Babylon's Fall is an online action-RPG developed by PlatinumGames, the devs behind excellent hack n' slashers like NieR Automata and Bayonetta. This is a studio that knows how to craft one-off stories filled with flashy combat, humour, and emotional gut-punches.
But the game is also Platinum's first foray into the dreaded minefield of live service and it's... not good. Aside from the teensiest glimpses of what could've been, the game is a bemusing cascade of loot and stats that don't mean all that much. The combat has its moments but is largely bleh. The story is meh. And it's all yours for £60 - heh?!
Based on the biblical myth of the Tower Of Babel, Babylon's Fall has you play as a Sentinel who must ascend the great tower and uncover its secrets. A rival empire stands in your way, as does your Gideon Coffin, a magical backpack that's both a friend that grants you spectral powers and a foe that's taken over your body. The story's not bad in places, with some touching human elements here and there. Otherwise, though, it's a trip upwards that feels more like a trip up. Dialogue is iffy, cutscenes are a bit naff, and there's no getting away from it, it seems.
Successful live service games have nice, easy rhythms. They put on a spread of activities, all with rewards that feed back into the power grind. Everything you earn means something, whether that's EXP gains or tokens you can spend at vendors or rare schematics for sick pauldrons - you get the idea. And with your stats boosted, you move onto bigger, better things that'll grant you yet more useful stuff. You're logging in daily because you're itching to chase down the next reward, like a greedy little loot goblin.
Babylon's Fall doesn't have a rhythm, really. I'd say it's more of a wobble.
Babylon's Fall doesn't have a rhythm, really. I'd say it's more of a wobble. I know that by completing quests I earn gear. And said gear is upping my Power Level, which means I should cope better when the next quest says "Recommended Power Level 29", for instance. But that's about the extent of my understanding. I earn EXP and level up, but there's no discernible benefit. Levelling up isn't tied to whether I can stick on some new armoured loafers or accept quests, and the game hasn't explicitly told me what it's for either. I've ticked off challenges like "Eliminate 80 enemies", only to be handed what looks like six Lego bricks and two gold bars. You'd think I'd be able to spend these special bits on special bits, yet the game has bunged them in some hidden pockets without telling me what they do. Communication is an issue here, almost as if it doesn't want to tell me what stuff does because said stuff doesn't actually do anything at all. I mean, as far as I can tell, many of the game's reward tracks lead to nowhere.
This includes those story quests, the one (1) activity that I've encountered so far in this game. You rush through corridors and into progressively harder arenas filled with spectral suits of armour and miniature orcs wielding hammers, until you reach a boss. Occasionally there are yellow orbs to collect on your way, although I haven't been told what these do. Beat an arena and the game will give you a rank, like Stone or Bronze or Pure Platinum, which also nets you... nothing?
Chests and bosses drop Relics, sort of like Engrams from Destiny. I know what these do! They can be cracked open for loot of various rarities: brightest colours are goodest. Thing is, even the weapons and armour that emerge from these presents don't give you that fuzzy feeling; there's no lip-smacking going on, no exclamations of "Jiminy Cricket! Now that's a sword." Most of the time, you're left with gear that's higher in Power Level but seemingly worse, with lots of red bars and arrows pointing downwards when you compare it to what you already have equipped. You stick it on anyway, because the number in the top left is bigger and you're working off heady superstition mixed with logic that's about as watertight as a running bath.
And even if you embrace the confusion and go with Babylon's flow, the combat certainly doesn't do enough heavy lifting to pick up the dead weight. Yes, you've got this magical backpack that lets you wield two spectral weapons and pull off spectral moves, but don't expect great variety early on. You'll quickly learn that staffs, bows, swords, and hammers all have one or two combos, while your spectral arms don't exactly work together with your human limbs in a harmonious orchestra of crashing and bashing. Instead, they're just extra ghost limbs that flail about over your head. Granted, dodging and tumbling and swinging looks great and can feel incredibly satisfying, but there's nothing here that discourages button-mashing.
I mean, there are times when Babylon's Fall just grinds my gears - I don't mean to be vindictive, by the way, but it has a habit of chucking things your way that are plain annoying. I'm talking underwater sections that only serve to slow your movement and attack speed down. No collectible Dory helmet, just a sod of a time being sodden.
Maybe, I thought, the game would spring to life with two mates in tow. Perhaps they'd enlighten me as to how things in Babylon worked and brighten up the questing experience. Unfortunately, this couldn't be further from the truth. Not that we had a bad time, per se, we just spent much of it figuring out how to actually play co-op and then talked about anything other than Babylon's Fall. We touched on Phoenix Wright, the Steam Deck, heck, even the PS5 and our woes getting hold of one. You'd think we'd recorded a podcast, not hopped into PlatinumGames' latest release.
If your friends aren't around to speed up the questing process, a "Quick Match" option bungs you into a random player's lobby. You get no say in what quest you'd like to team up for, though, so you could end up repeating something you've done before. And that's not something you want, trust me. It's not only a lack of replayability that's the problem here, it's your motivation to do so. Again, strong online co-op games have a solid core that makes the stuff you do satisfying, while enticing you in with powerful one-off rewards. The act of replaying the missions are fun, as is drawing closer to that loot. In stark contrast, Babylon's Fall lumps you with repetitive story quests, middling combat, and hits you with rewards that either don't mean anything or simply disappoint. It's easy to see why the game feels flat in comparison to what's already out there.
The game hasn't had the smoothest ride to launch, and in Katharine's interview with key members of Babylon Fall's dev team, it's clear that Platinum weren't all that comfortable making their first live service game. Sadly, it shows. For a whopping £60 price tag, you're getting an experience that's reminiscent of a free-to-play game flooded with loads of currencies and slight jank.
Even more upsetting are the momentary flashes of Platinum brilliance that shine through. The game hits you with the occasional stunning oil-painting backdrop, draws you in with the story for a split second. Sometimes the bosses are super cool, or you'll do an awesome last minute dodge and you'll feel unstoppable. Somewhere, deep down, there's a sliver of the fantastic Platinum. But it's mired in what it thinks makes a live service game tick and loses itself as a result.