Achilles: Legends Untold puts the “early” in Early Access. Across the board, this action RPG is full of ideas that feel like they are still an epic journey away from being ready. Combat, which has Soulslike ambitions, is competent but a bit flat; the first stage of this world looks good and is full of monsters to kill but devoid of things worth exploring; and the story – beyond its interesting reframing of the death of Achilles by a well-placed arrow from Paris of Troy – is trivial and its characters are rote. And, while it should go without saying that early access games are buggy, at launch Achilles has more than its fair share, even by this standard. In its current state, there’s nothing legendary to talk about.
The imaginative addition to the myth is that after being slain, our titular demigod goes to Tartarus and meets Hades, where they agree that it would be in their mutual interest to let Achilles return to the surface so that he can take his revenge; in return, Hades gets a superhuman tool to do his bidding. Familiar characters, like King Agamemnon, meet the freshly undead Achilles and aren’t always happy to see him. It’s a good start, but the other characters and story elements introduced thus far are largely forgettable, and much of the dialogue is utterly underwhelming.
Once reborn, Achilles is thrown into a colorful, verdant Greece, with the first bits of his new lease on life spent finding Hades’ missing nephew, Hephestus, the god of fire. Once they’re reunited the three of them hatch a plan: they’ll restore the connection between Greece and the underworld so that the shambling undead can go back to their homes. Sounds good to me, what could go wrong?
From there, I did a bunch of running from dungeon to dungeon, gathering doodads for so-and-sos, all in pursuit of Hades’ big plan – that takes about five hours to hit the current finish line. Doing so was more inconvenient than it needed to be because without a minimap, in conjunction with the great distance between these locations, it’s incredibly easy to get lost on the way. You can eventually fast-travel between shrines, but because there isn’t a proper world map either it’s impossible to know where they are in relation to each other. As an example of the trouble this causes: when you first begin your adventure, you unlock a forge that’s supposed to be your early go-to location for upgrading and buying equipment… but you can’t teleport to it. So until I memorized exactly where it is among a lot of samey-looking ruins and rocks, I spent more time searching for it than I did engaging with any of the crafting.
This confusion can go double for dungeons. The second one, the Temple of Cronus, changed its layout every time I died in it – but only slightly, with some sections being exactly how I left them, sandwiched between new sections that I’d never seen before. This was a maddening and cruel penalty that made what should have been a simple restart take so much longer, and one that could be easily made palatable by a map or wayfinding system of any sort. Contemporary games with randomized dungeons are almost always a linear path from one room to the next, or at least have tools for finding your way through them – and I didn’t know how much I missed those until now.
All of that aimlessness is a side effect of the fact that the countryside between dungeons is surprisingly large, full of pretty scenery and diverse locations like rugged mountains, dark temples, and rolling hills… but it’s also devoid of anything worth walking off the beaten path to discover. Maybe it’s expecting too much of a modest game like Achilles, but this many years after games like The Witcher 3 and Breath of the Wild stoked our urge to explore by filling their massive open worlds with points of interest with elaborate side quests or puzzle dungeons, I was disappointed by what I found. Rarely did any of my sidetracking bear any fruit, and when it did, it was just to add a new unremarkable weapon to my arsenal of swords, bigger swords, spears, and shields. That might be one thing if you have an exciting loot system, but right now Achilles does not. Other than that, many items you find are various sorts of health potions or status cures, most of which I never even engaged with because (thus far) things like being poisoned are never presented as a viable threat to you.
It’s not barren of enemies, at least: the world you’ve returned to is overflowing with greedy bandits, shambling undead, and giant monstrosities who want to send you back across Styx. Alone, most enemies are simple fodder, but in groups they provide more than a little resistance. Some enemies actually use their numbers to explicit advantage, unleashing tag-team moves to attempt to throw you off your game. If they don’t have the numbers advantage, the notable evasiveness of the enemy AI often finds them backing away from you long enough to recruit allies from nearby camps. On occasion, they don’t even have to do that because engaging with some groups of enemies seemingly triggers aggro from off-screen camps. In short, what appears to be a manageable encounter can turn into an overwhelming mess in the blink of an eye.
On the other hand there are some, like archers, who just stand in groups and spam normal shots from a distance that chip away at your health and stamina on block; I’d classify them as more annoying than challenging. Bosses largely fit into that mold as well. There’s a half a dozen or so standing between you and the end of the early access content, and only one, the Skeleton King, really stands out as a challenge beyond simply being a bigger version of a normal monster with more health and more damage.
Meanwhile, Achilles’ tools for combat aren’t much to write home about. Light and heavy attacks can be chained into combos, the length of which is limited by the amount of stamina you have. They lack a bit of impact, though – at times, it feels like Achilles just waves a blade around in the air and then enemies fall over around him. I wish a solid blow landing on a foe felt meatier, more often. There’s a template for this within Legends Untold: adding a run or a dash modifies basic attacks into more stylish and powerful moves, including that fancy jumping sword one Brad Pitt made famous in 2004’s Troy. Getting some of these unique attacks to hit reliably can be a pain, though, as it seems like enemy hitboxes are more of a suggestion than a rule.
As you’d expect for a game in the Diablo mold, you can unlock special abilities via a constellation-shaped ability tree as you level up. An item lets you throw your shield early on, but by spending fate (ie: souls) you get things like parries and a weird “stealth” drain attack that allows you to suck life force from unsuspecting enemies from a distance, Legacy of Kain style. Those have the potential to mix combat up, but progression could use a rework because right now unlocking the cool stuff takes a pretty serious investment of this resource to get around the web of points on the various star charts, with lots of upgrading of uninteresting passive skills necessary to get to the next big active skill. So you can expect to spend a lot of time with what you have before you’ll get an opportunity to try something new.
In the interim, there are some one-use items that you can pick up and use to spice up your offensive game plan. One of my favorites was the explosive Greek Flame – effectively a grenade that does big damage to enemies in an area while also lighting them on fire. I also got a lot of mileage out of Groggus Darts, which slow enemies and give you wider windows of offense. If Achilles brought these to the bow fight, Paris would have had a much harder time getting in that lucky shot.
Speaking of luck, you’ll need plenty when it comes to navigating Legends Untold’s bugs, which are more of a problem than in most early access games I’ve played. Almost everything about this game is currently janky in some form. Enemy AI is prone to failure; invisible walls sometimes close you off from returning to areas you were just in; the lock-on system frequently ignores enemies within stabbing distance in favor of ones that are off screen; sound drops out from cutscenes; and (you guessed it) more. Again, it’s early access, but the price to play Achilles isn’t just cash, it’s sometimes a Sisyphean test of your patience. And in its current state, that’s a price I wouldn’t recommend paying.