Phantom Abyss Review — Adventure-Archeology

Devolver Digital devlivers another highly unique title in Phantom Abyss, a truly "Indi" adventure game.
Phantom Abyss Featured

What genre would you call Indiana Jones? Classic indie films evoke a very specific sense of adventure. From the ancient temples, the powerful and mysterious relics, and the impressive whip tricks, there’s an incredibly unique excitement behind adventure archeology that few other franchises manage to capture. Phantom Abyss seeks to replicate this feeling, and it does it pretty well.

Phantom Abyss is an asynchronous multiplayer roguelike game with adventure-archeology themeing (yes, I’m coining that phrase.) This parkour-heavy game features traps, whips, and ancient treasures to be plundered by players throughout multiple different game modes and a series of procedurally generated tombs to raid. The game features an initial adventure and story to beat, but theoretically, it can be played forever.

Phantom Abyss Slide
Screenshot: Try Hard Guides

As the story goes, you are an archeologist, or at least the spirit of one, trapped in an esoteric prison known as the abyss. The so-called god of the abyss is also trapped there and serves as your guide and mentor as you collect many powerful relics, the key to your escape. As it’s explained to you early on, death is expected on your dangerous quest. You will be spelunking and dying in these tombs time and time again to try and overcome your immortal prison.

As you play Phantom Abyss, you’ll see other players. These are referred to as spirits and serve as your second greatest tool for navigating the temples of the abyss.

See, while Phantom Abyss is fully multiplayer, nobody can open doors, disarm traps, or collect the relics for you. Instead, you’re taking the temple on alone and watching as the ‘spirits of dead adventurers’ do so as well. By watching the ghosts of others, you can see the paths other players have taken, watch how they cleverly overcome obstacles you’re stumped by, or, arguably most importantly, see where they died.

Phantom Abyss Traps
Screenshot: Try Hard Guides

This unique take on a multiplayer experience is what makes Phantom Abyss truly stand out to me. The way the game manages to be a totally social experience without robbing you of the work needed to actually progress through each dangerous temple maze is something of an ingenious concept and undeniably the core of the game’s experience.

I got to experience the game’s multiplayer mechanics mostly on the day before release when I found my review branch was broken and had to revert back to the current early access build. To my surprise, even the day before the game’s launch, each level had a plethora of players simultaneously attempting it, which shows just how popular Phantom Abyss will be at launch.

I described the game’s phantoms as only your second-best tool for navigation. Your first is, of course, your movement.

Movement in Phantom Abyss feels fast, fun, and fluid, allowing you to constantly sprint without a stamina bar, jump fairly high, and crouch slide for huge bursts of speed. Your character moves faster than you would in most games by default, giving even movement-based fps titles like Apex Legends a run for their money. A really stand-out ability is being able to roll on your falls, preventing fall damage with a satisfying button execution.

Phantom Abyss Jump
Screenshot: Try Hard Guides

Of course, an adventure-archeology title wouldn’t be complete without the most iconic tool in the genre: The whip. Whips serve as another form of movement through Phantom Abyss, allowing you to grabble onto terrain at a distance. You use this ability to ascend upwards, swing over a trap, or prevent yourself from falling to your demise.

As great of a mechanic as your whip may be, I found myself disappointed by it in the long run. The terrain you can grapple onto is unclear, with some objects being utterly unwatchable while others allow you for seemingly no reason. Try as I might, I wasn’t able to grapple anything while already in the air despite my whip no longer being connected to anything. This seems like an obvious feature to be implemented. Maybe it was the special ability of another unlockable whip, but if so, I didn’t find it.

That’s right, I said unlockable whip ability. In addition to boons that can be purchased from statues in exchange for coins, whips are also sources of powerful buffs to help you navigate the temples in unique ways.

Blessings, the aforementioned boons purchased from shrines feel a little too expensive to be useful. You won’t be able to purchase most of them until the end of a run, by which point their usefulness greatly falls off. This may, however, be a skill issue, as I died on far more temples than I succeeded in and lost my coins frequently.

Phantom Abyss Ranking
Screenshot: Try Hard Guides

As you progress further into the game, temples that go from 5 to 10 minutes to beat can take upwards of an hour. While an exciting endgame fantasy for some players, this can lead to frustrating losses for the more casually inclined, who can spend over 45 minutes in a temple only to die and leave with no rewards.

Whether this is an exciting fantasy or a frustrating endgame depends on how much you find the gameplay of Phantom Abyss to be enjoyable, and to be honest, it can get a little repetitive as you begin to run into familiar layouts in temples, often seeming entire rooms you’ve conquered before.

The Final Word

Phantom Abyss is an adventure game with a heavy emphasis on movement mechanics, semi-cooperative gameplay, and a great deal of trial and error. Conquer traps, collect whips, and escape an esoteric prison in this “Indi” adventure game published by the masters of originality, Devolver Digital.

8

Try Hard Guides was provided with a PC review copy of this game. Find more detailed looks at popular and upcoming titles in the Game Reviews section of our website! Phantom Abyss is available on Steam and Xbox.

Erik Hodges

Erik Hodges

Erik Hodges is a hobby writer and a professional gamer, at least if you asked him. He has been writing fiction for over 12 years and gaming practically since birth, so he knows exactly what to nitpick when dissecting a game's story. When he isn't reviewing games, he's probably playing them.

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