Square’s Babylon’s Fall is out now on PlayStation 4/5 and PC, and we tested the PS5 version. Should Xbox owners be sad that this one passed them by?
We had been looking forward to Square’s Babylon’s Fall for quite a while, largely because PlatinumGames was developing it – the studio behind games such as Bayonetta, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance and Nier: Automata. As with many of their previous titles, melee combat is a big part of the game, in which your protagonist arrives in a city that’s situated in the shadow of an immensely large seaside tower called the Ziggurat, which is powered by a blue sun. It’s the source of a disease called the Blue Death and home to the Gallu, who venture into the city and oppress and murder its citizens.
It’s a narrative premise that explains why Sentinels head into the mysterious tower to try and take out the blue sun at the top, but although the world seems interesting enough this isn’t a game that thrills through an intriguing and twisting storyline. There are fragments of a story in cutscenes and mid-gameplay, but it rarely feels engaging. Instead, it’s firmly focused on combat, pretty much to the point where a seemingly endless sequence of battles feels like a grind rather than an action adventure.
A large part of that is that the combat, despite a decent first impression, doesn’t seem to flow like it does in other PlatinumGames titles. One of the core mechanics is that each Sentinel heading into the Ziggurat wears a “Gideon Coffin” that houses four different weapons that you can alternate between as you wield a weapon in each hand. In the melee genre this definitely feels like a novelty, with a lot of fighting controls centered around the triggers while face buttons switch between weapons and activate special attacks. Those get charged up through well-timed dodge moves, so there’s definitely potential for some refreshing combat here.
Unfortunately though, it seems to be impossible to create combos while switching to other weapons mid-combo, which makes alternating them far less appealing than it should be. And if that’s the case, then having those spare weapons flow around you while attached to your “Gideon Coffin” sometimes only serves to obscure your view of the action.
We’ve always played PlatinumGames productions as single player action adventures, and perhaps the reason that Babylon’s Fall didn’t quite hit home like those games is that it’s intermixed with “live service” elements. New content gets added, there’s a season model, and an in-game store that lets you purchase new stuff through microtransactions. And while we’re not opposed to that, the approach here makes getting to the top of the Ziggurat feel like less of an “endgame” kind of goal. It’s hard to balance a good single player story experience with a strong “ongoing service” component, and even Destiny 2 isn’t perfect in that regard.
What doesn’t help is that Babylon’s Fall doesn’t look all that great either, even though it comes with a native “next gen” version. While the in-game action can look like Returnal in a way, there’s a weird kind of filter over everything that makes the visuals look rather washed out. It’s almost to the point where it looks like the visuals are rendered at a lower resolution than they really are, and the cutscenes don’t showcase a great attention to detail either. When you consider how great the Vanquish and Bayonetta remasters looked on the PS4, the jump from the PS3 to the PS5 generation is disappointing.
There’s an undeniable quality to the melee combat in Babylon’s Fall that shows us this is a PlatinumGames production, but with its middle ground between single player action adventure and live service approach it’s hard to recommend the game. Other recently released games have more focus and polish, and we’ve even recommend playing some of PlatinumGames’ older titles over this one – especially if you factor in the game’s price point and the additional cost if you jump aboard for the microtransactions.