Animus: Revenant Review (Switch)
Developer Trooze’s Animus series originally made a name for itself by bringing brutal RPG action to mobile devices. However, the latest entry in the series, Animus: Revenant, is a little different. Instead of a menu/mission-driven mobile template, Revenant provides players with a full game world that they can explore from start to finish, as a strong step in the direction of the PC/console titles that inspired the intense melee action of the series. Naturally, I was curious to see how well the change works.
I’ve always felt the appeal of Animus titles wears off a little too quickly for my tastes. Giving us a world to explore complete with lore and characters is definitely a step in the direction I’d like to see the series take. Though I am not absolutely certain Animus: Revenant pulls off all it intends to, it bites off a big chunk that is worth discussing before drawing final conclusions about the direction the series is now headed.
There isn’t much story until late game, but there are a few scattered NPCs with quests and cryptic narrative clues
I need to get something off my chest about games like Animus: Revenant and how they draw their inspiration. When Hidetaka Miyazaki made Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls with cryptic storytelling buried in textual descriptions and obscure and short hints from NPCs, it was in large part because he was playing to his strengths and didn’t feel he had mastered creating fully developed characters whose desires and actions could drive the plot. In my opinion, this approach shouldn’t be the default for someone inspired by his work. Not even Miyazaki himself is content with this approach anymore (see Sekiro). In fact, I might go as far as to say that many “soulslike” games have used the barebones template as an excuse to forgo the work of creating the kind of character-centered story that most RPGs boast. One of Animus: Revenant’s most egregious sins, in my mind, is it’s complete acceptance of this typical souslike approach to story. It’s 2021, I would rather meet characters who give me more than a few lines of dialog or a fetch quest, whose lives intertwine with my characters in surprising and moving ways.
I don’t want to spoil what little story there is, but expect to find a few NPCs in each area of the game. These characters present confusing tidbits of story and often, a quest (sometimes even culminating in cool hidden boss fights). Other than this, you are left to explore without much thought to the next immediate goal. And I do mean explore, because the way forward will not always be direct or obvious. While you explore, you can collect loot, kill enemies, and defeat bosses to make their weapons or armor your own. If you need a more story-centric game loop to get you through, this probably isn’t the RPG you are looking for. Honestly, I hope to see the Animus series as well as soulslikes in general break out of this barebones story-telling trend.
What improvements does Revenant bring to the mobile-centric Animus formula?
If your primary concern is playing a game like Dark Souls and a Diablo-esque isometric viewpoint sounds fun, you can stop reading and go get the game now. While we’re here, let’s go over the major ways that Animus: Revenant is a departure from previous Animus titles:
1) As I just referenced, the camera is now fixed in a 2/3rds overhead view similar to Diablo.
2) The menu/mission system used for traveling and upgrading has been replaced by a connected world where in-game systems are “discovered” (think Dark Souls).
3) Replaying missions is a thing of the past. When a boss is dead, you get his “memories” one time and must choose only one of the possible rewards.
I expect veterans of the Animus series will find these changes fine despite the title not breaking much new ground. Gameplay, as mentioned, in Revenant is strongly modeled after Dark Souls. All the hallmarks are there: stamina based combat, lock-on targeting, challenging enemies and bosses, dropping experience upon death, searching for respawn points and fast traveling between them, a similar approach to stats and leveling, and yes – a central hub that eventually provides you means to both level up and improve weapons and armor.
Animus has always been up front about its desire to be the Dark Souls of mobile gaming. The fact that Revenant succeeds at mostly pulling this off in an isometric viewpoint is likely enough for some players. Personally, I think this level of a console-like experience is actually an improvement over the mission-based loop from past titles that screamed “this was developed for mobile” to me. I know some people enjoy mobile titles, I just am typically not one of them.
You’ll begin in Animus: Revenant by making your way through a couple of tutorial levels until you eventually earn the ability to level up and craft/upgrade weapons and armor. Progressing to the next boss, killing it, unlocking the next save point, warping back to your home base to level up and craft is the one and only gameplay loop. Once you have that down, you just rinse and repeat until victory.
The long and short of it is that combat in Animus: Revenant is hit and miss. Most areas are short (until late game), and the variety of enemy attacks tends to be underwhelming. Ultimately, for me, the combat doesn’t hit that sweet spot of responsiveness I’ve grown accustomed to from soulslike titles. Beyond this, there are also strange difficulty spikes/dips. I suspect this has something to do with damage type and boss vulnerabilities, but on your first playthrough you are limited on the types of damage you can deal and you just have to make due with what you have on hand in most cases.
Speaking of bosses, a highlight of their design was that each has a second, harder phase. In most cases this means larger AOE attacks, an extra move to their main combo, summoning help, or adding status ailments to their attacks. At the end of the day, there is nothing new or striking about the combat in Animus: Revenant, but there really doesn’t need to be either. The camera, which has a locked viewpoint similar to Diablo, works fine for the most part but doesn’t feel like a big deal. Additionally, the locked perspective affects combat as it means your character may end up in a corner or side of the screen hidden behind scenery instead of being locked in the center of the screen. This sometimes created situations where you couldn’t see yourself at all or where you could trap a boss to trivialize the encounter. That being said, the Switch needs more 3D soulslikes in my opinion, I just wish Animus: Revenant had more lasting appeal.
Character progression is taken directly from Dark Souls. For those unfamiliar, you gain levels by collecting “memories.” These memories can be spent at your hub (once this is unlocked) to add a single point per level to stats like health, stamina, strength, etc. My major complaint about the progression system is that the bonuses for making your sword a +2 or +3 version didn’t affect gameplay. I have a +7 weapon that still takes as many hits to kill basic enemies as it did in its original form. You do unlock bonus skills on the weapons for upgrading them, but don’t expect to ever feel much stronger. I reached level 85 with all my gear at least +6 by the time I finished the story. Ultimately, the systems seem unneeded as they only provide a negligible enhancement to the amount of damage I dished out and received.
Though there is nothing actually wrong with the graphics in Animus: Revenant, but…they are pretty generic dark fantasy and feel played out long before you complete the 25-35 hour campaign.
The game itself looks fairly good on my Switch Lite. As I think back over the game, only the dungeon level made an impression and that was because it was so massive. The settings are all bleak. While unique from one another, each quickly feels repetitive within itself. There are few landmarks or unique parts of levels. Adding some would go a long way to improving the level design. Thankfully, most levels are short and this isn’t much of a problem. However, there are a few levels in the second half of the game that are much larger. The game did not adequately, in my opinion, prepare players for the jump in size and need for backtracking that came with these later levels. I’d like to see both some of the earlier levels lengthened as well as later levels shortened to give a more balanced feel. If I hadn’t developed intuitive mapping skills from games like Hollow Knight and Metroid, I may not have remembered the locked doors in previous levels that I would need to suddenly backtrack to about 2/3rds of the way through the game. This could lead to a lot of frustration. Adding an in-game mapping system that marked locked doors would probably help most players.
I’d love to see more work done with the engine to create just a better, more interesting world and level mechanics. Give us unique landmarks that make locations unforgettable. Let our actions produce some change to the world around us so we feel more connected. Give us environmental puzzles with unique visual clues. The tools are there to realize a more engaging and fun game world that doesn’t feel thin. I would like to see the next title in the Animus series do this. It would make your time in the game a lot more memorable as would an in game map.
As for how it runs and performs, I do not think I ever noticed my Switch Lite slowing down as I played Animus: Revenant. Load times were longer than I liked, which makes running back to your hub to upgrade things a bit more work than you might like. A patch did come out while I was playing the game, but other than some bosses getting stuck on scenery, I didn’t encounter any bugs at all during my playthrough – before or after the patch.
Is Animus: Revenant worth the price of admission?
Honestly, the game just went on too long. There are at least 25-30 bosses, maybe more if you find all the hidden optional ones. Only 2 – 3 of the bosses I fought were actually memorable. Most are just a bigger human with a big weapon repeating one or two combos. There was no real looking forward to seeing what the next boss would be like. At least half of the bosses I killed on the first try, the other half took no more than 2 – 3 attempts with only 2 bosses taking me a tad longer. Disappointingly, the rewards for killing a boss end up all being the same for the most part. Biggest difference seems to be that some bosses offer weapons with skills built for one type of damage like poison, while others offer healing spells or buffs. At the end of the day, however, I got through the game with the starting weapons I was given. I bought and upgraded others, just never felt like the skills they gave me were more useful than the ones the game gives you from the get go.
I enjoy seeing a long running series evolve and try new things, so I’m happy with Animus: Revenant in many ways. That being said, it stales late game and the systems for weapon upgrades and leveling up feel incidental as opposed to essential. Part of the fun of RPGs, at least for me, is building a character and becoming powerful. Unfortunately, that experience feels missing in large part here. I put between 30-35 hours into Animus: Revenant, but only the first 20 hours were truly enjoyable.
Looking ahead, I think the series will continue to evolve, and I look forward to that. But, for most Switch RPG enthusiasts, I can say Animus: Revenant does not need to be high on your list of what to play this summer.