words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by AlienTrap Games for PC, Mac, Linux, and PS4, originally released in 2015.
In Apotheon, the Greek gods have forsaken the world of mortals, leaving them to die, sick and starving, as their prayers go unanswered and their lands bear no fruit. You play the role of Nikandreos, champion of humanity, who must depose these gods and steal their powers for the sake of mankind. Along the way, you meet many famous figures from Greek history and take on many of the gods, including Poseidon, Ares, Apollo, Hades, and even Zeus himself.

Immediately noticeable are the game’s visuals, inspired by Greek pottery art. The traditional black, red, and orange colors are used on Mount Olympus, but there are a number of other color schemes as well, with green forests and a dark underworld. Still, these areas retain the same striking visual style.

Nikandreos has the ability to walk and run, and running for a sustained period allows him to sprint. He has a floaty 2x variable jump, a dodge roll, and the ability to climb ladders… although the character sprite continues facing to the side while climbing, again mimicking the style used in Greek pottery art.

Nikandreos can also grab ledges, which he may then climb up or down like a ladder, which is contrary to most action games where the character may only climb up onto a ledge or instantly drop down. This small quirk drastically impacts the player’s ability to navigate the environment, particularly in tight spaces.

When the player jumps toward a ledge and fall just short, the character will stick to the side of the wall as if it were a ladder. Climbing up onto a ledge is a considerably slower process than the traditional technique of tapping a button to scramble up the wall and mount the ledge.

In open areas, the ledge climbing mechanic allows players to slowly explore the environment, allowing them a great range of movement without the need for every area to be filled with ladders or stairs. In tighter quarters, however, the tendency to stick to walls makes navigation cumbersome. This is more pronounced in combat where you may need to flee from a tough foe or attempt to reach higher ground, only to find yourself slowed by sticky walls and slow climbing speeds.

The developer’s previous title, Capsized offered similar navigation abilities, but that game focused on gun-based combat where players generally engaged enemies from afar. In Apotheon, most combat is melee based, requiring players to get up close with their foes while also considering the terrain and the optimal angle for attack. Physical proximity is very important when dealing melee strikes, as you need to get in close enough to land a hit but not so close that you and your enemy pass through one another and you find yourselves flailing your weapons uselessly in the air.

A stamina meter determines the speed of the player’s attack, and it refills quickly when not using a weapon, which places an additional focus on proper timing for the most effective strikes. The player needs to be ready to dodge or defend himself from attacks while the meter recharges, or push forward with slower attacks.

Weapons are derived from classic Bronze Age armaments, including swords, spears, axes, and clubs for melee weapons, and bows, arrows, and javelins for missile weapons, as well as shields to block incoming attacks. Each weapon handles differently and has advantages and disadvantages. For example, wooden spears are great for their enhanced reach, but they are easily broken; axes are very powerful, but they take a long time to swing; clubs aren’t great damage dealers, but they are more effective against shielded enemies; a bow and arrows let you hit enemies at a distance, but you can’t carry a shield while using them; and some special assassin weapons allow players to kill enemies instantly when striking them from behind.

The player may modify the swing angle of melee weapons by pressing UP or DOWN while attacking, and handheld weapons may also be thrown to hit enemies at a distance, at which point the next weapon will automatically be equipped. Thrown weapons may also be picked up and reequipped.

Missile weapons allow players to hit enemies from afar, but aiming over a long distance can be tough when accounting for the pull gravity. In addition, many foes are very mobile, meaning that they can break into a run and reach your position before you have much time to react. Arrows and other throwing weapons are in limited supply, so you must use them sparingly. You can retrieve spent arrows and other thrown weapons by picking them back up, although they’re usually only good for one or two more uses before they break. All weapons and shields slowly wear down with use.

Due to the wide range of weapons and enemy types, the player must regularly change up his strategy in order to overcome his foes. For instance, players may equip a shield when going up against archers, or choose to pick off stronger enemies from afar with arrows of his own. The sword is a great all-purpose weapon with decent damage and fast strikes, but you may want to save it for use against fast-moving enemies rather than the slow strong ones. Weapons may be cycled through from within the game, or at your leisure in the pause menu.

Players may make use of restoratives to repair damaged equipment and to heal themselves. Some restoratives are found in the environment, but a crafting system allows players to create more of these items by combining resources found by opening chests and breaking furniture, per genre conventions. Players may also craft other helpful tools, such bombs that may be used to blast through certain walls.

Each craftable item requires a recipe showing which resources are required, after which the player is free to craft as many items as he likes from the pause menu, as long as he has the available materials (although the crafting interface doesn’t show the quantity of materials currently in the player’s inventory). Herbs required for crafting health restoratives appear frequently, so thorough explorers can count on having plenty of potions on hand. In addition, the player is free to save as often as he likes, and the game auto saves upon entering each new area and when passing through doorways.

A large portion of the world map is open to the player at the start of the game, allowing for a great deal of freedom in how the player tackles the opening challenges – including the boss encounters in each area – before he moves higher up Mount Olympus. The opening area is connected by the Agora, which allows access to the forests of Artemis and Apollo, as well Hades’ domain, the underworld, which must be accessed by paying the boatman to cross the river Styx.

These opening areas are accessible from the start of the game and may be played in any order, and the player is free to leave the area at any time to return to a previous location. In addition, a fast travel system is in place, allowing players to warp between any of the major locations once the associated warp point is found.

Each area has a series of challenges to be overcome before the god may be faced. This generally involves overcoming an incredibly powerful foe, killing a certain set of enemies – which are derived from the classic Greek tales – or destroying certain objects, such as casks of wine. On occasion, the tasks require less destruction, such as facing off against Dionysus in a drinking challenge. Each defeated god grants the player a new weapon or item, and defeating the three gods in the opening area unlocks the next part of the narrative and another set of gods to challenge.

While there are numerous quests spread across a large world map, objectives are always clearly marked. The pause menu shows a map of the immediate area with key locations highlighted. During the action, small arrows appear in the foreground, pointing in the direction of each objective, most of which are self-contained and are accessed by passing through a door into a dedicated challenge area.

A number of side paths and optional areas are available as well, which may be found by picking locks, carrying torches through darkened areas, pulling levers, or locating keys. Exploration rewards players in the form of crafting materials, health restoratives, new weapons, and armor pieces. While weapons and shields are equippable items, armor pieces function similarly to those found in DOOM, with each piece simply adding to an overall armor meter.

Occasionally, the player gets some support in dealing with foes, as friendly characters will fight off the bad guys alongside you, whether you help them or not. Fortunately, friendly characters are immune to damage by your hand – and vice versa – a necessity in a game featuring fast combat on a single plane. The presence of battling allies adds a sense of scale to the proceedings as some areas have combat happening all around, accompanied by various clangs and shouts. Dialogue for the game is fully voiced, even the ancillary lines, although the continuity is occasionally broken by some unusual accents or strange dialogue, such as enemy soldiers shouting “squeal piggy” as they move in to attack.

Dialogue in general is well voiced, and the narrative certainly falls in line with the Greek mythos, which means that there is a great deal of soliloquizing – particularly given the mute hero – although the story tends to meander a bit. Given that the player is free to take on the world as he wishes, the narrative is somewhat disconnected, making it difficult for the player to derive any sort of underlying meaning to his actions. Ultimately, the dialogue captures the flavor of the Greek tales, but doesn’t do much to engage the player in feeling as though he is an integral part of a larger tale.

Apotheon was developed by Toronto-based AlienTrap Games, the studio behind Capsized and Nexuiz.