to run off like a bull in a china shop attempting to outrun all the other phantoms. They had their go, and they failed.
But also, don’t take everything at a snail’s pace. Momentum is key for larger jumps. Not only that, but should you progress deep enough into a temple, it will start to fight back. Guardians will appear and they will be hunting you down, making sure another phantom is added to the temple. These won’t necessarily cause too many problems when they first appear but should you keep navigating down the floors of the temple, it will only anger them more. They will speed up, have more attacks or worse, and in a particularly maze-like temple, you may be left with no choice but to succumb to them.
Playing Phantom Abyss feels like an unusual amalgamation of various games spliced into the one experience; a mixture of the endless running of Temple Run, the battle royale stylings of Fall Guys, a procedurally generated roguelike and the whip cracking Indiana Jones. Having arrived in Xbox Game Preview, it is a positive start, but my biggest concern is how long the fun will last. New features will be added over time, but is the main draw enough to keep players returning? Only time will tell.
For now though, Phantom Abyss is addictive enough to ensure that I am firmly in the ‘just one more go before bed’ trap. And I’m alright with that.
You can find Phantom Abyss on the Xbox Store, playable on Xbox Series X|S. It’s on Game Pass should you not wish to stump up the £20.99 asking price. Huge thanks go out to Devolver Digital for giving us access.