Review – Clash: Artifacts of Chaos
There is something very appealing when you have a creative group of people who setup strange and wonderful worlds. It’s why I love gaming so much, because you can have outlandish ideas and designs, and still make it feel believable. One of those games was Zeno Clash. I unfortunately didn’t get into the series until Zeno Clash 2 in 2013, but after discovering it, I went back and played the first. What immediately drew me to the series was its focus on first-person melee combat, and its insane cast of characters and their designs. The lore of this world drew me in and with the wacky hybrid people and animals, it hooked me. Clash: Artifacts of Chaos expands the world of Zenozoik, but offers something a bit different.
Clash: Artifacts of Chaos changes up the formula in a few major ways, one of which is in its perspective change. Zeno Clash is known for its first-person melee brawler combat, with a light focus on crude melee weapons and a few guns. Clash changes it up a bit with a third-person perspective, focusing only on the melee weapons and cutting guns outright. This definitely fits better with the more cinematic story driven focus, and allows for more diverse combat moves. It’s also important to note that Clash isn’t a direct sequel, more of a spin off. So you will see familiar faces, but they will have different roles.
In Clash: Artifacts of Chaos, there is more of a focus on a deeper narrative than any of the games before. Not that the older games didn’t have an interesting story, or that this one focuses too much on it. However, there are definitely narrative tones closer to recent hits like The Last of Us and God of War 2018. You play as Pseudo, a recluse martial arts master in Zenozoik, a land ruled by Gemini the Mistress of the Artifacts. Thrust upon you is a young child who you decide to protect, not realizing the forces that were coming after this child. Gemini and her Generals are pursuing this young child for its magical abilities, but it’s not only Gemini who is after him.
The story has a lot of heartfelt moments between Psuedo and the boy that I was not expecting from a Zeno Clash game, but ACE Team really nailed the dynamic. It hits a perfect balance of story and gameplay with just enough for you to care about these characters, but not so much where it gets in the way of itself. I appreciated that the story, while reminiscent of the two titles I mentioned above, still made the dynamic its own with its own unique twist.
While the story is touching and definitely worth seeing the end of, the gameplay is what really kept me going. Still keeping with the series’ melee focus, its been overhauled greatly. You start off being able to choose from three different combat stances, with one special attack. As you continue to play and explore, you come across totems that challenge you with defeating an opponent in order to learn its new special move or stance. All of the stances and special moves play differently from each other and offer bonuses and negatives to stats. The Boxing Stance benefits from having more Power, while the Slashing Stance benefits from higher aggression. The stances all have their own combo moves and you can equip and swap between two of them at a time.
Combos are fairly basic to pull off, but you won’t just be able to spam them. The idea is simple: dodge direction + attack. Space bar to dodge forward, back, left, right, but if you combine that with the attack button you will perform a power move. Each stance has their own unique power moves to try. Some are large powerful attacks, others can be quick and cross distance. It was really fun trying out the combinations of stances that worked best for me.
Special attacks are separate from the power moves and can be used with any stance. These are done by a similar concept as the power moves, but you don’t need the dodge button. Hold forward, back, or no direction with the right mouse click to perform these moves. Special attacks also have their positives and negatives and offer plenty of variety for your play style. There is even one with a long range attack that came in handy picking off some enemies. The idea here is to combine all of these into large combos. You’ll be able to follow up your standard attack combo, with a power attack, followed up with a special attack. Essentially, you follow up with your next attack as soon as the first one lands to chain them.
As you explore Zenozoik, you’ll come across these straw doll relics that almost look like voodoo dolls. They come in various sizes and will be used to upgrade your combat stances and your special attacks. For the most part, as long as you do some decent exploring, you’ll be able to almost max a good handful of stances and moves. You won’t be able to max all because that requires a very rare relic, making you decide what your main stance and attacks will be. This isn’t until pretty far into the game, so by then you’ll likely have your main setup figured out.
Another unique aspect of Clash: Artifacts of Chaos are the artifacts of power themselves. It isn’t just a fancy title name, these artifacts play an important role in Zenozoik. These artifacts thought to be important parts of life have dictated rules for the land and how to go about conflicts. In any fight the contestants may invoke the ritual, and it is the law of the land to abide by the results no matter what. The ritual is essentially a dice game where each player submits an artifact of power where the winner gets to use their artifact. The object of the game is to end with the most points from the dice. However, each player will have their loadout of moves to use.
These moves are a single use per game and they range from destroying dice, halving values, flipping dice, and they can have area of effect radius’ or will only effect dice along a set line. You’ll also have defensive moves that will block your enemy from effecting the dice you’re guarding. There is definitely some strategy here and winning the ritual can drastically effect some hard fights. If you win, you get to use your artifact, and if you lose, you’re stuck with whatever was brought forth. Artifacts have a wide range of effects, from bees that stun, slow poison effect, chained to a location, heavy fog, or even being able to summon a past foe you have defeated. It’s an interesting gameplay mechanic that isn’t always needed for every fight, but certainly helps in some of the tougher battles.
Clash: Artifacts of Chaos definitely is on the harder side of the action adventure genre. It doesn’t offer any difficulty options, so what you get, you get. That is where leveling up your ritual equipment will help. I never found the fights were ever unfair, but there were a few times losing the ritual where I was pinned in place while three enemies whooped my ass hard. Luckily, I came back, won the ritual, and moped them up. There is a good challenge, but it never felt undo-able or unfair in anyway. The levels have a wide linear aspect about them where you’ll eventually unlock a shortcut or another route to make traveling back after a death or during exploration much easier.
A lot of these shortcuts come from another unique aspect of Clash, night time. There are certain parts of the levels that are blocked off by thick thorn bushes that are only accessible at night when you turn into a husk. Not only do you turn into a husk, but so do the enemies. You’ll need to explore these areas to find the boss of the area that will burn away the thorn bush and unlock that area for Psuedo’s day form. If you die during the day, you’ll be able to awake as your night form to fight back to your body and regain your progress. Dying in the night form at any time results in a game over and you restart from your last save spot.
Visually, Clash: Artifacts of Chaos is a damned treat for the eyes. I absolutely love the art style and designs of Zenozoik. The game is made in Unreal Engine, but it uses an awesome crosshatch art style that looks so unique. They even added an animated mode where the crosshatches actually move a bit, giving it a flowing look. It’s hard to describe well, but you’ll notice it in my pictures, although, unfortunately, the animated lines won’t. The art style does leave some things in the distance to look a bit rudimentary, but the overall design is still fantastic. I’ve always loved the designs of the Zeno Clash series with its over the top creature and level designs.
The sound design is also fantastic, with a great soundtrack that at times is hard hitting for combat, but then it hits some whimsically silly tunes that perfectly match the crazy looking merchants. Each area has its own unique sound design, and the game has full voice over, which was surprisingly good. Psuedo’s voice actor does a fantastic job with his gruff no bullshit tone, and the boy is done well with his child like innocence. I was shocked with how well all the voice actors did, considering that was never a main focus of the series, but ACE Team certainly stepped up here.
Performance on my i7-9700k and RTX 2070 was flawless. I was running on max settings and there were zero hiccups in performance. There were a couple crashes through the twenty hour runtime, but luckily, with checkpoints at every campsite, there wasn’t much loss in progress. I also tested it out on the Steam Deck, which it is verified with cloud saves and all. I spent around a quarter of my play time on the Deck, and I was running 60fps at medium settings. The only downside though was with the art design; having anti aliasing at medium made it look extra jagged. However, it was completely playable and worked great.
Clash: Artifacts of Chaos is one of those games that doesn’t come along often. It definitely won’t be for everybody, but it’s so unique with its world, designs, and gameplay focus, while also offering a truly great narrative experience that I would recommend to anyone. If you love melee focused combat, and enjoy a strange world that will keep you in awe in each level, I can’t recommend Clash: Artifacts of Chaos enough. Just don’t be put off by its bit of learning curve, because once it clicks, it feels so good whooping on enemies.
With unique designs and a great art style, Clash: Artifacts of Chaos is a treat to look at.
Melee focused combat has impact and is satisfying. There is also a good amount of stance variety.
Soundtrack is fantastic, with plenty of whimsical and upbeat combat music. The voice acting is surprisingly good.
Fun Factor: 8.5
A heartfelt journey reminiscent of God of War 2018, wrapped up in the wonderfully weird Zeno Clash universe is something I didn’t know I needed.
Final Verdict: 8.5
Clash: Artifacts of Chaos is available now on PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PS4, and PS5.
Reviewed on PC with an i7-9700k, RTX 2070, 16gb RAM. Also tested on the Steam Deck.
A copy of Clash: Artifacts of Chaos was provided by the publisher.