Clash: Artifacts of Chaos Review

Clash: Artifacts of Chaos Header

There’s a unique and wonderful strain of oddity that runs through everything that ACE Team touches, from their original first-person brawler Zeno Clash, through the ball-busting Rock of Ages series up to 2021’s The Eternal Cylinder. That atypical tone seems unlikely to change, with Clash: Artifacts of Chaos the latest game set in the Zeno Clash universe, and one that’s just as completely and utterly weird as its older siblings.

Set in the world of Zenozoik, Clash: Artifacts of Chaos centres on the exploits of Pseudo and his small feathery charge, the Boy. These two are the most curious-looking protagonists you’re likely to see this year, but they swiftly find their way under your skin. Pseudo unwittingly becomes the Boy’s guardian, journeying through the world whilst protecting him from the clutches of the terrifying, tall and two-headed Gemini as well as her lethal henchmen.

Clash: Artifacts of Chaos is a brawler by way of the Souls genre, meaning you face off with your fists and feet against a series of viciously dangerous creatures, all of whom can reduce Pseudo to a wraith-like wood spirit in no time at all. Just like FromSoftware’s punishing titles, the key here is timing and knowing when to strike, which is occasionally hard to do when things are going your way and Artifacts of Chaos fools you into momentarily thinking you can mash the buttons for success (Note: you can’t). As you progress you can level up your skills, learn new moves and select from different fighting stances, giving you a variety of ways to engage in battle.

Clash Artifacts of Chaos visuals

The earlier Zeno Clash games were played out in first-person, but Artifacts of Chaos takes a third-person approach most of the time. There’s a nice nod to its predecessors though as you can briefly enter first-person mode once you’ve filled a meter, allowing you to then use a new set of attacks that include a powerful finisher move. It’s not only absolutely lethal, it gives you a spot of breathing space if you’re facing multiple enemies. Combat feels both weighty and meaningful, and it’s a consistent highlight throughout the game’s runtime.

You can sway some of these encounters in your favour before fists start flying. The titular Artifacts are used for battles with ‘sentient’ enemies, and you can challenge, or be challenged, to a game of chance and strategy that will influence the upcoming battle. Lose, and you’ll be subject to a permanent debuff, whether that’s being attacked by hornets if you stand still or having yourself permanently tethered to a stake in the ground. It adds yet another unique flavour to the design melting pot, and as a fan of strategy games I really enjoyed the change of pace. First, you and your opponent roll three dice. Then you use a Tchak to modify both your and your opponent’s scores, possibly eliminating their dice entirely if you’re smart about it.

Clash Artifacts of Chaos dice

The art direction here is incredible, bringing to life a world like nothing you’ve ever played before – unless you’ve encountered the earlier games in the series. ACE Team have managed to fashion a living comic book that feels like a lost 2000AD saga. It features some of the most idiosyncratic characters I’ve ever seen, starting with Pseudo the main protagonist. In the sleeping world where you’re sent if you die, he has a wooden exoskeleton, replete with nails sticking out of his back. Once he regains life he is a horrific creation, with no nose, emaciated stomach and random long hairs protruding from everywhere. Unbelievably, there’s gentleness, honour and virtue in this character, despite his curious appearance.

The adherence to the Souls-like form is clear to see, and it’s a format that works well within the lethal world of Zenozoik. Whether it’s the looping, multiple pathways of the world, each of which begin to link and open up with previously visited areas, or the campfires that you save and rest at, ACE Team has clearly been watching FromSoftware’s rise to glory with interest. Even the loss of life bears an uncanny resemblance to the Souls series, with Pseudo entering a night realm version of the world and attempting to return to the spot where he previously died. Make it back and you’ll immediately be resurrected, with all of your items intact, otherwise you’re forced to reload from your last save point. It means that, in general, you need to be very, very careful.

Clash Artifacts of Chaos combat

Clash: Artifacts of Chaos isn’t without some hindrances beyond the exceptionally tough enemies. There’s the whiff of jank that has hung around the Souls genre since its incarnation, ranging from missteps on pathways that fling you to your death or enemies you can’t lock onto before they’re reduced your health bar to zero. I also experienced at least two hard crashes on Xbox Series X that lost me a chunk of progress and booted me back to the home screen, and while that’s relatively limited within the game’s twenty-hour runtime it still shouldn’t really happen.

Equally, that runtime is bloated by the game’s poor routing. I’m all for games not holding your hand every step of the way, but when the path forward is some obscure little passageway that you can’t find for sixty minutes you’re going to have to exercise some supreme patience. ACE Team has seemingly dropped a patch that aims to make route-finding a little easier, but that hasn’t helped with this playthrough.

Clash: Artifacts of Chaos is an idiosyncratic adventure, managing to be jaw-droppingly beautiful, fun and often mesmerising while hanging on to some of the Souls-like genre’s most frustrating elements.
  • Vibrant and unique art style
  • Excellent martial arts combat
  • Intriguing characters and world
  • Poor route finding
  • Some bugs and rough edges
Written by
TSA's Reviews Editor - a hoarder of headsets who regularly argues that the Sega Saturn was the best console ever released.