I’ve never played any of the Zeno Clash games before, but only had to take one look at Clash: Artifacts of Chaos to want to play it. I mean, look at it… it’s gorgeous. However, whilst there is some enjoyment to be had out of the game, it feels like a case of style over substance thanks to some dull gameplay mechanics and an obtuse lack of direction for the player.

Check out some screenshots down below:

Clash: Artifacts of Chaos puts players in the role of Pseudo, a powerful and versatile warrior that finds himself looking after a mysterious little creature known as The Boy after witnessing the death of its guardian. Whilst the task of protecting it initially seems simple, Pseudo soon realises there’s a lot more to the creature than he initially realised, whilst their growing bond means he can’t simply leave it fall into the hands of the villainous Gemini. The only way to stop Gemini seeking it out? To gather special artifacts found across the land that will grant Pseudo the power to defeat them.

The core gameplay experience revolves around exploring the world of Zenozoik and beating up some baddies along the way, though Clash: Artifacts of Chaos takes a pretty unique approach to combat. For starters, players have to complete a game of dice before each battle, with the loser hit with some de-buffs that’ll leave them at a disadvantage. It’s a peculiar idea (and it can feel a little underutilised the longer you play), but it’s one that’s implemented into the world and gameplay in a unique way that feels befitting of the game’s odd nature.

Combat itself revolves around stringing together combos of attacks, with Pseudo a quick fighter that needs to focus more on making his attacks and getting out of range before your enemy can counterattack you. You can select from three different fighting styles that bring their own move set, but things ultimately boil down to knowing when to strike and knowing when to move out of the way. This means there’s a big emphasis placed on learning the attacks of enemies, with players having to anticipate their moves so they can quickly move to safety and strike back with an attack of their own.

“One area in which Clash: Artifacts of Chaos certainly delivers is its visuals, which look unique and beautiful throughout thanks to the creative pencil-styled overlay.”

It sounds quite strategic and nuanced on paper, but, if I’m being honest, it just felt a bit dull. Taking pot shots and constantly being on the defensive got a bit boring the longer I played, whilst the slower pace and lack of excitement made some battles feel laborious. Using special attacks and equipping varied weaponry can add some sparks of strategy to each showdown, but I still struggled to find them particularly engrossing. Worse yet, enemies always feel like their significantly stronger than you, which made some battles just feel frustrating – especially when fighting multiple foes at once where the odds are stacked against you.

I’m being a little bit harsh because some aspects of the battling could feel good, whilst swiftly evading incoming attacks and throwing some slick combos of your own COULD be satisfying at times. Some of the bigger encounters could feel especially impressive in design, whilst the demand for finesse could arguably stand out as a strength of the experience for some players. You can even level up and unlock new moves as you progress, and it’s always satisfying to see your skillset grow. It’s just a shame that the combat wasn’t exciting or consistent enough to keep me invested, with its stronger moments typically outweighed by those that caused frustration.

One interesting idea that combat does implement is that you’re given a second chance when defeated. If bested in battle, Pseudo will awaken at night-time with a new wood-like form at the last campfire you rested at. If he manages to reach the place of his death? You’ll recover your previous form. If you die again? You re-load your save. Clash: Artifacts of Chaos can be a tough experience so it’s nice that defeat doesn’t ALWAYs mean game over, though with campfires often well-spaced out, you can still expect to have to replay through lengthy segments of the game to recover your previous form.

Check out some screenshots down below:

That second form can also be used by resting at a campfire and waiting until night time, with the advantage being that it can destroy thorny obstacles that block your way to open up new pathways and shortcuts. It’s an interesting concept that encourages players to embrace the game’s day-and-night system, with players encouraged to explore the world from both perspectives in order to make life easier for themselves.

The problem is that exploration itself can be very obtuse. Not only does the game rarely guide you where you need to go, but the world itself is very big and full of winding pathways that lead you across all directions. I’ve played plenty of open-world titles that don’t hold your hand and enjoyed them, but Clash: Artifacts of Chaos just left me frustratingly muddled and lost at times. Don’t get me wrong, the varied pathways either bring with them progress or a reward so there’s no worthless venture, but I just wish that the game wasn’t always so obtuse in its approach. It’s a shame because there were some moments when exploring the world that I found myself fully engrossed in the sense of discovery, but other times I just wanted to know what exactly it wanted me to do next. Pair that up with the fact that I didn’t enjoy combat all that much and it quickly made Clash: Artifacts of Chaos feel like a bit of a chore to play.

One area in which Clash: Artifacts of Chaos certainly delivers is its visuals, which look unique and beautiful throughout thanks to the creative pencil-styled overlay. I’m a massive fan of its vibrant use of colour and the sheer oddities found within the world design, whilst the characters themselves look monstrous (in the best possible way). It somehow manages to get that perfect surreal balance of beauty and ugliness (again, in the best possible way) and it just makes the whole world all the more alluring to explore. I’m a big fan of the visuals and don’t think that the screenshots do it justice.

Clash: Artifacts of Chaos Review

Clash: Artifacts of Chaos looks stunning and has some interesting ideas, but the uninteresting combat and obtuse gameplay left me bored when playing. It’s a shame because the world design is wonderful and I found myself invested in the storytelling, but I just couldn’t get on with the core mechanics of the game. Is it a bad game? I wouldn’t say so and there was nothing broken about it, but it is one that feels like it targets a specific audience.

Clash: Artifacts of Chaos definitely wasn’t for me, but if you enjoy challenging experiences, slower paced combat, and have a LOT of patience, it might be worth taking a look at.

Developer: ACE Team
Publisher: Nacon
Platform(s): PC (Reviewed), PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One
Website: https://clash-artifacts-of-chaos.com/