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Phantom Abyss Review

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Returning to a videogame after some time away is never easy; muscle memory is fixed in from whatever you were playing before, you’ve probably forgotten the story and half the mechanics as well. But what if the last time you played a game it was in early access, and now you return to it as a full release? Is returning made worse by the new additions and improvements? Well, not in the case of Phantom Abyss, and herein lies the problem.

The novel concept of Phantom Abyss is enticing on paper. It is an asynchronous multiplayer game where you must run through procedurally-generated temples to retrieve the treasure within. It is a mixture of iconic mobile endless runner Temple Run, Tomb Raider and a bit of a roguelite thrown in for good measure. Your main weapon just happens to be a whip too so we can probably add Indiana Jones to the influence list.

After releasing in Game Preview towards the end of 2022 on Xbox Series X|S, the full Version 1.0 of Phantom Abyss is out now, with some new features, and some removed also. In my initial preview back then, I was intrigued but felt that the game could get repetitive over time. After the full release, this is indeed still the case.

phantom abyss review 1
Get running with the full release of Phantom Abyss

The main game mode has now been moved and changed to Adventure mode. This has you running through randomly generated levels to claim the relic at the end, and is split up into four biomes: Ruins, Caverns, Inferno and Rift. Each of these has their own unique look, but many traps and obstacles are shared between them. This doesn’t make them any easier though.

Each level has a Challenge Level, which you can increase if you are feeling particularly daring, hoping to earn better rewards. The rewards come in the form of new skins for your whips and, the ultimate prize, Gold Shrines. Modifiers come in all shapes and sizes; from increased costs of in-level shrines, to water dealing damage and dropping coins when damaged. These can be fun additional challenges that make you slightly alter your runs, but aren’t too drastic either.

There is also Daily mode where you can challenge a new temple each day. This is perhaps useful if you exhaust Adventure mode, as there isn’t any real reward for completing these, except to see yourself on the leaderboards.

The ultimate challenge comes in Abyss Mode. Formerly known as Classic Mode, this is the true test for legends of Phantom Abyss. Only one person will complete a specific temple, and you will need to traverse through all four biomes in order to get the unique relic. If you have bested Adventure mode and are looking for the next challenge, this is it.

phantom abyss review 2
Plenty of challenge here

When running through a temple, you will see other players’ attempts at the same temple, though not necessarily at the same time. Their fallen essences will also heal you if you can find them and will often guide you the right way through a run. Use them to your advantage.

Phantom Abyss Version 1.0 has also greatly condensed the hub area. It is now far easier to get into a new attempt, as the shrines are located around the upgrade pool. This new vision also makes it easier to see your progression. Completing three levels in a biome breaks the chains on Altec, the temple god watching over you (whether he is good or evil is to be determined) and unlocks the next set. You can also easily switch between whips that come with their own unique abilities and see which levels you have already completed. Beforehand, the hub area was more spaced out, more confusing and a bit drab by comparison.

One thing that has been removed altogether is the ranking system. This overhaul means that all runners are on the same level and makes it a fairer experience. On the other hand though, it does remove the competitive side of things somewhat.

And that removal then poses the question of why make this asynchronous at all? Phantom Abyss has limited replayability already (I had no desire to return to a completed temple even with the modifiers bolted on) and this lack of meaningful interaction with other runners exacerbates this. Aside from regaining the odd bit of health from other runners, I am struggling to see the point of having these ghost runners alongside you.

phantom abyss review 3
Good? Bad? Just run.

Phantom Abyss is a valiant attempt at trying something a bit different, but Version 1.0 still has the feel of a game needing a bit more content. The asynchronous side of things is a novel addition for multiplayer, but it isn’t obvious what it brings to the table; playing these temples ‘live’ against friends would probably be more exciting, similar to a battle royale mode.

Whether more is to be added over time remains to be seen, but these relics are probably best left in the temples themselves. For now at least.

SUMMARY

Pros:
  • Novel concept
  • Plenty of modifiers and loot to go at
Cons:
  • Fairly repetitive
  • Asynchronous multiplayer is a bit unnecessary
  • Removal of system removes competitive aspect
Info:
  • Massive thanks for the free copy of the game, Devolver Digital
  • Formats - Xbox Series X|S (review), PC
  • Release date and price - 25 January 2024 | £20.99
Richard Dobson
Richard Dobson
Avid gamer since the days of Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Grew up with the PS1 and PS2 but changed allegiances in 2007 with the release of Halo 3.
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<b>Pros:</b> <ul> <li>Novel concept</li> <li>Plenty of modifiers and loot to go at</li> </ul> <b>Cons:</b> <ul> <li>Fairly repetitive</li> <li>Asynchronous multiplayer is a bit unnecessary</li> <li>Removal of system removes competitive aspect</li> </ul> <b>Info:</b> <ul> <li>Massive thanks for the free copy of the game, Devolver Digital</li> <li>Formats - Xbox Series X|S (review), PC <li>Release date and price - 25 January 2024 | £20.99</li> </ul>Phantom Abyss Review
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