The legendary hero Achilles was heralded as the greatest of all the Greeks, so shouldn’t that make Achilles: Legends Untold the greatest of all the video games? Well, to put it succinctly, no. But that doesn’t mean this action RPG isn’t worth your time, as it has a lot to offer despite its Achilles’ heel-like shortcomings.
Unsurprisingly, you take on the role of the iconic warrior Achilles during the cataclysmic siege of Troy. After vanquishing Hector in a rather underwhelming show-down, Achilles is quickly dispatched by Paris in one of those annoying ‘you were always meant to lose’ boss fights. That’s where shenanigans kick off properly, with Achilles mysteriously brought back to life and returned to Greece some ten years later. Achilles must find out what has happened during the intervening decade, uncover the secrets of his rebirth, seek out his fellow Myrmidons, and kill loads and loads of monsters in as gory a fashion as possible.
The best way to describe Achilles: Legends Untold is as an isometric 3D action adventure with RPG-lite elements and occasional Dark Souls aspirations. By that I mean this game is harder than Achilles’ abs, particularly when played on Hero mode – thankfully Wanderer mode is a tad more welcoming, at least in the early going. Each enemy encounter could easily be your last, but luckily for Achilles, he’ll then simply return at the closest of the many shrines he has discovered on his journey.
Combat is simple but pleasingly violent. Achilles must either crowd-control large groups or assess and respond to the attack patterns of singular bosses. Vastly different skills and items are available to deal with both enemy types, ensuring a satisfying amount of brains are required alongside the usual action-adventure brawn in order to succeed. Take Achilles’ Spartan kick – delivered with a level of gusto that would make Gerard Butler proud – by way of an example, as it is perfect to knock human-like bosses off balance but is pretty useless against a gang of skeletons. In contrast, various shock wave skills will repel those skeletons but do nothing against a Minotaur. Mixing up your attacks is the name of the game, which makes it frustrating that Achilles’ powers are so laborious to switch between. The game inexplicably forces a tedious return to the menu rather than a quick-select option during the heat of battle.
Alongside his more exciting skills, Achilles also has a light and strong attack that can be combo’d with the right timing. He can dodge like Brad Pitt in Troy too, right up until his very limited stamina bar expires leaving the shredded hunk panting like a particularly overweight dog on a hot day in July – should’ve really done more stamina training. Suffice it to say, it’s vital to conserve your energy and pick your moments to strike. This is made all the trickier by the fact that enemies smack hard.
One or two hits are enough to knock Achilles back on his heels and into Hades’ chilly embrace. Unfortunately, attack cues are often confusing to read. In part, this is due to the bird’s eye view of proceedings, but it’s also down to the game seemingly taking great delight in being irritating. Fighting wolves in particular is a source of unnecessary annoyance, as their attack animation is basically their movement animation but with extra claws. I don’t mind a hard game but I do take objection when that difficulty is achieved by being cheap.
It’s also achieved by denying the player essential abilities for far too long. Vital skills like a parry and a counter are hidden away on the convoluted – albeit pretty – horoscope-inspired skill tree. Pick the wrong constellation to explore and it’s all too easy to miss the parry system entirely, rendering some bosses an impossible feat.
With that all being said, and despite the nasty difficulty spikes, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Achilles. The challenging combat engaged me for the most part but it was largely down the absorbing game world you explore that won me over. It’s like the original God of War fused with a classic Ray Harryhausen film. For fans of Greek mythology, the game is stuffed full of references, with pretty much every monster you could conceive of making an appearance.
It’s an impressively vast game too, there are an impressive 25-plus hours of gameplay here, with Achilles visiting a plethora of gloriously rendered mythical environments. Sure, there’s a reliance on tedious fetch quests to pad things out, but when they encourage the player to explore this immaculate recreation of mythological ancient Greece, it’s hard to complain. Achilles: Legends Untold is also endearingly shonky, with hilariously awful voice-acting and clunky cut-scenes to enjoy – or endure, depending on your point of view.