There are so many different types of multiplayer games these days and so many new ways to play together with friends, so it is always exciting to see games trying something fresh with player interaction. Phantom Abyss, a new game by Brisbane-based studio Team WIBY, is definitely doing something cool.
Set in the depths of long abandoned temples, Phantom Abyss sees you playing alongside the wayward spirits of all the adventurers who came before you, watching as their ghostly forms perish in various ways. It creates the feeling of a battle royal, while still allowing players to tackle the temples in their own time.
Everytime a player dies in the game, their spirit becomes trapped in whichever temple they died in and can be seen by future players on their next attempts. The spirits are all intangible and continue about on their own run through the temple without acknowledging the player at all. Whilst technically you are going at it solo, it still feels like you are all running through the gauntlet together, and sometimes the actions of past adventurers can even aid you on your own quest.
The dungeons are a treacherous place, with plenty of traps and pitfalls ready to ruin your run, so being able to follow the path of previous players and avoid making the same mistakes as them can be very helpful. Traps that killed past adventurers also become intangible, meaning that in a way, their deaths help to push you forward. It’s a great way of making players feel connected, even through this asynchronous multiplayer system.
Each trip into the ruins sees players attempting to reach the end and collect an artifact that they can offer to Altec, a guardian who promises to help free you from this purgatory if you do his bidding. The temples in Adventure Mode (the mode I played the most of) come in a set of different layouts that rotate and change each time you start your adventure. These display a count of how many spirits are currently trapped within, meaning how many players have died there. It’s a bit nerve-wracking to hop into a ruin and see that thousands of adventurers have already met their end inside, but it makes it all the more satisfying when you do survive.
The temples in Phantom Abyss are laid out like huge death obstacle courses, with spikes popping up from the ground, crushing blocks falling from the sky, and a whole manner of other dangers to avoid. Traversing them takes quite a bit of practice, and I found myself taking my first few attempts very slowly, unsure what would kill me and what wouldn’t. Luckily, Phantom Abyss is very fair with its traps, they are always easy to spot and avoid. Once you have learned what the traps in the game look like, it’s much easier to take ruins on at high speeds.
There are also the three temple guardians to contend with, one of them guards each temple that you enter and usually becomes active once you move down from the second floor. They each have different abilities, one firing a laser, another flinging poison at you, and the final one simply stalks you around the temple, always lingering close behind. The guardians work well to help raise the stakes, as they grow stronger each level you descend. I always found myself getting nervous whenever I saw The Devouring Rage following behind me, causing me to panic and rush headlong into danger just to get away from it.
Another central game mechanic is the whip which can be used to momentarily disengage traps, and as a kind of grappling hook. When it is working well, it can feel very good to use. There is satisfying feedback whenever it latches onto a ledge, and when you pull yourself in towards it. Surviving a run in Adventure mode always nets a new whip, each of which offers new buffs to increase your chances of success on your next dungeon dive. Some of them also offer a buff compounded with a debuff which makes choosing your whip for each run a little more strategic.
I’m very basic and so mostly found myself selecting the whip that gives an extra bit of heath per run, but also increases the amount it costs to buy temporary upgrades throughout the temple. It’s also possible to eventually gain access to permanent upgrades that only make you even more equipped to tackle the dangers in the sprawling ruins.
There is definitely a lot of fun to be had in Phantom Abyss, but whether it has staying power or not is going to entirely depend on how you play it. As an experience shared with a group of friends, or streamed online, I can imagine it having lasting appeal. However, when played alone, there isn’t enough tangible progression to incentivize coming back to the game after its novelty has worn off. While there are permanent perks and upgrades available, it takes a lot of playtime before any of them come into effect and that’s the sort of thing that will turn more casual players away.
Phantom Abyss is a great bit of fun if you are looking for a few quick runs into the ruins, dodging traps and living out your adventuring dreams. So if you find yourself with a desire to swing a whip and run from your life with a temple guardian at your heels, Phantom Abyss is definitely going to scratch that itch.