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I’ll be honest, my typical attitude towards Early Access titles is of pure disinterest: I’ll play it when it’s done, I don’t have time to play unfinished games when I have a backlog the size of Jay’s Steam library (god bless Steam family share). Still, once in a while there comes a Hades or a Temtem, a title with either a proven developer behind it or just a super intriguing concept that I don’t mind checking out early, and through feedback maybe even getting to play a tiny part in the development process. 

And so it was with Phantom Abyss – an Indiana Jones-style first-person parkour temple raiding rogue-like? Hell yeah, what’s not to love? So, as someone who’s typically against buying into Early Access, how does it fare, and is it worth a purchase right now? Let’s find out. 

Phantom Abyss is a first-person action roguelike developed by Team WIBY and published by ya boi Devolver Digital, out now in Early Access. 

Indiana Jones and the Roguelike Relics

Remember the first time you watched that intro scene in Raiders of the Lost Arc in which Indiana Jones, with his iconic hat, whip, and sultry voice, cleverly bypasses deadly traps in an ancient temple to get to the golden idol? Take that spirit of adventure and temple raiding and combine that with first-person parkour and you got Phantom Abyss

Story-wise, as with many roguelikes, there’s barely any. You find yourself trapped in a temple along with this godly being called Bodach, who tasks you with collecting relics in order to be able to escape. There’s no other ‘lore’ or even dialog besides that, what you see is pretty much what you get.

As for visuals and sound, Phantom Abyss has a very clean and simple, yet appealing look full of green and gold. It’s always easy on the eyes, and at times, truly spectacular (check out the screenshots above!), but most importantly, the visuals are always in service of the gameplay – the clean-cut style makes traps easily noticeable (when you know what to look for). The soundtrack is pretty forgettable, I honestly can’t even remember what it sounds like but hey, I guess it’s not terrible either or I would have remembered it. 

A Solid Foundation 

Coming to what matters, let’s talk about gameplay. The core loop is unabashedly fun. It’s what you’d expect for first-person parkour and doesn’t necessarily do anything new, but the game-feel is honestly very satisfying. Right from the first run as I learned the controls, I felt relieved that it just flat out feels GOOD to move – the movement is fast and fluid, the jumping, sliding, and grappling with the whip feels great and I especially love the roll-before-landing mechanic. In order to not take any fall damage after jumping from a great height, you’ll have to press B at the last second before landing in order to do a roll – pulling this off feels great and keeps the momentum going, never forcing you to stop. 

This makes the core gameplay loop (and this is essential to nail down for all games but roguelikes especially) extremely satisfying and addicting. Running past disappearing floor tiles, jumping over or sliding under spinning obstacles, sidestepping ground spikes, grappling onto a higher platform, whipping vases to get the gold within, and jumping back down with a last-second roll to avoid fall damage… it all feels great and gets you in that sweet mechanical freeflow headspace that I so love about roguelikes. The ‘just one more run’ syndrome is real with this one, and that’s a definite mark of a good game!

Plus, all the traps – and there’s a good amount of variety right now, hopefully, more in the future – are well-telegraphed and are clear to the player especially when you know what to look out for. Arrow turrets provide a clearly visible path a second before they’re released, there are patterns to disappearing floor tiles, marks on the ground indicate overhead pyramids that slam down on you, etc. 

This minimizes the frustration about dying by a lot, it always feels fair – when you die, it’s because you were going too fast and didn’t react quick enough or you were just dumb enough not to notice a trap. Although, some of the more exciting traps from the trailer – the rolling boulders (classic Indy), the walls closing in from the sides, etc. are nowhere to be seen right now, and I hope they will be added soon. I’m definitely excited to play through those.  

Fast and Loose or Slow and Methodical?

The only criticism I have with the gameplay is – there’s no wall-running, which is a real shame! I think it would have added a lot to the parkour and a whole new dimension for traps and mobility. Also, the whip grapple works kinda like the Blink in Dishonored in that, yes you can grapple without taking the time to aim properly but it’s always in your interest to stop and aim as the whip range is usually lower than you’d think and it’s very easy to ruin a great run just by not grappling right. However, this slows down the gameplay a bit which I’m not a fan of. 

Speaking of the gameplay being slowed down, some of the traps force you to stop and wait for a second, and that, combined with the couple seconds it takes to grapple really interrupts the free flow. Plus, there are chests and vases (look out, some of these are filled with poison gas) to collect gold from and while some of them are on the main path and hard to miss, others are slightly hidden. Since it’s pretty much always a good idea to collect as much gold as you can – it can be used at statue shrines to acquire blessings like extra health, an extra jump, slow fall, increased whip range, etc. – this again slows the game down quite a bit. 

Going in expecting blazing fast parkour non-stop, this was at first a bit of a letdown but I honestly get what they’re trying to do here – hidden chests reward exploration, and hey, if you think you’re good enough you still have the option to ignore them all and just run non-stop. 

The difficulty level, in my opinion, is perfect right now – it’s sufficiently challenging but entirely doable (especially if you play it slow and methodical), you have 3 hearts of health, so you can afford to mess up a couple of times before being lucky enough to get a full heal at the next shrine. 

As for enemies there aren’t any –  Phantom Abyss is a purely movement-based game and the whip is only used to break vases and grapple. There are, however, 3 possible temple guardians – The Devouring Rage, The Masked Defiler, and The Eye of Agony – that will come after you after the first level of a run (you have to get through at least five levels to get the relic). 

These guardians get stronger with each level after they awaken and pose varying threats. The Eye is pretty annoying with its lasers and keeps you moving, the Defiler throws out poison bombs and is probably the least threatening one, and the Rage – probably the most effective one – is this Michael Myers, an eternal stalker-type guardian that keeps following you, getting faster as you progress through the levels and genuinely had me constantly looking over my shoulder, terrified and on the run. Oof, that gives me a real rush each time. 

Upon acquiring a relic, you’ll be rewarded with a random optional whip to choose from, each with its own pros and cons – for example, one can give you an extra jump in exchange for lower health while another makes you weak to water but gives you a longer whip range. I love this kind of risk-reward exchange in roguelikes but I have to admit, I wanted something more for getting the relic – some permanent upgrades or at least cosmetic items – going back to Indy, different kinds of hats perhaps!

Gimmicks and Half-hearted Multiplayer

One of the more disappointing aspects of Phantom Abyss at the moment is its procedural generation. As usual with games like this, this feature is a bit overstated – the ‘you only get one attempt at each temple, and only one player can successfully complete a temple before it’s destroyed’ thing is pretty much a gimmick as most temples are very similar, just put together in a different order. These similar layouts get old pretty quick so I’m hoping more map modules are added soon, as the longevity of the game will certainly suffer if the maps remain stale.

The asynchronous multiplayer is another thing I was slightly disappointed with, as I expected there to be more focus on actual multiplayer and leaderboards (this game seems perfect for that!), rewards for those who complete a temple the fastest, etc. That could be added later for all I know and I hope it is, but as it stands right now, the multiplayer is limited to playing alongside the ghosts of other players, witnessing and learning from their own failed runs.

Still, I did find this concept to be pretty cool – starting a run with like 10 other players knowing they’ve failed, the crowd thinning further and further over time, players being picked off like flies… There’s a feeling of satisfaction in pulling ahead of the crowd, making it further into the temple where others have failed, and the growing anticipation to be the one to beat it. Plus, running alongside these ghosts offers a weird feeling of companionship as well and makes a mostly empty temple feel less lonely. 

There are also a couple of other multiplayer-ish features in Phantom Abyss – you can share your temple map ID with others and have them attempt the same one, which I can see making for a fun time with friends. Upon death, your loot is up for grabs as well and can be recovered by a friend in their own run. 

As for bugs, the controller does sometimes bug out, notably at the blessing selection screen at the statue shrines, but other than that, I didn’t notice anything. The performance is great and there are no frame drops as far as I can tell, it runs buttery smooth. 

Real Talk 

The bottom line is, Phantom Abyss is a solid foundation for a potentially great game. The gameplay loop is satisfying and addictive and though it suffers from a lack of content right now, the groundwork has been laid for something great to be built upon it. 

As long as the devs stay active and listen to player feedback – add more map modules, more traps, maybe even wall-running, a multiplayer leaderboards section, permanent upgrades, and cosmetic items, etc., Phantom Abyss is all set to become one of the great roguelikes. 

If you like what you see so far, by all means, go ahead and support the devs and maybe you’ll have a hand in its development. Playing through new temples and traps as and when they come out could definitely be fun. However, unless you’re super passionate about the genre, just wait until it’s more full-fledged before you spend your money, no harm in waiting for the full release. In either case, Phantom Abyss is definitely one to keep your eye on!

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