There's something very satisfying in a basic way about the Godfall combat. That's not to say the game is basic, because there's a ton of stat stuff and gear to play with under the hood. It's more that core of the game, which is mainly smacking the absolute crap out of things with a nine-foot sword, just does it so well. The surface level combat, built from light and heavy attacks, parries and evasion, is polished to an artisan sheen, and makes every blow land with a shattering impact that just screams 'EAT SHIT AND DIE WEIRDLY ORNATE SPACE KNIGHT'.
I wasn't sure what to make of this at first. It's all cosmic knights fighting for power in suits apparently designed by Gundam and Fabergé. It's part high space fantasy, part Devil May Cry and all shiny. So very, very shiny. But it almost immediately won me over with a solid combat system that slams. It might not be innovative but it has an incredible force to it - every blow, every dodge and parry has a power that comes out of the screen. After some stumbling steps getting used to a few weird choices (like a gluey target lock and shield block) you soon settle into a rhythm of assessing and dismantling threats.
It's definitely an odd game: summoning just enough of a story, filled with magical armored warriors, to justify a lot of fighting and then running with it. You are, for reasons, trying to stop your brother, once an ally now enemy, from becoming a... god (look at the game name, now look at me). How this quest manifests itself is via a loot chasing, hack and slash through arena heavy levels chasing gear and tokens to open up more levels.
It's a rewarding enough loop. There's plenty of gear that drops in the familiar common, uncommon, rare and epic levels, rings to wear and plenty of other items you can equip to build a loadout. It's all about a lot of number comparing as you rifle through the spoils for the 'best' and scrap everything else. Among what you pick up is a great range of swords, long swords, dual blades, hammers and so on, all with different feels decided by range, speed, wind up. It's all good fun to experiment with and find what works for you and for a while I was rolling with two short swords that were light on damage but fast like the wind. However I've recently found a great sword that's taller than me, shaped like a fish hook and I love it. It takes days to actually swing but makes up for it by absolutely hammering anything that doesn't get out of the way.
This basic stat crunching side of fighting is satisfying. 'Bigger numbers hurt more' is an easy concept to grasp but there's a whole other layer of status effect that I'm less sold on, mainly because it's not overtly visible. There are various damage types like bleeding, fire, electrical and more that can be applied to enemies, with 'Valorplates' - the in-game name for armor - each specialising in, or amplifying, one type. Trouble you really can't tell that much: sometimes enemies change color and I know I've done something, but nothing particularly obvious. With often a lot happening on screen it doesn't stand out, especially against the clear effects of changing to a weapon with an extra 10 points of damage. Where Godfall does a great job of its meaty core combat, the extra layer of status effects just gets lost in the noise.
That's not to say there aren't some nice touches and depth to how you can affect combat though. It's just the more physical stuff that stands out. An ability called Soulshatter layers on a stacking damage with light attacks that can then be detonated with a heavy blow, often insta-killing enemies in a fuzzy sounding metallic 'WUMPH!' that might well be one of my favorite noises ever. There's a weak point skill you can unlock that lets you aim the on-screen cursor at spots on enemies while you're swinging a weapon for extra damage - when you're mashing attacks through a group of enemies it adds a nice touch of finesse to be able to see an opportunity and adjust course to catch it. Things like metered special moves, and timing-based combos also elevate things as you start to piece together sets of moves or patterns that deal with problem enemies, clear space or line up takedowns.
The solid, satisfying nature of the combat goes a long way to covering the sparse economy of the actual level design. Things are divided into realms you progress though, all of which are unapologetically a series of battle arenas with passages between them. The story generally gives you a tour through the area first, before then making you revisit and rerun the spaces for various reasons. There's a very Destiny feel to the maps - you explore them initially for the story but that unlocks a series of encounters you can then repeat and replay, or just wander for some freeplay fun and resource gathering.
This repetition is built into progression too, as to unlock a new area you have to earn Sigils by rerunning previous missions or bosses to effectively 'buy' the stage. As you get further in some points require Sigils from different realms as well, forcing you to replay multiple levels to scrounge up the coin. Almost the whole process seems built around that thing games sometimes do to draw things out. 'We must get to place X' you're told, only to get there and find it's mysteriously sealed by three magical macguffins you'll have to find and smash to open it. There are things like a lift you have to run to reach new realms that are basically a quick series of horde waves to keep you busy. The entire vocabulary of the experience is expressed through entering an area and killing everything in it, and boy does this work hard to come up with reasons for that to happen.
Once more with feeling
It says a lot though that I'm not that put off by the heavy focus on replaying and revisiting encounters. The need to rerun mission variations isn't as grating as you might think when the whole point is just to have really cool fights and win more cool stuff. And, while I haven't had a good chance to test co-op before the game's release (or the final retail PS5 network environment), I am looking forward to it. However, there's no currently no matchmaking, only the option to invite friends which seems limiting. There's also not a huge amount of support abilities or interplay between players so the main teamwork will be through killing things.
One thing I hope does get fixed are some odd framerate hiccups, which surprised me in a game otherwise so highly polished. When absolutely everything's kicking off on screen and every effect, flash and sparkle is firing, it doesn't so much drop the frame rate as skip entire milliseconds of gameplay like a tiny jump cut. And that's in 'Favor Performance' mode. It only seems to do it when there's a maximum number of enemies and you've just dropped every special move you've got, but it's noticeable and jarring when combat relies on precision.
Godfall is definitely a bit of an odd one. There's great combat but its focus on rerunning encounters to grind for progress might not sit well with everyone - using repetition to extract as much value as it can from every square foot of its level. However, when taking down a group of enemies in a flurry of blows, or perfectly dismantling a giant boss's attack pattern, it nails that unthinking reactive, totally in the zone moment and can feel amazing.