Aztech Forgotten Gods Review: You Won’t Forget These Gods In A Hurry
From the moment a colleague here at HPP pointed me to the trailer for developer Lienzo’s Aztech Forgotten Gods (which we will refer to as “Aztech” from here), it was a game I was hugely looking forward to due to its unique art style, frenetic looking combat, and focus on Aztec culture and mythology; both being subject matters that I feel are hugely untapped in gaming.
Whilst I can’t say that I loved Aztech Forgotten Gods as much as I would have liked, due to the slightly clunky combat, traversal, and somewhat redundant open world, I was still won over by its ambition and heart and found it to be a worthwhile experience.
A Setting Of Untapped Potential
Aztech takes place in an alternate timeline where the Aztec empire didn’t fall in 1521, but in fact, continued to flourish with the city of Tenochtitlan going on to thrive as a hub for highly advanced technology. Players assume control of Achtli, a young courier and daughter to Nantsin, a highly respected archaeologist who has dedicated her life’s work to developing an environmentally friendly energy source through the research of incredibly complex technology left behind by their ancestors.
Mysteriously, Nantsin’s research is shut down, and to stop her efforts from going to waste, Achtli and Nantsin venture back to the dig site where several ancient artifacts have been uncovered. One such artifact, a gauntlet referred to as the Lightkeeper, is capable of harnessing huge amounts of energy, so Achtli makes the decision to wield the Lightkeeper to save the energy being produced by a mysterious energy core which Nantsin has also uncovered.
Here’s the catch; Lightkeeper isn’t just capable of storing hugely powerful amounts of energy, but it also enables Achtli to directly converse with, and in some cases visit the realm of, Aztec God, Tez. Not only can Achtli now speak with a God, but her actions also awaken numerous other Aztec deities who seem hellbent on destroying the city of Tenochtitlan.
A Narrative Of Surprising Depth
I really wasn’t expecting a narrative with as much depth and nuance as is provided by Aztech. Not only is the central mystery around why these forgotten Gods have started invading truly intriguing, but the plot also explores numerous other mature themes, such as the loss of loved ones, mental health, guilt, and crippling phobias.
Most of these issues are explored through Achtli, who blames herself for her father’s death, who passed in tragic circumstances many years ago. This also ties into her extreme claustrophobia. Seeing such grounded issues addressed against the backdrop of such a fantastical world really helped ground Achtli and her supporting cast as characters, and had the effect of making them incredibly relatable. I’d go so far as to say that following Achtli’s character arc was as satisfying, if not more so, than the central mystery at the heart of Aztech. Such is the love and care her development as a person is treated with by the developers.
A Style All Of Its Own
The love and care dedicated to the characters and the narrative also extend to the art direction. Don’t get me wrong, if we were to grade Aztech based purely on its technical merits, it wouldn’t fare great due to its frequent frame drops, pop-in, and very basic textures. And, whilst these issues do prove to distract at times, it’s still impossible not to be won over by Aztech’s aesthetic.
Leaning heavily into the themes of advanced technology and Aztec architecture, Aztech’s characters and environments all sport this incredibly unique blend of sci-fi and Mesoamerica, which somehow comes together perfectly. Whether you’re marveling at the futuristic take on the Aztec pyramids, or gasping in awe at the gigantic bosses which resemble a cross between a Destiny raid boss and something straight from the pages of an encyclopedia on Aztec mythology, Aztech’s world is frequently a delight to inhabit.
Somewhat Clunky Mechanics
Whilst the Lightkeeper gauntlet serves as the catalyst which propels the narrative forwards, it also acts as the foundation for the core gameplay loops of traversal and combat. Unfortunately, as the mechanics underpinning the majority of the experience, they aren’t always the most intuitive to engage with.
Combat frequently feels sluggish and inaccurate, with Achtli somehow managing to feel incredibly weighty and slippery at the same time. Using the Lightkeeper as her primary weapon, she has access to a variety of basic combos, and special charge attacks, all of which can be bolstered and added to via a surprisingly robust upgrade tree.
Despite the combat including an automatic lock-on system, I never quite felt like I was engaging the enemies with any precision due to how floaty it felt and the pace with which Achtli moves. The awkward camera also gets in the way, literally, as it collides with the environment and ends up at awkward angles that all too often obscured my view of the action despite my best efforts at wrestling with the right analog stick.
Combat also requires you to engage with the flight mechanics which are, I’m afraid to say, equally unwieldy. A lot of the combat takes place in the air, meaning you will have to use the Lightkeepers boost ability to stay airborne whilst engaging with your enemies. Whilst some investment in the right skills does improve control and the ability to stay in flight somewhat, there is again a distinct lack of precision to it all, and I would frequently overshoot my targets, or fall short due to the camera going haywire as it tried to keep up.
It’s during these moments that require you to master both combat and traversal, where the framerate issues impact Aztech the most, only adding to a lack of precision or responsiveness. It’s not a total deal breaker, and dedicated players will learn to deal with Aztech’s quirks, but I’d be lying if I said that Aztech doesn’t feel like a work in progress rather than the finished article, in terms of the moment-to-moment gameplay.
Despite the issues with combat and traversal, it’s hard not to be impressed by the battles with the titular Forgotten Gods. The scale of these fights is truly impressive, with the disgruntled deities towering above Achtli like skyscrapers, each moving with a sense of weight that feels like it could reduce Achtli to dust at any second.
Mechanically, these encounters are by far the most interesting part of Aztech. I mentioned Destiny’s raid bosses earlier on, and whilst they aren’t on that level complexity-wise, they do involve much more than just spamming basic combos that I frequently used to deal with trash mobs. You’ll find yourself using flight to reach great heights to target weak points, dodging screen-filling AoE attacks, and managing your boost meter to ensure you can stay airborne when needed to take your fight to the enemy.
The bosses all look fantastic as well, leaning into that clash of Mesoamerican and sci-fi aesthetics that I mentioned earlier, and Aztech’s visual approach to bosses is easily my favorite in recent memory, outside of From Software’s work on their various Soulsborne games. Sound design also elevates these encounters further. Attacks land with crashes and bangs entirely befitting of the spectacle, and the crunching hard rock/heavy metal soundtrack that thunders in the background frequently had my adrenaline running.
A Lacklustre Open World
Perhaps my biggest issue with Aztech is the developers choosing to make the game an open world. Despite the art design again doing a lot of heavy lifting, the city of Tenochtitlan simply isn’t that interesting to explore.
Efforts are made to give reason to go off the beaten path, and there are optional challenges such as races and combat encounters that do incentivize exploration if you’re so inclined. However, I wasn’t, purely because as a space that feels like a living, breathing hub, the world of Aztech doesn’t cut it.
The sparse population largely contributes to this, with only a few lifeless NPC’s giving any indication that civilization exists at all. On top of that, taking to the air and soaring across the city really brings to light the technical limitations of Aztech which I referenced earlier. Open world games, for me, are all about increasing the sense of immersion and making the player feel like they are inhabiting a real space that feels alive and lived in. Aztech never comes close to this, and whilst I appreciate the ambition, I can’t help but feel like the time spent developing and building the open world would have been better spent on polishing the other aspects of the game which I feel could have used a little more attention.
Aztech Forgotten Gods is a game that undoubtedly comes with issues in general feel when playing, and the questionable design choice in going with an open world. Having said all that, Aztech Forgotten Gods is also an experience that is loaded with such heart and ambition that it’s impossible not to enjoy your time spent in this world with this fantastic cast of characters. If you’re someone who can look past the rough edges that likely resulted from a modest budget, then I would definitely recommend joining Achtli in her conflict that not only pits her against the titular Forgotten Gods, but also her own inner demons in a way that will resonate with many.
Final Verdict: 3/5
Available on: Xbox Series S/X (reviewed on Series X), Xbox One, PS4, PS5, PC, Nintendo Switch; Publisher: Lienzo; Developer: Lienzo; Released: March 9, 2022; Players: 1; ESRB: T for Teen; MSRP: $29.99
Full Disclosure: This review is based on a review copy provided by the Publisher