If you’re looking for a melee-focused game with brutal brawling and flashy martial arts, then Clash: Artifacts of Chaos may seem like a good choice. Developed by ACE Team and the third entry in the fighting game series Zeno Clash, this action-adventure Soulslike takes you to the fantasy world of Zenozoik as Pseudo, a martial artist tasked with protecting a magical creature named Boy from the tyrannical Gemini and her cronies. While the game boasts captivatingly gross visuals and crunchy melee combat, it’s marred by buggy design and obtuse mechanics, making Artifacts of Chaos an underwhelming experience overall.
The Good: Combat and Graphics
Despite its flaws, Artifacts of Chaos has some redeeming qualities, namely its combat and graphics. The game lets you learn various martial art stances and moves to create your fighting style, making combat stylish and satisfying when it works. You can also perform cool fighting game techniques like dodge-canceling combos and special moves that can interrupt your opponent’s attacks. The melee combat is challenging and gratifying, as you battle humongous troll-like creatures and other unspeakable horrors.
The visuals of Artifacts of Chaos are also a standout feature of the game. The highly saturated, Oddworld-esque aesthetic of Zenozoik is wholly unique in its perverted beauty. Characters have deformed faces and limbs, and monsters have jagged teeth and rotting flesh, creating a world that’s both disgusting and captivating. The developer has stuffed the art styles of Earthworm Jim, Mad Max, and Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty into a blender to create a surreal and absurd view that’s enthralling to explore.
The Bad: Buggy Design and Obtuse Mechanics
Unfortunately, the rest of Artifacts of Chaos’ package is mid at best and obtuse at worst. The map is buried in the game’s rudimentary menus, and it’s not all that helpful, showing only the names of locations but not the paths required to get there. There’s also no compass or marker, so navigation is more about intuition and memorization than the game guiding you to the next location. The game’s directionless design makes it easy to get lost, especially in a world as intricate as Zenozoik.
Artifacts of Chaos also runs terribly on Xbox Series S, with performance issues that make the game nearly unplayable. It’s poorly optimized, with stuttering animations, characters that miraculously blast off hundreds of feet into the air, and enough bugs that make the infamously buggy release of Cyberpunk 2077 look competent. The game’s lack of explanation and no real way to relearn the brief tutorials you miss in the heat of combat make it all but unapproachable for newcomers to the series.
The Ugly: The Ritual and Nighttime Exploration
The game’s ritual is a dice-throwing board game initiated at the start of major encounters. It’s a neat mechanic that, after a few runs, becomes totally inconsequential as there’s an element of randomness (insofar as the number you get after throwing your dice) and the effects make no big difference because enemies have such massive health pools. Though it adds a layer of interest to the game, it ultimately feels pointless and repetitive.
Nighttime exploration in Artifacts of Chaos is also a struggle due to a lack of direction from the game’s map. Night happens when you either rest at a camp or die in a fight, and Pseudo becomes a wooden puppet with no skin, making him extremely weak. The world slightly changes at night, with tougher enemies roaming around looking for skulls to bash in and shortcuts opening up for simpler travel. But because the map is unhelpful and there’s just a thin gold pillar of light indicating the approximate location of where your body is, wandering aimlessly before ever reaching it is entirely possible. This design is innovative but pointless due to the game’s lack of direction.
The Verdict: Artifacts of Chaos Crumbles Under Its Own Weight
Clash: Artifacts of Chaos is the most obtuse Soulslike I’ve played, with some compelling ideas and cool exterior design, but a lack of polish and brittle design causes the game to crumble under its weight. Despite its captivatingly gross visuals and crunchy melee combat, the game’s buggy design and obtuse mechanics make it an underwhelming experience overall. While I love a melee-focused game like Sleeping Dogs and Sifu, Artifacts of Chaos just didn’t hit the mark on delivering a satisfying experience.