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Apotheon Review

by William Schwartz

PlayStation fans are no strangers to games rooted in Greek myth — Kratos and the God of War series has tackled the setting many times over.  Apotheon is a surprisingly fun and fresh take on this setting, and was just released as one of February’s free games for PlayStation Plus subscribers (Also on PC).  With an art direction inspired by ancient Greek pottery, story and characters from Greek mythology, and gameplay that’s part side-scrolling action and part RPG, Apotheon is something a little out of the ordinary.

In Apotheon, players assume the role of a mere mortal named Nikandreos in a world where Zeus has abandoned humanity. Chosen by Zeus’ scorned wife Hera and asked to save humankind by taking on the gods, Nikandreos will be tasked with taking out Zeus’ siblings and children one by one in this 2-D side-scrolling adventure. The story puts players up against Greek mythology’s heavy hitters: Apollo, Hades, Artemis, Poseidon, Ares, Athena, and Zeus himself. With each god having their own distinct realm for the player to explore, and experience the unique levels that Alientrap has created.

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The source material is familiar, and PlayStation fans will most certainly recognize this cast of characters from the God of War series.  This is no God of War though, Apotheon doesn’t have the flash or bombast.  Apotheon separates itself from other games that deal in this source material by offering a different type of gameplay, as well as art design that feels like it was ripped straight out of a museum.  This side-scroller leans heavily on exploration and combat, with the player hunting down powerful weapons and armor for Nikandreos to use, while uncovering bits of Greek history along the way to toppling the mighty Zeus.

Combat is the core of Apotheon, and it, itself, is quite different than anything else, while remaining fairly basic.  Apotheon uses a twin stick approach, with one stick used to move and one to aim your attacks.  Each level has a variety of different enemies, be it armored soldiers of varying difficulty or animals looking to impede your progress.  Nikandreos can equip weapons of all sorts.  Swords, Spears, Tridents, Clubs, Bows, Daggers, and many, many more can be found or purchased.  While combat is simple to perform, players also manage a stamina meter which will alter the effectiveness of attacks if spammed wildly.  Coupled with the fact that all weapons break after a number of uses, the combat is certainly nuanced in Apotheon and something that will take a little getting used to master.  Apotheon does reward you for scouring the levels for more gear, sometimes powerful variants of normal weapons, armor bonuses, and gold to be used at merchant shops.  Depending on what enemy you are fighting you’ll want to choose the appropriate weapon.  You can choose to use ranged attacks like arrows and firebombs, or magical attacks that summon allies to fight with you, but in many cases you’ll be sword in hand, up close and personal.  In Apotheon there’s a fight around every corner and varied level and enemy design to keep things feeling fresh.

Apotheon has an elegant simplicity in its gameplay that makes it a lot of fun to play.  There’s a light crafting system that will have you constantly tracking down ingredients for crafting health potions. These are dropped when defeating enemies or slashing your way through the many destructible elements of the environment.  If there’s one place to complain about Apotheon is in its inventory management, however.  Trying to switch weapons or items while in combat is fairly tough to do. Whether that’s from the size of the icons you’ll need to navigate, or just the sheer wealth of inventory that you’ll have, it’s easy to get killed in Apotheon if you need to swap weapons in the heat of battle.  On a normal playthrough, Apotheon isn’t a very difficult game, but harder difficulty levels are unlocked upon completing it that definitely present a greater challenge, and most certainly are less forgiving in this aspect of inventory management.  The mixture of becoming proficient in your aiming skills, timing blocks and taking on groups of enemies scales well throughout the game.  While there’s no leveling system per say, there’s a nice natural progression that can be felt throughout.

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Apotheon is upfront about the mission at hand. You know exactly who you are going to encounter along your journey, these familiar characters from the Greek myths are clearly labeled on a world map.  Alientrap allows you to pretty much tackle missions as you see fit, usually giving you the roadmap to the available missions that will progress the story along.  Apotheon is structured like a Metroidvania game, with some light RPG elements peppered in.

But as good as Apotheon looks, and tightly structured and paced as the game may be, it wouldn’t be nearly as interesting without the variation that each domain has.  There’s a difference in visual style in each god’s realm, but gameplay variations keep Apotheon from ever feeling monotonous.  Keeping the core aesthetic intact, each level features various challenges and missions to accomplish that are unique to that area.  Hades has you ditching your off-hand shield and navigating the underworld with torch in hand, unable to see very far in front of you.  Athena’s realm challenges your mental and physical dexterity in navigating a rotating maze, as the precursor to her encounter.  Poseidon’s realm has you manipulating water-filled chambers to reach his boss fight.  Each god has a very distinct level to experience, standing out with different gameplay elements and visual styles.  Furthermore, each god represents a boss that you will face, and like their levels leading up to these encounters, the actual fights present distinct challenges and ways to topple that god.  The good news is that the levels of Apotheon are extremely varied, and you never really feel like you’re doing the same thing twice.  The bad news is that there’s a lot of handholding in pointing you to the exact locations that you need to go to. And the local map will show you every locked door and treasure chest in the area.  It does take away from some of the exploration aspects of the game, or finding new things on your own.  The novelty of these varied gameplay ideas and levels does wear off on successive playthroughs.

Apotheon tells a familiar Greek story with a new central character, and that single player story is the star of this release.  Although, there is a local competitive mode that was tacked on, which allows players to fight one on one.  This mode is too limited to really stand out as something special, and right now you can only play with one other person, locally.  It’s hard to complain about additional modes, but this one is pretty bare bones, and doesn’t have the staying power of other local competitive games, probably because you can only play with one other person.

 The Verdict

Apotheon showcases the Ancient Greek setting in a way that we haven’t seen before.  Alientrap has struck a great balance between their core 2-D Platforming and RPG-lite mechanics, and a varied world that challenges players in different ways throughout the course of this tightly paced adventure.

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Apotheon

  • Available On: PS4, PC
  • Published By: Alientrap
  • Developed By: Alientrap
  • Genre: Action, Adventure
  • US Release Date: February 3rd, 2015
  • Reviewed On: PS4
  • Quote: "Alientrap has struck a great balance between their core 2-D Platforming and RPG-lite mechanics, and a varied world that challenges players in different ways throughout the course of this tightly paced adventure."
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