Decay of Logos Review (Switch)
Release Date: November 28, 2019
File Size: 3.3 GB
Publisher: Rising Star Games
Developer: Amplify Creations
Click here to view on the Nintendo eShop.
This year was something of a roller coaster, in terms of reviews. Over the past twelve months, I’ve penned about forty reviews, starting last January with a title that, while I reviewed very positively, was not well-received by the rest of the press and public. I learned two lessons then: developers need to be held accountable for the issues regarding performance and progression, but they should be congratulated and when gameplay is truly solid and well-implemented. Now, a year later, I’ve had an opportunity to reflect on the aspects I enjoy about games and the limitations placed upon an independent studio. While Amplify Creations did themselves no favors launching Decay of Logos on many digital stores earlier this year, the developers and publisher did make an announcement to postpone its launch on the Switch, offering to iron out the kinks for any day-one adopters in the hopes of a more positive reception. I will always respect them for that decision, as will I respect what Decay of Logos attempts to do. An indie title with gameplay evoking punishing ARPGs and visuals akin to more recent Zelda titles, Decay of Logos treads the line between thoughtful discovery and brutal combat engagements. The result does not lack in ambition, but is instead impacted by the scope of its narrative and the budget of a smaller studio. Does this updated version of the game a decayed and rotten product, or does Logos end up smelling fresh and full of life?
Decay of Logos might allow for some non-linear gameplay throughout its twenty-something hour playtime, but the premise is fairly straightforward: you’ll take on the role of Ada as she journeys through a series of different environments, gathering the keys that allow her access to new locations and taking down any enemies that might stand in her way. The locations you’ll visit usually have an entrance and exit point, or perhaps a shortcut that loops back in upon itself, but these biomes are often large enough for some substantial exploration and adventuring. Amplify Creations has spread most of the progression keys across environments in ways that encourage a keen attention to detail- see an oddly-designed structure off in the distance, and chances are, there’s something sinister or beneficial lurking within. Though these keys may take the form of broken levers, demonic masks, or steam-pipe valves, there’s usually a set number Ada must gather before she can face down a more powerful foe.
This isn’t to say that the enemies wandering throughout the world aren’t a threat. Decay of Logos’ combat is daunting for newcomers, but it relies heavily on stamina management and almost never using your heavy attack option. There are few scenarios during which these weighty strikes will be of true benefit, mostly due to their massive stamina commitment as well as how agile opponents can be. However, if you do manage to get the sneak up on a passive foe, you can use these heavy strikes to take out most enemy HP. Once foes become engaged in combat, however, you’ll need to be light on your feet, as standing too close will often trigger an attack. The main flow to combat often deals with strafing around the edges of an enemy’s reach in order to sneak in a blow or two of your own, and you fortunately have access to dodge, slide, and parry options for use. Parrying does little to benefit one’s defense, though, as the act of blocking a strike amounts to a loss of stamina. Down the road, you’ll be able to utilize sword and shield combinations that allow for a great deal of unique movement and defense options.
What I can say with confidence is that that majority of the game’s weapons feel unique enough to serve their purpose in specific scenarios. There’s a truly impressive amount of weapon styles present in the game, and elemental variants of certain equipment are balanced well, gifting status infliction at the cost of much lower durability. Yes, there is a durability system in Decay of Logos, but it’s offset by the introduction of a forge after the game’s first act, which can repair both equipment and weaponry, should you favor certain tools. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to horde equipment, as Ada’s inventory is limited and her mysterious elk companion can only carry so much. There are a number of magical wells where you’ll be able to store extra equipment, but they only appear well-into the second act of the game. Not that this is a bad thing- the early-game weaponry and equipment quickly become irrelevant, but even then, they do possess unique aesthetics that are worth checking out.
Aesthetics and Narrative
Narrative is actually one of Decay of Logos’s stronger suits, as the game features a lovely lore system that allows players to piece together the story if they should deem it necessary. Though most of these lore entries aren’t mandatory, they can give valuable hints as to the objective for each environment, as well as establishing context for what exactly has unfolded in each desolate area. As it turns out, there are reasons for almost every character to exist within the game world, including enemies. The cause for a swamp infested with dryads is far more sinister than one might think, and the designs and mechanics of each boss fight are telegraphed long before Ada crosses blades with them.
Decay of Logos is not the best-looking game on the Switch, but with the extra time in the oven, Amplify Creations has improved the frame rate and visuals for the game… somewhat. There are still a number of instances where I’ve experienced dropped frames during combat and other, non-resource intensive moments. I am glad to report, however, that this new version is far less buggy than the initial August release. At its best, Decay of Logos is actually very impressive, with a number of beautiful vistas and a decent environmental draw distance, evoking some of the imagery of Breath of the Wild with its simplistic color palette. However, there are a number of very dark areas in the game, and though there are both equipment and spells that can mitigate this, these darkened areas can be a bit of a slog to navigate, with the lighting engine doing them no favors. This is clearly an intentional choice, as it further heightens the risk of exploration, but I do wish that Amplify had eased up on this element a bit.
Because of its stamina-intensive combat, character animations are a crucial element in both art design and gameplay. For the most part, the characters and enemies in Decay of Logos are very impressively choreographed, possessing detailed movements that last for a significant period of time. It is the frequency of these animations and some of their additional consequences that cause certain issues to pop up, but we’ll touch on that later. The enemy design is also quite varied, though there’s a fair majority more humanoid monsters than anything, the unique characteristics they possess in stature and concept is welcome. You’ll witness strange dryads, haunted suits of armor, scrappy little feral children, and the imposing and dangerous Darknut-like royal guard. On the more monstrous side of things, you’ll encounter odd onion-beasts, cyclopean bees, tree-wielding giants, and some of the most frustrating mud-slugs I’ve ever faced down in an RPG. All of them possess a unique, yet uniformly odd aesthetic that is endearing in its own way. Equally impressive are the vast amounts of unique weaponry that Ada can wield, as each possesses its own set of animations, while many have multiple iterations of their design with their own individual aesthetics.
Music is fairly light in Decay of Logos, only featuring during boss encounters, while the rest of the game offers quiet exploration. There are some impressive sound effects used, but Ada’s voice clips always sound as if she is deep within an echoing cavern, which presents something of a disconnect. Still, the sounds that weapons make when they clash against different surfaces are satisfying and detailed, and you may catch a Wilhelm scream not too far into the game. The most ambitious element of Decay of Logos’ soundscape are the fully-voiced NPCs, adding a rustic and somewhat grimy feel to the world and its inhabitants.
Impressions and Conclusions
I can safely say that many of the unexpected crashes I previously encountered are no longer present- no more odd inventory screen locks forcing a soft-lock, or odd clipping issues- with one exception. There are some very nice barrel and box physics going on in Decay of Logos, but these structures can also have salves and potions hidden within them. Unfortunately, these can sometimes spawn in walls or underneath so much wooden debris that you can hardly interact with them, leading to some frustrated sliding around in order to knock things out of the way.
I don’t know if Decay of Logos is a game for everyone, but when it is firing on all cylinders, it is an incredibly engaging experience. The expanse nature of many of the environments means that you’ll likely end up poking your head into a variety of places for around twenty to twenty-five hours. The environment design is also varied enough that no two locations have the same approach: the opening swamp has many dilapidated structures to climb, as well as a sprawling series of subterranean tunnels, while the other two locations feature steam-powered elevators and ghost-infested battlefields, and a labyrinthine two-floor maze alongside a sprawling valley lined with hidden secrets in mountains. Additionally, every boss encounter in these three areas is varied in a way that feels satisfying and different from one another, playing with a specific mechanic. Where the game truly shines, however, are its Arx, blocky dungeons that often feature multiple enemy encounters and their own unique gimmicks. While several of these Arx are optional, they often possess impressive pieces of equipment and neat concepts that push the rules of the game to their limits. An Arx completely shrouded in shadow is meant to disorient the player, just as another might possess a simple switch that sets another door to slowly descend. They’re fun in spite of their aesthetic similarities, and feel more dungeon-like than Breath of the Wild’s shrines or Divine Beasts.
This isn’t to say the game is perfect, however. Many enemies demand constant weaving from in and out of their reach in order to exploit their animations, while others cycle their animations so quickly that they can easily stun lock a player to death. Remember those slugs I talked about earlier? Screw those guys. The cyclopean bees will also fling themselves at their enemy, but if you should end up locked-on to them during this animation or when they’re above you, you’ll find your camera having a spasm as a result. In addition, though the process of taming your elk companion is marketed as an essential element of the game, it is one that has one immediate reward- additional inventory spots- while leading to few others down the road. With enough effort, the elk becomes a valuable ally in areas where enemies will gang up on Ada, and can be used as a paperweight to hold down switches. Outside of this, though, she doesn’t do much. While I’m also happy to confirm that riding the elk is a much smoother experience, as its turning capabilities have been vastly improved, there is no real reason to do so, as Ada can sprint just as fast, and the stamina cooldown is nothing too great to deal with. Although it might seem like the elk has no purpose within the game, she contributes to the narrative in a significant way- which I won’t spoil, but is well-worth the length of the campaign.
In the end, Decay of Logos attempts to take a number of ideas from some of the most popular releases of its time and mash them together. The result is one that can prove immensely frustrating- the game’s death mechanic also punishes the player with stat debuffs until they can find an area where they can stop and camp, and even then, you might be roused from sleep in order to fight enemies stalking you in the dead of night. Weapons despawn from the world if you should die, which means some of the unique pieces of equipment can be lost forever if you’re not careful enough. There’s a weapon and equipment durability system that will force you to switch up your options on many occasions, though these can be repaired in the town hub. Even the limited selection of spells will drain your health should you cast them. But with the various fixes to performance, the game is now much more bearable to play in spite of its imperfections, and it’s those imperfections that result in a game that is a whole lot of fun- once you figure out how to play it. New Game + offers some additional pieces of equipment and the chance to view the opposite of the two endings to the game.
While I can’t say that Decay of Logos is a game that will be enjoyed by every RPG fan, it is a monumental achievement for a development studio with little else outside of game development tools under their belt. If you enjoy the brutal difficulty of many Action Role-Playing Games, but you’re looking for something with more of a European flair, Decay of Logos might be the game for you. It’s minuscule issues and errors might prove a bit too aggravating for some, but if you’re patient, determined, and looking for a game with some nice narrative twists, Decay of Logos provides a fresh and substantial meal that doesn’t rot away after the credits roll.