Navigate the Elden Ring, Clash: Artifacts Of Chaos is the new hardest game in town

Clash: Artifacts Of Chaos are nails, buddy. And that comes from someone who recently reviewed Team Ninja’s Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, a game that’s very good at grinding people to a paste. I’m not trying to brag; I am defenseless with you. I have a case of Ben Affleck’s blues where most sessions of Clash’s third-person adventure have me going from elevating to slumping against a wall with that signature Affleck grimace on my face.

Aside from being really hard, I’m a bit hesitant about Clash in the parts I’ve played so far. It looks fantastic and provides brilliant turns in combat, but leveling is boring and exploration has a confusing advantage. It’s a wonderful time and an irritating one at the same time. It turns out that the surreal lands of the Zenozoic are not just sun and turkey people. However, there are many turkeys.

For the sake of context, Clash: Artifacts Of Chaos is the spiritual successor to the earliest Zeno Clash and Zeno Clash 2 offerings from developer ACE Team: both first-person fighting games where you throw right hooks at fat-fingered people. So in Clash: AOC, you return to the colorful lands of Zenozoic as a guy named Pseudo. Not only does he look like a vacuum-packed Earthworm Jim or a guy who barely fits into his pajamas, but he’s also talented in the martial arts.

The snot-punching talent is a boon for Pseudo, as the game’s plot centers around the protection of a sooty barn owl called – his name cracks me up because I’m a kid – Bandit Boy who desperately pinched him for his mysterious powers. It’s one of those stories that starts and you’re like “what?” because nothing has any real context. You’re just a four-legged Pepper who decides to protect a bunch of feathers because… you feel like it? At least from what I’ve played so far, the stakes get clearer as you explore the world and come across settlements where key characters live.

Aside from the initial confusion, I’m a fan of how the story unfolds. It’s reminiscent of God Of War (2018), in the way you’re a father figure fighting your way through a dangerous land to protect your child. Except it’s a more muted world than God Of War, where mostly the crunch of your footsteps or the crunch of your fists accompanies you on a rather lonely journey. There’s not much talk between you and the Boy, and chatting with a fucked-up little dude is a rare pleasure. Though again, I think the relative coldness of the world fits in with the dreamy, perverted Clash universe.

Screesnhot from Clash: Artifacts Of Chaos which shows Pseudo and the Boy looking towards the mountains, centered on a massive screaming face.

A screenshot from Clash: Artifacts Of Chaos of Pseudo and Boy opening a gate leading to a beautiful coastline, near a giant crab and a gnarled witch.

A boy stands in a colorful mushroom grove surrounded by gnarled trees in Clash: Artifacts Of Chaos.

It’s just Zenozoic Phwoar. Looks like the part, okay. From the sections I’ve explored so far, it’s often a lovely mix of bright yellows and greens, stone and bone. The creators describe it as a “punk-fantasy” style, and it certainly looks like it. I mean, the Earth looks like it’s been turned upside down and shaken, and a Star Wars tattoo has been glued to it with a weird herbal mix of berries and mugwort. Everything looks as if it has been etched, and the shaded hatching gives characters and scenes a wonderful texture.

Exploration in Zenozoic, however, changes in terms of fun just as much as its surroundings. From what I’ve played, it’s a relatively large, semi-open world connected by loading screens that lead to separate “levels” (map segments), with savepoints in the form of bonfires. The movement has a Metroidvania feel to it, where you follow paths with multiple routes and memorize places you can’t get past yet. You’ll often be digging up boulders that will act as shortcuts to easier access to previous bits, and some paths will suddenly take you back to views of much earlier installments.

Clash doesn’t have a compass or yellow point to tell you where to go, so it’s a matter of trusting your intuition or opening the map – which isn’t much help as it’s very remote and only vaguely tells you which area you’re in’ again. While I appreciate his approach to free-range exploration, it can be frustrating if you really don’t know where to turn next. Some areas have a habit of blending in, making some paths almost invisible at times, and you’re often forced to backtrack through what can be a confusing tangle.

A screenshot from Clash: Artifacts Of Chaos that shows Pseudo (locked in wood) battling a demonic great foe at night.

You can mix and match fighting styles as well as assign different moves to different button combinations. However, leveling up your attributes and these styles, boy, are boring. You collect these figurines, throw them in the burner, and then they make the numbers increase gradually. I have no idea how much difference each of my levels makes.

One of the most interesting twists in the game is the use of the night. During the day, you may run into thorns that you can’t get through unless you’re in Pseudo’s “wooden” form, which means you’ll have to sleep by the fire and bring darkness. At night, Pseudo transforms into a terrifying, doll-like version of himself, and is then able to wade through these paths, knock down some guards, and open routes for daytime Pseudo. It’s a nice thing, offering much-needed clarity when the path isn’t clear, and it provides a haunting Zenozoic aesthetic. The nightmare – literally – is that the enemies are more frequent and more challenging.

Clash is all about fighting. You’ll hit a lot of dangling birds and marsupials with a tie, both in third person with multiple martial arts stances and in first person when you build a meter. Do enough damage in first person and you’ll get a nice finisher that may prove necessary to destroy the biggest health bar. I chose a boxing stance to start my adventure which has some strong hooks and neat side kicks if you combine your inputs with dodges correctly. To be honest, I find the fights very hard. Enemies are hard to read and the scraps have a somewhat stiff quality to them, making duels where you have to flit between multiple opponents a real headache.

Pseudo and foe take part in The Ritual in Clash: Artifacts Of Chaos.

Do not get me wrong. I like games where every punch can mean life or death, and Clash certainly excels on that front. I just think it’s a bit careless with the difficulty spikes and some of the smaller details: your health bottle only has one use for ages, which feels a bit mean, and parrying seems to only reward you with a small block? Where’s the counter-attack, eh?! Maybe I’m just bad at brawling in the game, but man, how many times have I just been knocked down, most importantly, not many lessons learned would require several boards to count.

Then you have a whole page of Clash artifacts, which is cool in theory, but rarely feels like it has a huge impact on fights. You’ll often come across burly turkeys and gnarled cuts of meat that you can challenge to a game of The Ritual before tango. You both throw an artifact (such as one that “poisons anyone standing still”), then whoever loses is hit by the effect. Ritual itself is a board game where dice sums are added up after they are rolled. Then you use stamps – you can find them in the world or buy them from traders – to lower your opponent’s score in a clever and cunning way. If you can’t deal with it, you can just ignore it all. whatever you like.

Pseudo prepares to fight a huge horned beast in Clash: Artifacts Of Chaos.

Again, the ritual is pure in practice! But when I win, I rarely feel its influence. I wonder if it’s because the changed combat rules are hampered by AI enemies who know they can’t cross certain boundaries with their computerized brains, or they certainly don’t mind not moving or they’ll be poisoned . Maybe I just haven’t unlocked any of the good ones yet.

So yeah, Clash is weird. I think it presents a very interesting world with lots of clever ideas. I think combat is fun, with all the different martial arts and combos you can do. The tension in duels is palpable, and exploration can be rewarding. But there are also many caveats here. The game can be very frustrating, with exploration that can go from enjoyable to suffocating, and combat is jarring in terms of difficulty. Still, I think the game is worth a try. Zenozoic has a charm and quirkiness that is rather magnetic.

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