Clash: Artifacts of Chaos is the latest game from ACE Team, famous for the amazingly creative Rock of Ages and Zeno Clash series.
The game has an emphasis on unarmed combat and some souls-like mechanics, it also takes place in the Zeno Clash universe, which explains why everyone looks like a freak of nature.
My love for the Zeno Clash series got me cautiously excited for Clash: Artifacts of Chaos. I say cautiously because as much as I enjoyed the series, the games weren’t exactly polished to perfection. I still remember my first experience with Zeno Clash 2 was loading into the game and being stuck in place, surrounded by T-posing NPCs while the opening cutscene failed to trigger.
Clash: Artifacts of Chaos is an astounding work of art just like any of ACE Team’s other games. The creatures, environments, and characters are all fantastically designed, the world is vibrant and the game has this very subtle cel-shaded look that accentuates everything beautifully.
ACE Team’s character designs are in full display here, especially with the protagonist, who looks deformed but extremely sympathetic at the same time. It’s safe to say that this may be the company’s most creative game yet, as the setting and characters are all unique, interesting and worthy of being explored.
Clash: Artifacts of Chaos has legit merits as a work of art, and it’s a shame that the game part doesn’t work as well as it should. It still isn’t late to use this concept on a cartoon or comic book, which would truly let it shine to its fullest potential. I really mean this, Clash would work fantastically as an animated movie, but it’s understandable that ACE Team’s budget may not cover a project of such scale.
With the artistic merits out of the way, we need to critique Clash like a video-game, and unfortunately, that’s where things start going downhill.
Like the other games in the Zeno Clash series, you are suddenly dropped into this world without much explanation in the shoes of Pseudo, the main character that inhabits a flesh body by day and turns into a wooden skeleton by night.
The plot mostly centers around Pseudo adopting a little creature after witnessing its grandpa die in an unfair fight, this beginning fight introduces us to a lot of the game’s systems.
The work that went into Pseudo’s voice acting really works to solidify him as a warm and paternal figure to his new adopted son, which he tries to ditch at first before realizing that it isn’t a good idea. It’s Pseudo’s ability to take care of someone he just met that truly shows his character and makes him so likeable.
Pseudo tries to hand off his new friend to Gemini, the deformed ruler of Zenozoik, but changes his mind quickly when he finds out that Gemini plans on using the little creature’s power to heal herself and destroy anyone who opposes her. Gemini’s artifact, her macuahuitl, a Mesoamerican wooden club, is a prime artifact that breaks any duel rules.
Her three bodyguards also have artifacts of their own, which Pseudo needs to gather before standing a chance of taking her down. Pretty much the entire world is against Pseudo, as Gemini has put a sizeable bounty on the little creature’s head.
The game has an optional ritual that takes place before duels, which lets the player and enemy gamble on who gets a disadvantage in the next fight.
These disadvantages range from having your movement reduced to being attacked by a swarm of bees. While some of the effects are interesting, others pretty much ruin fights, like the Fog Artifact-which fogs up the arena and makes the enemy incredibly hard to see.
Getting this effect on an important fight is absolutely awful, and it made me actively avoid the ritual, especially since the system is almost entirely dependent on RNG.
Furthermore, the modifiers you start with aren’t great, especially since the initial dice roll is more than likely to dictate who wins before any modifiers are even placed on the board.
There is a plot-relevant boss fight happening below, can you spot it?
The game’s combat has built-in animation canceling, meaning that certain actions can be chained together if your attacks connect. This should theoretically help with making the combat more fluid and rewarding, but unfortunately the game’s combat system in general leaves a lot to be desired.
Dodging is awkward, your moves are very limited in range, and whiffing a punch at the wrong time usually means death. Pseudo has a stamina guard, which depletes when he attacks and gets hit, but it soaks 50% of the damage you would take.
So to play the game safely one should attack, then retreat when their stamina is low. The problem is that the game can’t be played safely, since giving the enemies room is absolutely the worst thing you could possibly do.
The best strategy usually consists of pummeling enemies while ignoring your stamina, as their attacks can be interrupted most of the time. The game’s maps have day and night versions too, with different enemies and collectable resources.
But the exploration part of the game feels more like rechecking the same area multiple times hoping to progress, as the path forward isn’t always obvious. The game does its best to connect areas through shortcuts, but so many times the intended path is hidden behind corners that you would walk by a hundred times before checking.
The player needs to have a lot of good faith when it comes to engaging with unknown and unexplained systems, it makes sense in this confusing world that the game takes place in, but it can be a test of patience.
Pseudo is very prone to being stunlocked and having his health bar depleted very fast, especially by the bigger enemies.
The game does have an equipment shop, but regardless of how much I explored the day and night cycles I never managed to find this one specific material that almost all of the gear required, which made everything significantly harder.
Pseudo can level up his stats by interacting with a training dummy at camp, and leveling up your skills and stances is done by burning dolls found through exploration.
The problem is that the furnaces for burning those dolls are placed at random and their purpose is never explained to the player, chances are they will be found completely by mistake, as the furnace looks like a background object bird house.
Combat mostly feels clunky and unresponsive, especially because of the game’s inconsistent hit detection and physics, which seemingly have a mind of their own.
The combat can be a impressive spectacle when working, but the problem is that it simply doesn’t work most of the time. Enemies sometimes start awkwardly gliding, disappearing, getting stuck, or even have their AI seemingly turned off for a few moments before coming back to life.
The lightning stance may be the worst offender when it comes to these problems, as a lot of its moves have trouble connecting due to their speed and awkward angles.
Pseudo’s recovery is slow when he misses an attack, so when something doesn’t register it means that your dodge is gone for the next 2-6 business days.
The player is expected to be nimble and mobile, but having your animation canceling taken away because a move that clearly hit the enemy didn’t register is absolutely awful, and it eventually leads to you not being able to dodge in time.
I have a passion for hard games, but to reserve the right of being hard a game needs to be mechanically tight and polished to near perfection, otherwise what would be a fun experience turns into an unfair and frustrating ordeal.
This problem does seem to vary from style to style, since restarting the game with the boxing stance instead of the lightning stance was a much better experience, however, it still can’t be excused that one of the game’s three starting stances has so many problems.
At the moment, the game’s physics are pretty buggy, especially when it comes to the uppercut move, which launches enemies into the stratosphere, sometimes never to come down again. ACE Team did assure us that the game will be more polished on release, but currently it sits in a rough spot.
There clearly seems to be a lot of love put into this game, and it feels absolutely terrible to criticize it, but at the same time these flaws are glaring and can’t be excused in a title that is meant to be this technical in its execution. The game has a lot of good ideas, it is just a shame to see them not be implemented to their full potential.
Clash is fun when working properly, the combat is deep, beautifully choreographed, and difficult enough to be engaging. Technical issues hold it back from being truly great, it is a beautiful game that needs to be polished and refined, otherwise ACE Team may be looking at a mixed launch.
Clash: Artifacts of Chaos is set to release on March 9th, 2023, for PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Series S and Microsoft Windows (through Steam).