On March 3rd, BABYLON’S FALL dropped and despite the hype building up steadily over the past four years since its initial announcement trailer at 2018’s E3, the launch failed miserably. The reception was abysmal with the current player count dropping to an all-time low of one player in May and even 0 a few weeks ago. After having been in development for so long, it’s honestly quite a surprise that something as ambitious as this project fell so harshly, especially when one considers that it’s an action role-playing game developed by PlatinumGames and published by Square Enix. It’s frankly odd that the developers of Bayonetta and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance would fail this hard at a project that feels so close to their forte, both in its ambitions and its systems. Therefore, I wanted to dive into what made Babylon’s Fall fail ultimately by dissecting various problems the game has had since its launch and by investigating what inevitably lead to the player dissatisfaction in the first place.
Note: I’d like to mention that the idea for this post came from Nerdslayer’s “Death of a Game” series. Of course, he didn’t invent the “what went wrong with….?” formula but I respect Justin a lot and I feel like you should check his work out as well if you didn’t know about his videos yet!
What is Babylon’s Fall?
Babylon’s Fall is an Action RPG with Hack and Slash systems played from a third-person perspective. After their arrival, the player assumes control of a “Sentinel” who must scale a massive tower known as the Ziggurat. In the hub area known as the Sentinel Force HQ, players can interact with other players, visit shops and blacksmiths, access quests, and prepare for their next journey into the Ziggurat. Quests are designed with four players in mind, meaning that it’s possible to play it solo but the game is designed to be played with other people in your party. On your quests, you ascend three to four floors until you reach the summit of the tower. Along the way, you’ll unlock loot that can be used to enhance the strength of your Sentinel or to create unique builds. Junichi Ehara wanted to expand on the combat system of NieR: Automata while also experimenting with multiplayer. Thus, you may see some clear inspiration taken from the NieR games in the form of a device known as Gideon’s Coffin which allows the player to carry two spectral weapons on top of the two weapons you carry for your normal attacks.
Combat revolves around the usage of multiple weapons, including your Gideon’s Coffin. With four weapons at your disposal, you can make use of a wide variety of combinations, combos and builds. From wands, shields, and bows to axes, swords and hammers, there are a lot of different weapons available to you, each with a different effect depending on where you equip it. In combat, you may use light and heavy attacks with your standard weapons while the spectral weapons unleash skills while depleting a special resource found under your health bar. Dodging also depletes this resource bar, although you may quickly refill it by using your standard attacks, depending on your soul siphon stat. On top of the light and heavy attacks as well as skills, you may juggle enemies into the air, strike them down, and perform directional attacks depending on your weapon.
Watered-Down and Uninspired Gameplay
Despite all of that supposed complexity, though, the skill-ceiling is somewhat limited. Games like Bayonetta and Devil May Cry have taught me that Hack and Slash isn’t always just button-mashing to get your rank up. Babylon’s Fall’s controls feel sluggish and uninspired. You may use your spectral weapons while you perform normal attacks but it’s just missing that sort of edge that some Hack and Slash games have. Yes, you can perform a variety of attacks and, depending on what weapons you equip, your build is quite varied and can become powerful… but it’s just not enough to suck you in and to make you want to spend more time in the Ziggurat, which is a shame as the idea is incredibly cool. The Gideon’s Coffin system with its Quad-Weapon-Setup and the floating weapon aesthetic clearly inspired from NieR: Automata would have worked incredibly well in a solo experience, sadly, though, it’s held back by the lack of combos and the watered-down combat system that just doesn’t make this feel like a PlatinumGames title.
The novelty of the combat system wears off quickly as you explore the same environments over and over again with little to no variety in level design or challenge. Given that the combat system is so lacklustre and uninspired, I would have thought that the levels would at least make up for it in terms of engagement and exploration. Instead, you’ll pass through the same environments over and over again, resulting in you quickly noticing the flaws found within the game’s formula. While more updates with more factions, weapons, and gear are promised for the future, it’s hard to imagine that the game will live on to see the light of that day. The “factions” that you pick in the game start you off with a different weapon at first but don’t seem to make much of a difference in other aspects apart from that which is a bummer since there are no classes. One could argue that you build your own class as you play the game but one could also argue that this is poorly executed. The gear and weapons seem uninspired as well which is surprising given that good loot is the bread and butter of games like this. Stats aren’t explained too well, the Power Creep is incredibly slow, and it just doesn’t feel all that rewarding when you don’t find any unique gear with special properties, apart from some small “enchantments”. Babylon’s Fall is advertised as a looter hack and slash game with RPG elements… but in the end, you go through dungeons and break crystals, defeat the same enemies again and again, and when you head back, the game turns into a Gacha game as you hope for a good weapon to drop. Frankly, disappointing. I would have expected more exploration and more stuff to do when you’re in the Ziggurat but with how linear the levels are and how boring, at times even tedious, the levels are, it’s hard to not turn off the game immediately after embarking on a quest.
Oil-Painting Visuals… but Poorly Executed
Given that the game is published by SquareEnix, it will be no surprise to you that assets from Final Fantasy XIV Online have been borrowed and recycled which doesn’t have to be a bad thing, per sé. In fact, a lot of the environments in FF14 are somewhat pretty and work incredibly well with the aesthetic that that game has going for it. Still, in Babylon’s Fall, you’ll notice the same tile sets being used over and over again with the first few hours of gameplay being compromised by running through the same corridors again and again and again. These recycled tiles paired with the unique presentation result in a somewhat drab environment. Again, I don’t have anything against assets being borrowed or used for this game but at times, I would have loved to see more new rooms and environments. The game is pretty to an extent but your eyes quickly grow tired from the same rooms and it’s frankly odd because the visual art style definitely is unique and gets ruined because of it. Inspired by classic European oil paintings, the game is making use of visuals that look quite similar to brushstrokes. If you look into the sky and the distance, you may notice how it very much does look like a painting of sorts the difference here is that this unique, interesting, and frankly novel idea was executed poorly. If you focus on the brush strokes and move around the camera, you may notice that the brushstrokes move with the camera. They’re not applied to models or textures but rather are applied to the camera directly, which is an odd choice. It’s almost as if the developers have given up entirely on making the game look visually appealing by cutting corners with low-res textures that are then supposed to look better with this oil painting filter applied to it.
The visual clutter caused by this filter makes it at times even hard to focus on what’s happening. At times, the lens flair from light sources paired with the filter makes it hard to see incoming attacks. It’s distracting at times and some of the motion effects in the game end up becoming blurry and hard to look at. If you consider that this is an AAA title, it’s terrifying that they cut corners in this way without considering how it would look and feel when you actually play the game. After the first closed beta in July of 2021 in Japan as well as August 2021 in Europe and North America, players complained about the game’s illegible visual style. This feedback was then promptly evaluated and the developers adjusted the game’s graphics to ensure they were less blurry and pixelated. The finished product, however, doesn’t quite seem “fixed”, though, resulting in visuals often still ending up looking blurry and unreadable even. With the filter applied to the screen, the cosmetics found in the game don’t look too appealing either, making me wonder who’d pay for those anyway.
Live-Service Model, Cosmetics, and Accidental False Advertising
As mentioned previously, this is an AAA title developed by PlatinumGames and published by Square Enix. As such, the price point is somewhat high at a cost of 70€ for the standard edition and about 110€ for the Digital Deluxe edition. Despite that, the game still features cosmetics in-game that can be purchased for cash currency, much like a free-to-play title but with the difference that you’ll pay a third of the game’s price for cosmetics. Since the game was developed with multiplayer in mind, the dungeons and quests are all balanced around full lobbies. PlatinumGames and Square Enix (sarcasm on) couldn’t possibly have predicted that a Live-Service model would fail this hard, especially after the failed projects by other AAA studios in recent years (sarcasm off), so they didn’t even consider adding scaling dungeons to the gameplay formula. Because it’s balanced around four-player lobbies, playing the game solo is possible but it’s incredibly difficult and boring. Enemies and Bosses have a lot of health because they’re designed to be tackled with up to three other players, ideally with all three other players. Sadly, though, the game’s lack of players and the lukewarm reception made it hard for players to find other players to play with unless, of course, they have friends that can join quests together. This results in a somewhat painful experience for the casual solo player because the game is just not designed to be played solo.
I mention the “casual solo player” because the game was advertised like that. While this clearly is a multiplayer experience with multiplayer in mind, a lot of people complained about this design choice and the fact that this initially didn’t look like a multiplayer game. Given that it’s developed by the Bayonetta devs, players assumed that this was supposed to be a single-player title. In fact, all the revealed trailers and footage displayed only single-player combat, further cementing the impression that this is actually a solo-only experience. When the switch was then made and when people were able to play the closed beta, players were rightfully so flabbergasted because of the fact that nobody ever said anything about this being a multiplayer game. Typically, the difficulty also scales up from the solo run to the four-player lobby based on how many people participate in a game. That’s a convention that plenty of games have introduced, not because of tradition but rather because it results in the best experience possible to players all around. The fact that PlatinumGames didn’t even consider this is worrying. Is this truly just Babylon’s Fall or does this spell evil for the future of some of our beloved IPs like Bayonetta and Metal Gear Rising?
The most upsetting design choice, though, is probably the live service system. As mentioned before, player numbers are low because of a lack of content. Trailers have shown volcanic areas, white glaciers, and massive cities, yet the game has yet to see more meaningful content. The latest update introduces one new weapon type, one new element, as well as 80 new quests and some new enemies. Back in February 28th, PlatinumGames announced that Babylon’s Fall would receive “large-scale content updates roughly every three months”, from here on referred to as a “season”. These seasons will also include Seasonal Rankings, Battle Passes, and commemorative items that you can purchase for cash in the “Garaz Shop”. The concept of “Live Service Games” isn’t necessarily bad by any means, by the way. After all, Early Access is essentially the same thing with games (often released by smaller studios) being released in a playable but unfinished state, receiving updates as time goes on based on player feedback. The fact that AAA developers, however, resort to means like that, especially after four years of development, feels odd and sleazy. The launch was abysmal and the new season doesn’t seem too exciting, mostly focusing on one new weapon, one new faction, and lots of opportunities for PlatinumGames and Square Enix to make money via cosmetics… This season, despite the previous statement of seasons taking three months, will last from May until November since PlatinumGames needs time to work on the next update and commit to possibly a new direction. While that is a good sign, it may have been too late since numbers at the moment seem to reflect the Death of a Game.
Babylon’s Fall can be best described as an uninspired attempt at something ambitious. Live Service Games don’t seem to work too well in this day and age – and while they do have the resources to market the game and help with development, Square Enix may not have been the best partner for PlatinumGames, especially after Square Enix’ last few attempts at live service models. If you believe that the fall of Babylon’s Fall (heh) is due to some other factor, feel free to let me know about it but I’d like to summarise its shortcomings as follows and determine that these lead to negative reception and low player count of BF:
- Watered-Down and Uninspired Gameplay
- Repetitive and Drab Environments
- A Blurry and Illegible Visual Art Style
- Live Service Model at a high price point + Cash Shop for Cosmetics
- Accidental False Advertisement
I believe that a lot of this could be fixed by letting players possibly explore the tower for much longer with increasing challenges and difficulties, as well as more exploration. Environments could change in the form of biomes. Quests could be designed in a replayable manner akin to Returnal and other AAA roguelike titles, just without the roguelike mechanics, obviously. At the same time, I think it might be a lot better to dial down the monetization and possibly even go Free-to-Play to salvage what was lost by banking on whales. The gameplay is alright, at best, but if Platinum Games truly didn’t give up and if they truly do have passion for this project left in their hearts, I’m sure that they can perform a miracle here and add that spark into the gameplay that makes their other games so enjoyable. I really hope that this isn’t the Death of a Game and that they’ll somehow be able to turn it around. BABYLON’S FALL, after all, was a rather promising title, after all, when it was first announced and its ambitions and ideas seemed so novel and unique when I first stumbled across them. I’d love to see it being properly executed, after all.