In Batora: Lost Haven, the Earth is no more, well most of it is no more at any rate. A cataclysm has destroyed most of the planet and, with it, most of humanity. No more long walks on the beach or staring at incredible sunsets. Gone are the punk bands crying out against the system as the system is gone as well. Only small pockets of humanity, dwindling on the edge, remain. No one knows the hows and wherefores of it as disaster struck like a thief in the night and it’s all anyone can do to survive.
Enter our protagonist, Avril, and her friend, Mila. They’re combing through the wreckage of the ruined world, following a voice from Avril’s dream. Before you can say that’s probably not a good idea, they’re ripped from the Earth and dumped on an alien planet. You see, Avril is the chosen one and it’s up to her to restore balance to a series of planets – with the hope that doing so will also save the Earth. Oh, and you have to find Mila in the process too.
Great story, forced humour
Developer Stormind Games has crafted an interesting game. Part isometric twin-stick shooter, part action adventure, and part puzzle game with a heavy narrative emphasis, Batora: Lost Haven throws many things at you during its brief playtime.
There’s a really intriguing story on offer – a serious one too. However, it’s one let down by inconsistent writing and what I dub the “Marvel Effect” – the use of forced or inappropriate humour to tone down a serious moment. A problem, as Batora: Lost Haven has many serious moments to consider, especially with its choice and consequence system. Occasionally, you’ll have to make choices, typically the life or death type, so it was a little disappointing to me when these moments are blown off by what’s meant to be witty banter instead.
Those choices are meant to affect the outcome of the story but they’re constantly undermined and simply became a source of Rune points for upgrades.
As the Avatar for the deities Sun and Moon, Avril will have two natures to contend with. In practice, this means you have two styles of attacks with their own increasing set of skills and, therefore, two play styles at your disposal.
The Sun gives you access to his melee skills, with a great flaming sword and a variety of fire attacks to burn your enemies with. Moon is the mind master, giving you access to projectile attacks for a defensive, ranged play style that, for me, worked way better than the melee one. However, you can’t rely on one play style though to see you through the game as enemies come in those two elemental flavours, along with some with hybridised natures that you have to learn how to exploit to your advantage if you want to survive.
Each attack style does more damage to the corresponding enemy type while using melee on a ranged enemy, for instance, will damage them less. The same goes for enemy attacks that hit you but, one thing to always bear in mind is that whichever element hits decrease the corresponding health bar. While you may have two health bars to juggle, if one hits zero it’s a game over – even if the other is full.
While the combat is relatively easy, you do have to pay attention to what’s going on around you as Batora: Lost Haven loves to throw multiple elemental enemy types at you at the same time, in enclosed spaces. Despite the clear focus on dodging incoming attacks, you’re often locked into an area until enemies are dead and most of these are tiny areas with limited room for movement. In addition to the constant lack of manoeuvrability, you’ve got to deal with a camera which has two settings: far and close. If you’ve been exploring with it zoomed out, you’ll find in combat it’s not close enough to always spot enemy attacks – and you can’t change the view distance during a fight.
…with some wonky mechanics
Where the combat suffers is in the way it’s set up. The right analogue gives you one form of attack, while a face button gives you another. It works perfectly fine for ranged attacks but feels awkward and stilted for melee where the analogue is meant to control directional attacks. Thankfully, as you level up you’ll unlock a bunch of skills and new attacks that take the edge off the awkward system.
Boss fights also employ the same elemental system as basic minions they flip between them for attacks. The main gameplay mechanic here is that doing away with one portion of a boss’ health bar also requires you to strip away the same portion of its alternative element. If you don’t do this in a short space of time or, the boss completely regenerates that section. It’s a good concept but unforgiving timing makes it more frustrating than it should be and drags out these battles.
Levelling will give you the usual stat boosts, but Batora: Lost Haven makes use of a Rune system to increase your stats and abilities. How many runes you can equip is governed by a point system, with one pool per nature type, and each rune requires a certain amount of points to be equipped.
Thankfully, puzzles make up a big part of the gameplay loop. Whether you’re using giant balls to navigate the environment and trigger switches, or swapping between elemental states quickly to navigate disappearing platforms, there’s enough variety to break up the more frustrating combat sequences.
To Boldly Go…
Visually, Batora: Lost Haven is gorgeous to look at. There are some fantastic character designs on display, from our heroine to the various alien races she encounters, but it’s the world design that is truly stunning. The game may be fairly linear, but its set dressing is gorgeous. Each world sports its own theme and visual aesthetic, with stunning use of colour throughout. Vibrant greens and purples light up each region and even a traditional desert environment – usually a boring biome in video games – looks stunning thanks to the use of sandstorm effects and abundant props. It often left me wishing that Batora: Lost Haven had been a behind-the-shoulder action game instead.
Wrapping up, Batora: Lost Haven is still an interesting indie title with an intriguing story and stunning visual design, despite some control and combat gripes that a patch or two could tweak. If you’re a fan of puzzle-centric combat and navigation games, you’ll still find it well worth your time.
Batora: Lost Haven (Xbox Series) ReviewBatora: Lost Haven (Xbox Series) Review
Story8/10 Very Good
Visuals8/10 Very Good
- Good story
- Great set dressing
- Use of colour is wonderful
- Humour at inappropriate times
- Melee combat is awkward
- Frustrating boss fight mechanics