Decay of Logos is a pretty entertaining game—it is also tough as nails. These are the two forces at conflict throughout the entire experience of playing the game. Much as Below and Dark Souls before it, this punishing action RPG asks a lot of its players—but for those willing to delve into the dark dungeons, mountains, mines, forests, and soggy fens of the Divided Kingdom, Decay of Logos comes recommended.
The first internally developed game from middleware company Amplify Creations, Decay of Logos is much more than a professional tech demo. Attracting attention last year for its bright fantasy visuals, the game has been compared the latest entry in the Zelda series. However, beyond visuals any connections are only insofar as Dark Souls borrowed from Zelda and Breath of the Wild itself borrowed from Dark Souls.
Yes, Decay of Logos is fully a soulslike (or soulsborne, or whatever you want to call the subgenre that emerged with Demon’s Souls in 2009). Such a moniker is too quickly applied to any action RPG with punishing difficulty and a certain philosophy of world design (similarly to the equally poor term “Metroidvania”)—but as Daniel explored in his piece on the topic, the last ten years have seen the ground trodden by more comparable games, both good and bad.
Decay of Logos weaves an abstruse but entertaining story through a decaying fantasy kingdom, laid waste by its powerful rulers who must be conquered in semi-nonlinear fashion. Combined with stamina-based, animation-priority combat, the game is an active participant in the soulslike trend, and its polish and sense of discovery put it ahead of the pack.
Players take charge of Ada, a girl whose village is burned to the ground in the opening cutscene. Saved by a possibly-magical elk and fueled by a need for revenge, she sets out on a journey through the many lands of the divided kingdom: players will explore ruins, meet other travellers, and slaughter the blue-bloods who get in her way.
The world design is absolutely lovely: from pitch black tunnels, to high mountain peaks battered by wind, to the various outlying regions that the main bosses inhabit. Befitting of a middleware studio, everything hums with the energy of a well-polished product. Different regions have strikingly distinct ambience, from the way the sunlight hits the trees in the forest to the birds in the trees and the creaking, dripping noises deep underground.
Then comes the actual combat, which tries its hardest to keep players from rushing through this majestic world. Games of this sort are often unpalatable at the very start, though, which was no different in this reviewer’s experience in Decay of Logos. Though I am not about to exhaustively list the points of comparison with genre ur-text Dark Souls, part of the joy of this genre is the personal discovery along the way, and the game is better left as unspoiled as possible—so reader beware.
In Dark Souls and Bloodborne, the most punishing system by far is the collection and loss of experience points. Die once while carrying souls or blood echoes and they remain where you died; die on the way to retrieving them (something all too easy with such unforgiving combat) and they are gone forever. To make use of the experience points, players must reach specific places or NPCs in order to spend them on levelling up.
Decay of Logos actually employs a much rarer experience system for the soulslike genre, something for fans of Final Fantasy II and the Saga series that followed on: the more Ada does something, the better she is at doing it next time. Killing enemies improves her strength, solving puzzles improves her intelligence.
Unfortunately, this feature also means that dying once makes dying again even easier, as every death increases a debuff to all of Ada’s stats until you manage to have an uninterrupted night’s sleep at a designated checkpoint. Given that sleeping out in the open leaves you subject to nightly ambushes, this can leave players in a circle of trying to sleep, being ambushed and dying, then trying to sleep to recover from being ambushed, then dying again. Paired with a seemingly random loot-drop system, as well as fairly fast weapon and armour degradation, this system can be incredibly frustrating.
The player must simply press on through these difficulties. As they become familiar with the ins and outs of Decay of Logos’s systems, they make more progress. As Ada defeats more enemies, the stronger she gets, and the more items she collects to aid her in her quest. For the determined player, progress does not take long, as long as they soldier forward.
All of this is to say that Decay of Logos is not for everyone, even all fans of action RPGs. The game is much tougher than even most other soulslikes that have come along lately. Whether intentionally or not, the placement of traps and combat design are nastier—much closer to Dark Souls 2 than, say, Bloodborne. Some enemies have attacks with clearly defined arcs in animation that, somehow, manage to hit Ada when she is well out of range. At times, Ada will be staggered or knocked to the ground, only to be knocked over again before players can move out of the way.
These are smaller aspects of this brand of animation-priority combat that the original Dark Souls made waves by really improving upon, so whether the added pain in Decay of Logos is bad design, or more punishing by design, is in the eye of the beholder. The relatively forgiving experience system means that nothing is truly pointless, even a dozen deaths to the same enemy, so long as Ada gets her sleep.
Also like Dark Souls 2, the Kingdom itself boasts less of the Rubik’s Cube nature of the original Dark Souls‘s Lordran. Rather than spiralling vertical intricacies, Decay of Logos spreads out in spokes from the main hub. This is also a matter of taste, but the lower occurrence of exciting “look—you just opened a shortcut!” moments is worth considering.
Right now, the game could also use a few more user experience passes, which may indeed be on the way for its launch next week. Menus occasionally glitched out during play and voice lines were often chopped off before the end, while the combat camera leaves something to be desired: wavering halfway between the “always over the shoulder” view of Dark Souls and the free camera of older Zelda games. Certain attacks that stagger Ada would also untarget the current foe, and whether or not this is also intentional, it bears mentioning as particularly frustrating.
As for the elk mentioned at the start? Well, the existence of the creature brings a welcome Princess Mononoke vibe, and their usefulness in combat and puzzles increases as the game goes on. However, as an Epona-esque riding companion to Ada, controlling the elk is woefully bad.
I can understand why Amplify Creations feels the need to restrict the elk’s practicality—to not let players skip most of the combat encounters as easily as riding past them—but the flavourful idea of a wild animal that does not do as it is told should be delivered through gameplay, not through touchy, finicky controls.
At this point, decrying the necessity of a star rating is basically a cliche, but the fact is that a rating will not help invite or warn off potential players of Decay of Logos. The game is not quite distinctive enough to reach a wider audience, but neither is it as clunky and edgelordy as the also-divisive Darksiders III, so the game gets a hearty Credit from me. Bump the score up to a Distinction for any Souls fans willing to take a punt on a beautiful indie.
Reviewed on PC. Coming to PlayStation 4 on August 27, Nintendo Switch on August 29, and PC and Xbox One on August 30.