Review: Apotheon

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This is twice now that Alientrap has tricked me with a promising game spoiled by bizarre, floaty combat. Capsized was a beautiful little odyssey on a hostile alien world, but the enormous clusterfuck that battles inevitably became in every level turned me away. The saving grace of Apotheon is that there’s a lot more going on than awkward swordfights, enough to keep me invested and poking through the ruins of antiquity. It’s a testament, in fact, to how interesting the world and its secrets are that I can continue to put up with this awful flailing to see it.

The Greek pantheon has turned their back on the mortal world (as they so often do in games), and you just happen to be the lucky stiff who gets to sort them out. With the aid of Hera you travel to Olympus to steal back the divine powers that keep Earth spinning and hospitable, but don’t expect the gods to take this lightly. You’ll need plenty of weapons, armor, potions, and gizmos to survive in their domains and overcome the unique challenges each god presents.

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Apotheon carves out an interesting niche where games like Zelda II and (funny enough) Journey to Olympus existed so long ago. It’s not a metroidvania, but rather a side-scrolling adventure with a whole world to explore as you gain the power and resources to explore it. Olympus serves as a hub for shops and services to spend the gold you find, and then depart into the realm of the next god on your hit list. Major story beats open up new sections of Olympus and new deities to challenge, and there’s an appropriately epic tale to carry you along.

You may be surprised at the variety of environments you face when you seek out the power of a god. Each realm is cleverly designed to represent their patron and also provide an experience unique from the others. In the forest of Artemis you’ll find wild animals to hunt and neutral hunters to compete with. Hades is a land of darkness and lost souls that constantly hound you. And Apollo’s realm is a lavish palace that you’ll take a very unexpected route through. Each of these areas includes tons of secret rooms and stashes to uncover, as well as unique secrets like special NPCs to meet or legendary vaults to raid.

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Most realms will have you turning to combat at some point or another, and this is where the game stumbles almost as hard as its goofy combatants. Apotheon takes a stab at 2D tactical melee combat, complete with facing, blocking, locational damage, and stamina. There’s even rolling if the comparisons to Dark Souls haven’t already made themselves. However, this is all taking place in a realm of platforming where you and your opponents can run like Sonic and leap three times their own height. If combat were somehow slowed and grounded (or even just had player collision) it would work as intended but what you end up with is an insane gaggle of bounding, stabbing bodies flailing at each other until you get enough lucky hits off. Even one-on-one duels devolve into leaping and swiping and missing like spastic, jousting field mice.

As bad as the combat is, strangely enough the boss battles almost make up for it in how creative and challenging they are. Not every realm ends with a boss battle but the ones that do have themes just as creative and diverse as the realm itself. Your quest to overcome each god is incredibly faithful to historical legend, with hunts and epic voyages and deception pulled straight from epic poetry. There are labyrinths to escape, seas to sail, and pitched battles between dozens of soldiers, each adhering perfectly to the myths surrounding the deity they fall under. And it’s worth mentioning that the ending is spectacular, both in spectacle and stakes.

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The further I got into Apotheon the more I found myself drawn into its clever world, and not just for the brilliance of the realms. There’s a wealth of items and secrets to discover, owing to the transitive nature of the gear you’ll use. Your weapons all have durability and break once it runs out with no recourse, so you’ll need to constantly be collecting new ones scattered liberally around the world. There are dozens of potions, bombs, and gadgets to help you as well, either found or crafted using easily-gathered materials. You can upgrade your armor and your weapon skills permanently for gold, so accumulating wealth is another driver in the quest for secrets. And then there are legendary items like burning blades and radiant shields to recover and make use of.

All this happens in a world that’s surprisingly open to how you want to approach it. Hub areas have locked doors and guarded treasures to explore if you choose to challenge the guards. Unique keys and clues access side quests and hidden relics throughout the realms. There are breakable walls, secret switches, and special characters to find as well. By the end I felt like Apotheon had more fascinating secrets than most proper metroidvanias, and my curiosity still has not abated. There’s so much to compliment about the game without even touching the incredible art style or sound design that the shoddy, floaty combat seems almost an afterthought. Not many games nail the feel of epic mythology like Apotheon, and fewer still build such a quality game on it.

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