With some games I play here, I find it can be tricky to explain just what about them attracted me to give them a try. And then there are games like Alientrap Games‘ Apotheon, which are pretty self-explanatory. I mean, just look at it. Every gameplay screenshot and movie looks like the stylized idea of Greek vases brought to life. And that looks super rad. It actually looks really good in motion, too, believe it or not.
Additionally, the teaser movie I watched suggests that this game might take place in a setting that’s actually somewhat accurate to Greek mythology. And I’m a sucker for that: ‘influences’ and ‘reimaginings’ tend to not hold a candle to the surprising level of depraved weirdness the Old Greeks managed to come up with. So, that’s a bonus. But only a bonus, honestly: this game could be a stylized retelling of something like I Get This Call Every Day, and I’d still want to play it for the art direction alone.
(Spoiler levels: Narrative, medium-high, but it’s not like you can’t *guess*. Mechanical, medium.)
(Game source: Bought it myself.)
A single stringed instrument serenades a slowly progressing line of characters. Are these the Greek gods? It seems plausible. To the left, a soldier opposing everyone else: Ares? Standing directly in front of them, a jovial man with a drinking horn: Dionysus, I presume. And there’s Demeter and her crops, Apollo and his lyre… and then the title screen starts rotating, slowly, bringing more characters into view. Artemis, cradling a deer for probably-non-murder reasons. A raging naked warrior who I assume must then be Ares. A non-raging naked woman who I’ll assume is Aphrodite. Hephaestus, Hermes, Athena… the list goes on.
The available suite of options is impressive for a rotating vase, but somewhat less impressive for a PC video game. Still, all the usual suspects are there. Resolution, fullscreen, VSync, Shadows. Audio percentage sliders for voice, music, and sound effects. Subtitles, in a non-hidden place for once.
Controls. Look at all the controls!
Both the ‘Local’ and ‘Online’ options lead to some form of arena-based multiplayer. I guess I’m impressed that this game has local multiplayer to begin with, sure, I’ll give it kudos for that. But I’ll be honest: fighting other boring humans isn’t exactly why I’m here. I want to fight and/or work together with the gods of yore!
Also, I don’t have any friends over today.
Campaign, go. Difficulty… ‘Warrior’ for normal, or ‘Champion’ for a whole list of ways my life will be made more difficult. You know what? I think I will go with ‘Warrior’ this game, game. Don’t much fancy being interrupted at every attack.
First visual: Zeus angrily scowling at me.
A stately female voice — I want to say distinguished — very formally tells me of how the gods have just up and abandoned humanity. Zeus and his ilk have decided that they don’t really love humans anymore, and they’ve taken their proverbial ball and gone home. And that has… let’s say consequences. Because in the Greek mythology world of Apotheon, the gods are more or less responsibly for everything.
Poseidon retracts his favour? No more fishes for you, my friends.
Without Demeter, no food on our fields. Without Artemis, no game in our forests. Without Apollo, not even the sun deigns to shine in the sky.
And without the general protection of the gods… well, it turns out that a nation entirely reliant on its gods for anything and everything is a nation that is very much open for invasion the moments those gods disappear in a huff.
And it is in this setting — with the Greeks starving, destitute, hopeless, and under attack from all sides by their erstwhile cowed enemies — that Apotheon kicks off.
I’ll be honest: it doesn’t look too good for the Greeks.
Whew. That is a lot of fire and dead people. Or I think they’re dead people, at least. None of them seem to be moving much, but this is Vase Aesthetic. Maybe this is their resting pose?
No, but wait: pushing WASD, as indicated, stirs some life into the central dude. The one with that copper-turquoise robe, the clear ‘wow, I wonder who the protagonist of this story will be’ violation. He slowly pushes himself up, shakes off the drowsiness of ages, and then… just kinda stands there. Buddy, shouldn’t you be doing something? Anything? In case you missed it, your everything is on fire.
Oh, wait! I’m in control already. Stupid, stupid. I push the D key by way of experiment, and Unnamed Character hoofs it to the right.
Let’s see… WASD moves, as expected. Space jumps. I also see a few button prompts in the HUD on the bottom of the screen. But… pressing Q brings up a list of some sort, but doesn’t otherwise seem to do much. Same for 1. And that one even has a knife indicated under it! Talk about false advertising.
I move to the right, as — following established conventions — there doesn’t seem to be much to do to the left. Giant painted murals teach me the controls along the way, in a way very much reminiscent of the opening of Titan Souls. World overlap confirmed? The Greeks are known for their skill in Colossus building.
Space jumps, but Space and down descends. Okay, classic. Whenever a little hand appears on-screen, pressing and holding E picks it up. Also nothing out of the ordinary. E also opens doors and activates environment objects, making it a veritable ‘E-wesome’ button.
I practice E’s object retrieval functions by grabbing a nifty sword.
Past the door, I find… an enemy! Colour-coded in handy red clothes for my convenience. We engage in combat!
…which apparently involves a whole lot of jumping around. I hadn’t really checked yet, but man, my character has some vertical leap. As do our current raiders, apparently.
Combat involves a whole lot of left clicking. Whenever I left click, my character swings his sword. Overhead, underhand, or a straight stab. I… can’t really figure out if there’s any reasoning to this? What I can tell is that his swings grow slower and more labored as I keep clicking. A green bar in the screen’s lower left serves as stamina: the lower that bar goes, the more difficult it becomes for my character to attack. Really convincingly so: when the bar is near-empty, I can tell it takes every ounce of strength this dude has left not to drop the sword entirely.
Tired and incompetent as I may be, though, the other guy started this battle with half health. So eventually, inevitably, I win. My enemy bleeds all over the place, falls to the floor, and then… disappears in a puff of smoke? Meanwhile, I pick up a leaf that he left behind. Spoils, yeah!
Walking rightward even more triggers a cutscene with the blue-clad armored warrior who just stood around watching me fight just now.
‘Raiders are attacking, Nikandreos! Press Tab to access your map, where you can see a whole bunch of sub-objectives you need to complete in order to drive them back! Meanwhile, I’m going to go… sit over here, I guess.’
And with that, the world opens up.
Not in a ‘restrictions are lifted’ way, mind. It’s more that everything I encountered before this was a linear pathway by design. But now that I’ve emerged out of that pathway, I can go… anywhere, I guess. As long as it’s related to one of my five objectives. And as long as I don’t mind fighting off the endless enemy soldiers that appear whenever I go somewhere, anywhere.
I run across the burning city. Enemies are encountered, and summarily dispatched. Items are found, and subsequently picked up. For my first objective, I find and rescue the blacksmith, who rewards me by outfitting me in fancy armor and a shield!
Then, it’s off to the raider ship. Here, I learn to interact with environment objects. All environment objects. That I can use switches to open slave cages is a given, but did you know chopping up hanging bits of meat provides me with health boosts? Or that I can destroy any and all boxes, baskets, and urns I come across? Many of them have coins and items in them, too.
I run, I jump, I climb, I crawl. I pick up many weapons, and do not understand the differences between most of them at first. Or why there are so many. Clubs, swords, spears, knives, pitchforks… then one of my weapons breaks, mid-attack, and I suddenly and explosively understand why the associated weapon icon in the lower right corner was starting to show visible cracks.
I find a torch, and learn about using Q to switch off-hand items. I find a bow, and learn about ranged attacks. I find a javelin, and learn about throwing items. I find a sword, and learn about throwing whatever the hell I want, be it a throwing weapon or not.
I learn how to craft the leaves I’ve been collecting into healing potions!
Until eventually, armed, armored, and stocked up with weapons and items…
…I engage the raider leader, Ophion the Tyrant, in single combat.
And take him down.
Alright! Raiders defeated, village saved. All in a day’s work. I guess that was it for Apotheon! Cool little game, that; a little short, but otherwise…
But wait. Of course, the story is far from being over. Zeus and his family still want humanity extinguished. But as luck would have it, it turns out that the village of Dion hosts a temple dedicated to the one god who might be willing to go against the grain in Zeus’ omnicidal scheme…
Hera, it turns out, doesn’t really like Zeus any more than I do. Well, than I do now, after he’s sent famines and droughts and murder-raiders to kill me. But Zeus was also unfaithful, you guys.
Hera offers me a choice. She can open up the path to Mount Olympus for me, allowing me to ascend… take take on the forces of the Gods on their own turf. “Strip the callous Gods of their power, and cast down Zeus from his lofty throne”. Or…
And because I know my Greek mythology, I know there’s only ever one right response to being drawn into the gods’ eternal schemes:
But hey, wouldn’t you know it: of course I can’t actually outrun my Apotheon destiny. So sure, whatever, I’ll play along. Good deal, Hera! You just sit back here and do nothing — I guess I understand where these other villagers got it from — while I ascend to the home of the gods, challenge all of them to single combat over their powers, and figure out some way to overthrow a celestial order that has been standing over since Zeus and Gaia overthrew Kronos, Father of Time.
Shouldn’t be too hard, should it?