Monday, April 20, 2020

Isolation Reviews: Decay of Logos for Nintendo Switch

Here's the problem with Decay of Logos: it looks good, it seems to have a strange blend of Breath of the Wild style mixed with Soulslike gameplay, and it tells you about none of that in the previews. As a result, you either buy it as a fan of soulslikes and are pleasantly surprised, or you get it as a Breath of the Wild fan and are driven to madness in the first hour of the game.

Breath of the Wild is noted for having lots of interesting gameplay mechanics, a good rhythm to its style, the ability to cater to both an intense game experience and a relaxing experience, and it's also a huge game with lots of depth and story. Decay of Logos feels like it might have a lot for you to experience, but it's walled in behind a borderline unpleasant learning curve aimed at a Dark Souls-derived experience.

If you're not familiar with the Dark Souls concept, it basically involves the following key elements: you have camp spawn points you reappear at when you die, but you leave your stuff behind at your point of death and all the enemies you killed respawn. You get little true guidance as to how to play, and part of playing the game is figuring that out (to Decay of Logos's credit it does provide more guidance than some Soulslike games). Finally, difficulty is deliberately punishing, and success depends on testing approaches and strategies in hopes you find the right method to win. In Dark Souls that sometimes was as simple as getting the best class combination for your own play style, but in Decay of Logos you only have one character type to chose from.

Another common element of Dark Souls games is purely riffing off the namesake of the subgenre: obscure storytelling elements mixed with persistent feelings of isolation. Decay of Logos is not much different than others in the genre, though you do get an elk-thing companion you can ride on occasion, and you do occasionally get some story drops that are more informative than one might get in the genre, but it still dives deep into that sense of obscurity and isolation.

The game has also had some developmental difficulties, and was even suspended from the Nintendo eShop for a while before being re-released to fix bugs; the early version crashed, especially when playing on the big screen. Those bugs seem to be gone now, but I just can't motivate myself to pick up where I left off anymore, it feels too much like work and not like a challenge or a worthwhile experience. If it had more story it might help.....but as with so many Soulslikes, the story is implacable and hidden, with no effort at cohesive narrative.*

I played for several hours and managed to get to the second major area or "hub" before I gave up. I might return, but this game felt (for worse rather than better) like the difficulty was a deliberate and unrewarding time sink. It probably did not help that I bought the game thinking "Breath of the Wild-like" and not realizing it was a Soulslike.

If I had identify some good traits, they are easy enough: the game has a great visual aesthetic, it's got a mount mechanic I haven't seen in Soulslikes before, and when I wasn't ticked off at another random death and restart I was enjoying the exploration elements. I'd say overall that if the game had a difficulty scale, or if it had campfires (spawn/save points) closer together then I might not have grown so irritated with Decay of Logos. But as it stands.....there are so many other games on the Switch worth playing I just can't suggest anyone bother with this one unless you are a hardcore Soulslike fan who also likes the Breath of the Wild aesthetic. C-, could be better if it "played more like the game it seems to look like."

*Lack of a cohesive narrative can be a feature instead of a bug, and as a fan of storytelling styles such as is evoked by David Lynch I can appreciate this. I do not think that the obscurity of Dark Souls' method of storytelling works well to construct a tight or meaningful narrative, however; it's narrative is a slave to the mechanical contrivances of the genre, which require careful scripting to avoid going outside of the mechanical limits of design. As an example of this, ask yourself why every Soulslike title needs to take place in a strange world where death seems to be dominant, and the hero walks the fine line between "dead" and "undead." Note how in Soulslike titles NPCs are detached and limited in their ability to speak, often mad, and rarely helpful. 

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