Before Zelda: Breath of the Wild was released, many hopeful players thought that they saw Link as a girl in trailers and screenshots. Of course, it didn’t turn out to be true because Nintendo is such a conservative company. At first, a third-person action adventure Decay of Logos from a small Portuguese indie dev seems to fill the unrealized dream; a white-haired, slender elf girl traverses the game’s Breath of the Wild-inspired colorful cartoon world after an attack to her home village has left her orphaned and all alone against all the hostiles she will encounter in her journey to find her purpose. However, when Ada grabs a sword, it’s clear that Zelda hasn’t been only inspiration for the game but also From Software’s Souls-series (aren’t all indie games these days Souls-likes?).
Decay of Logos is brutal and unforgiving from the get-go. Stamina meter regulates everything Ada does, be it running, dodging, hitting or parrying with her weapons and guarding with an optional shield, while all kinds of monsters, keen to rip her apart, are waiting around every corner, some concealed and popping up for an unpleasant surprise, and some wandering around but not any less eager to attack at the first sight. There, you should be going about exploring the environments with little to no hand-holding. There’s no one telling what to do and where to go, and those rare NPCs you’ll occasionally meet only vaguely hint at something up ahead. You have to find most of tasks to do by yourself, a fragile elf girl in a big, bad world. The player is literally put into Ada’s shoes, all underdog and lost, until she maybe shapes up as a warrior – not metaphorically but through silent level-ups that increase her stats – and starts to get bearings as what to do to stop the evil corrupting her land.
The game’s concept is really noble but sometimes it doesn’t work in its favor well enough. I have always hated how the modern games tend to punish for dying and Decay of Logos is no different. Statistics (like strength, stamina and defense) decrease cumulatively upon each death and that feels forced and unnecessary. If you had troubles against a monster in the first place, how are you supposed to cope with the same mob with reduced stats? There are camps scarcely scattered around the game world where you can sleep to restore the vitals. However, monsters can ambush Ada while she’s resting and you have to try to stand your ground against multiple attackers with those lesser starts you were about to sleep off. Often, most of the playing time is spent on nervously finding the next camp but they are really few and far between. Thus, long spells of adventuring can become unnecessarily hard and stressful due to having to suffer from lowered stats before a new safe haven is found. Luckily, there are little shrines, too, scattered here and there where you can at least save the game. Most of the monsters you seen can be avoided, though, bringing some relief until you realize some of them need to be challenged head-on as they’re roaming around key areas you need to access.
Another thing that doesn’t work all that well is the friendly elk who tags along. Ada can ride the elk to get around quicker but before every ride, you have to feed the animal Lullaberries that grow all over the place to sooth him down. Riding is regulated by the elk’s stress bar that depletes very quickly. Not that you’d gain much headway anyway because the riding is so unwieldy it’s better - and faster - to run on your two legs for most of the time. So, the elk’s role is reduced to an extra inventory space and occasional puzzle solving partner where he has to be moved onto a pressure pad to open doors.
While some of the game mechanics try their best to (unintentionally) fight against the player and brave Ada, little by little you start to appreciate what the game is striving for. Then, an uncanny and free-form adventure opens up as intended, the one that’s not helped or guided by signposts or quest markers. There’s not even a map to fold out to get your bearings. When the game’s concept finally clicks, it turns out to be a smart action adventure that is wildly different from the usual indie tropes. It’s so exciting to end up in new and thrilling environments to explore after arduous treks through hostile lands. You even come to welcome the enveloping sense of danger as so many games nowadays are checkpointed at every turn, negating any risk and reward. Even though Decay of Logos isn’t a retro game by any measure, it feels like playing an old arcade adventure in the 80’s; often you had no clue as to what to do and where to go but you had so much fun and excitement figuring it out. In fact, I could go as far as say that no other modern game, be them AAA or indie titles, has such a pure spirit of adventuring as Decay of Logos. Well, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey has an optional immersive mode that hides all the quest markers but it has so much things to do anyway that you don’t exactly have to search for activities. Here, the little pilgrim has to find her place in the world and eventually challenge the enemies for the throne.
The moment Decay of Logos started to unravel for me was when I found my first zweihänder hidden in the ruins (the loot is randomized so it could have been any other weapon or armor, too). The sword gave such a bad ass feeling - as long as I dared to go and challenge the enemies with it! Little by little, Ada's powers grow and the slender elf has a sweet courage to her as she adventures. She gets stronger by every fight she wins and her stats increase based on how you play. Eventually, she will learn magic, too. Alongside Ada, the player also grows in confidence. The intense and challenging fighting becomes satisfying when you finally trust what you’re doing and dare to challenge the foes instead of avoiding them. Bide your time, close in for a couple of strikes and hop back to recover stamina. Rarely does a game feature such a symbiotic growth curve between yourself and the player character. It’s one more reason to hail for indie games as they feature innovations the big publishers avoid in their ever-going effort to appease masses. Before long, a weak elf who was easily one-shot in the beginning becomes the one who one-shots herself! The occasional boss fights are a true test of mettle, requiring patience and situational awareness. It’s also a good idea to harvest healing potions and other salves to aid in fighting before taking big baddies up.
There are some borderline genius details that really enrich the experience. The game takes into account the space and how Ada’s and her weapons’ dimensions relate to it. For example, in a narrow space your weapon can hit the wall, bouncing back from it and cutting short the following hit or the back swing. Now, correct me if I’m wrong but I don’t remember any game in the recent memory featuring such a detail in a close-quarter combat. Usually in games weapons just clip through surroundings without affecting the attack movement. Ada huffs and puffs to indicate that her stamina is low so you don’t always need to have your eyes glued onto the stamina meter in the lower-right of the screen. There are some drawbacks to the fighting, though. You can’t vertically move the camera while using the target lock, which is especially awkward against flying monsters.
All the equipment Ada carries is shown on her, there’s no magical vacuum to stuff full of thing unlike in games usually. Swords are strapped on her back and the axe on hip, healing potions and such on her belt, and a torch on the other hip. Armor pieces are worn on legs, chest, shoulders, hands and face. You can carry only three weapons at a time, two to switch between in fights and one for spare. Weapons and armor wear out in time, weapons more so if you bang them unnecessarily against hard surfaces. All these delightful details are natural not only in the gameplay but are also stylishly presented in the beautiful and vibrant visuals. Ada is amply animated with minute details like brushing tall grass with her hand or shooing insects (those who don’t attack her) as she legs through wetlands. Thankfully, there’s no background music at all that could easily become grating when wandering around. Instead, there’s a rich ambient soundscape to reflect often eerie surroundings; wind blows in highlands and flimsy plank bridges creak under Ada’s slippers.
Decay of Logos is a really ambitious game for such a small dev team and because they have to manage it on all major platforms (PC and three consoles), there are bound to be technical issues yet to be ironed out. The launch was an unfortunate mess as the review codes that were initially sent were accidentally for an old build that didn’t exactly result in a stellar media reception. When I downloaded mine, the issue was already fixed but there are still glitches, like falling through the game world, getting stuck while picking up items, un-pausing the game locking it up and so on. Still, Decay of Logos Is one of the most interesting indie titles to come out recently – and also the most misunderstood game of the year. Part of the blame can be put on the faulty review build but that’s not an excuse for every ungrounded bad word out there. Those who uncritically praise the Souls-series but pick Decay of Logos apart on the very same arguments that could also be aimed at From Software’s games are mere pretenders. Of course, if the first turnip that pops out of the ground kills you off in an instant and you aren’t invested in putting any more time to the game, Decay of Logos might appear as the worst kind of pastime but that’s far from truth.
When the most critical bugs are eventually squashed (developers have promised a steady stream of patches) and the penalty for dying hopefully toned down a bit (or conversely, more resting points added to the world), Decay of Logos will rise up to its full promise. As it stands now, you have to answer the following questions. Do you want your game challenging? Do you want a game that doesn’t guide you by hand but trusts your own initiative? Do you want a brave elf heroine with floppy ears? If you answered “yes!” three times, Decay of Logos is absolutely for you, a high fantasy adventure that is as high on its stakes as on the reward you get from conquering its unlikely circumstances.
Video game nerd & artist. I've been playing computer and video games since the early 80's so I dare say I have some perspective to them. When I'm not playing, I'm usually at my art board.