With each new showing pre-release, PlatinumGames and Square Enix’s Babylon’s Fall looked less interesting. This was mostly due to the fact that it was an online-only action RPG with a confusing aesthetic that seemed like it had identity issues. I liked some aspects of the visuals and whatever music we heard in trailers, but wasn’t sold on actually spending time with it despite pre-ordering the game physically for the SteelBook. Around launch day, Square Enix sent me a Babylon’s Fall review code on PS5 and I’ve been slowly chipping away at the game over the last month or so to see if it actually had potential for improvement or was a lost cause. I wasn’t sure what to expect after the opening hours put me off, but decided to see the campaign through all the way and try out the collaboration events while I had people to play it with. I ended up finding a few things I enjoyed a lot about Babylon’s Fall that unlocked later on and also getting the platinum trophy on PS5.
Having experienced the full campaign, played a lot of the postgame with others, completing the NieR: Automata event including the secret mission a few times, and also helping out newer players through the campaign, there are a lot of problems with the game, but also things drawing me back to it. The combat later on is a lot of fun and certain boss fights and quests have been great to test out new builds with. A lot has changed since launch for Babylon’s Fall through updates, but I’m baffled at how most of the in-game systems and so much of the good content is locked behind over a dozen hours of playing at least. Babylon’s Fall in its current state still needs a lot of work in some key areas to be something I can easily recommend even to fans of PlatinumGames, but there definitely is potential here.
The opening hours of the campaign feel like a complete waste of time with boring and repetitive levels accompanied by a story that makes no sense. If I wasn’t reviewing Babylon’s Fall, I’d have likely given up after about 5 hours, but I decided to see it to the end in co-op rather than powering through things solo which was a lot harder. As I made it deeper into the main story campaign, I noticed the enemies and in-game systems slowly improve and open up. For this review over a month after launch covering the PS5 version, I wanted to highlight what works and what needs to be addressed for it to be something fans of looters and PlatinumGames games can enjoy.
Babylon’s Fall initially feels like a free-to-play button masher action game with a confusing visual style that has many live service elements as you are put into a story that doesn’t make sense. A lot of the basic in-game systems aren’t explained well, and there’s no indication that things can improve. While the bosses despite some reuse in levels were fun to take on, the later parts of the campaign including the last two areas were great when it comes to the aesthetic and the layouts. One of the final areas of the current campaign even reminded me of a late area in Xenoblade Chronicles 2. After finishing the campaign and seeing all the in-game systems suddenly available with new mission types, I decided to spend a lot of time playing and also checking out hte NieR: Automata event which has been quite excellent.
In addition to the regular story quests, Babylon’s Fall has a few other quest types you unlock through progression. While the early chapters felt like you’re just going from corridor to corridor taking on a group of enemies or a boss, the additional modes that unlock after the campaign have been great at bringing some variety into the gameplay. They range from boss battles against powerful foes in special areas and defending against hordes of enemies. I feel like some of these should be gradually unlocked through the early hours of the campaign rather than unloading so much content and in-game systems when you finish the final boss battle of the campaign.
The boss battles in Babylon’s Fall range from dealing with a specific large and powerful foe to taking on hordes of enemies alongside a more powerful one. While the latter can get boring, the former is the real draw with how some bosses have bullet hell projectile patterns, massive attack damage, and some that have their own special arenas. The final boss of the campaign is definitely a highlight with its design and the fight while one from the middle of the game reminded me of some of PlatinumGames’ more interesting bosses.
One of Babylon’s Fall’s strengths is the combat system despite it initially feeling very basic. You have a light attack, heavy attack, and two spectral attacks. Using the light and heavy attacks gets you SP while the spectral attacks use up your SP. By default, the light and heavy attacks are mapped to square and triangle, while the spectral attacks are mapped to the triggers. The adaptive trigger support on PS5 for spectral attacks offering different resistance depending on your SP gauge and the attack is very nicely implemented. You can and should also lock on to enemies and bosses as you target them with ranged or melee attacks.
The combat system also varies quite a bit depending on what weapon type you equip to which slot. Using a shield or hammer in the spectral attack slot will let you charge up massive damage attacks or protect yourself from damage. I spent most of my time in the campaign using a sword on light attack, rod or bow on heavy attack, and rotated between shields, hammers, and axes in the spectral slots. One thing to note is specific levels will have environmental hazards or darkness where you will need a lantern that blocks you from using your spectral attacks until you leave the lantern in place. These levels are the worst despite the potential at adding a layer of strategy. I replayed a lot of the earlier levels to help out new players online, but avoided these. They are that bad.
Another surprising thing that unlocked after the campaign is the option to use different attack modes for each weapon. This lets you change your playstyle to add in more damage, focus on chaining combos, and more. Barring being able to opt ofr a more technical style focusing on combos, you can also change the attack modes either let them be more powerful at the cost of higher SP. While I was initially overwhelmed with how much customization the game seemingly had when I finished the campaign, it all made sense after trying out a few combinations during early levels when I just replayed some quests to experiment. One more element of combat is how your Gideon Coffin (the thing on your back) can change your playstyle. You get the ability to use skills like soul snatch to gain a bit of HP and SP back from enemies near death, or vault towards enemies, and more.
The main campaign is split up into different parts of the Tower of Babylon. There are story missions that unlock beyond that as well, but the main story is focused on that. Each part of the tower is represented by four different cloisters and a few additional areas that all have their own aesthetic. The last two areas specifically can look excellent with great boss battles even in the early parts. As you complete early levels, you unlock more gear, in-game currency, various crafting materials, and face off against harder enemies. The levels are usually split up into different chapters that have you doing some light platforming, moving underwater, avoiding traps, using the environment to your advantage in battles, and opening chests that are usually in plain sight but also sometimes hidden.
You can take on these quests solo or through matchmaking and play with friends and randoms. Around launch, I struggled to find games quickly, but it has become a bit better at least in the later stages and the post-game now on PS5 across the North American server. While it does scale for solo play, Babylon’s Fall is not worth playing unless you have at least one person to play with you. Being a looter as well, you will spend time replaying quests and revisiting older areas to get better loot and raise your power level and stats through leveling up. The post-game quests are much easier when played with others as well.
What surprised me the most about Babylon’s Fall about halfway through the campaign is how so many of the in-game systems are invisible or locked until you finish a good amount of the campaign or even defeat the final boss. Once you finish the final main campaign quest, you unlock new quest types like skirmishes, sieges, gauntlets, and duels that almost all have much higher power level requirements than you’d be used to in the campaign. I’d say the first 75% of the campaign is basically a long and boring tutorial before it offers any challenge.
Despite being marketed as an action RPG, it is very much a looter as well. You get loads of relics during quests of varying rarity that are appraised or exchanged mostly for weapons and armor. The core loop in Babylon’s Fall early on is finishing the chapters in a specific quest, equipping the new and better gear you find, buying items sometimes, and then getting back into the grind to the next quest. You slowly unlock the ability to enhance, recycle, and meld your gear as you progress. This can get confusing with how many different crafting materials are available in Babylon’s Fall and how little these things are explained to players.
Visually, the oil painting aesthetic is inconsistent but mostly not great. Babylon’s Fall can look very good, but it ends up being just acceptable with some poor character designs and clarity issues in later levels. Having interesting level design involving traps or platforming is good, but it feels like a waste when your visual filter makes it hard to identify certain things in some levels. This is a bigger issue in the levels full of darkness with a lantern and others that have similar handicaps. Thankfully, the team has announced that some of the levels will be patched to have better clarity.
I ran into some visual issues in specific story cut-scenes where the main character’s hair was flickering or glitching during an important story moment. Some of these cut-scenes also look very cheap with how some characters seem to just talk and not move. Babylon’s Fall can have some interesting cut-scenes involving bosses or larger enemies during story moments, but most of them fell flat in the campaign. On the other hand, performance has been great on PS5 for me alongside the fast load times.
Speaking of the PS5 version, Babylon’s Fall has support for the console’s activity cards and it also makes great use of the DualSense controller features like haptic feedback and adaptive triggers. I’m not sure if this option is also in the PC version, but it was nice to see PlatinumGames take advantage of the controller features on PS5.
Voice acting is a mixed bag here. Some characters sound great, while others sound too robotic. The voice acting in cut-scenes is mostly let down by how stiff some animations are. The banter or in-quest dialogue is mostly good though. The real star of the audio here is the soundtrack. I enjoyed many of the boss themes and a few area-specific songs quite a bit.
While I have praised a lot of aspects of the combat and bosses, much of the annoyances in Babylon’s Fall come from how it feels like two different design philosophies were at play. One seems like it was pushing Babylon’s Fall to be a co-op action RPG with looter elements, while another was pushing for a free-to-play live service game. It sucks to see a full-priced game not only have a battle pass that is always in your face, but one that has lots of premium cosmetics. This stings more because the first collaboration event with the awesome NieR: Automata has locked some of the best cosmetics behind very expensive premium currency purchases. Monster Hunter World was a good example of a live service for a premium game done well despite many paid cosmetics.
Having paid cosmetics isn’t the biggest problem, but charging over $15 and around $20 for something like the full 2B appearance set is bad. These things should be items you can earn through progress in-game during the event or priced much lower. Having played through the game with the latest patches, there is still a lot of work that needs to go into balancing this bit better. It still very much feels like a free-to-play game being sold for $60 when you see things like this happen. The current season premium battle pass has been given free to all owners of the game, but I don’t know how much this would cost for the second and eventually third season.
Having a lot of the main game modes and core mechanics locked behind finishing most of if not the complete main story campaign (about 15 hours or so) has definitely hurt the game in addition to problems with the visuals. Hopefully future updates can slowly add some of the post-game modes even in basic formats to make things more interesting as players work through the campaign early on.
Right now, Babylon’s Fall is worth trying through the demo before you should consider picking it up on a discount. The only way forward for this release seems to be going free-to-play and rewarding anyone who paid full price with a lot of the premium currency while transitioning the paid version to more of a “Starter Pack” or premium bundle you see with other free-to-play games. There is definitely potential here and I wouldn’t have spent this much time after the campaign to get the platinum trophy if I wasn’t enjoying myself.
A lot of the bosses and areas are worth experiencing, but it is hard to recommend without caveats at even half price right now unless you click with the combat in the demo and have people to play it with. The few patches so far that helped with solo campaign progression and the NieR: Automata event made me come back to play Babylon’s Fall nearly daily, but I hope the team can improve the opening hours and early progression to not turn people off so quickly. I look forward to seeing how it evolves through the next few months with more updates and seasons that hopefully make it so that the best content isn’t locked behind over a dozen hours of playing.