Extinction review: Go big or go home

Credit: Iron Galaxy

The Pitch

A large part of the time, fantasy video games tend to come only one or two varieties.

Usually, you’re either in for a dungeon-crawling Diablo-style loot-em up or a sprawling narrative epic. A Torchlight or a Pillars of Eternity. A Dungeon Siege or a Divinity: Original Sin. Sitting in contrast to the usual fare, Extinction strips things back a little and sits outside this dichotomy. It’s a straight-laced action game focused on moment-to-moment kinetics and the thrill of toppling giants.

Developed by Iron Galaxy (Divekick, Killer Instinct), Extinction is a procedurally-generated fantasy action game where you play a singular-but-exceptional swordsman who faces off against a legion of Kaiju-sized humanoid behemoths known as Ravenii.

Though the final product here settles for the kinds of mechanics, story and fantasy world you’ve probably seen before elsewhere, Extinction ultimately emerges as a fun-enough romp. It isn't without its moments - even if it's shallow enough that saying those moments are worth the putting the time in to see is a hard ask.

The Bigger They Are

Right from the get-go, the comparisons to the popular anime Attack of Titan practically write themselves here. However, if there’s anything that Extinction reminded me of the most, it’s the stories of bestselling fantasy author Brandon Sanderson. Specifically, the Stormlight Archive and Mistborn books.

Much like in the latter, Extinction finds the human race in pretty dire straits. Humanity is being invaded by stonking-big inter-dimensional ogres known as the Ravenii. You play as Avil, the Last Sentinel - a super-powered warrior tasked with taking down the gargantuan invaders. It’s implied that the exact size of the Ravenii hordes is basically limitless, so your goal here isn’t to ‘slaughter them all’ so much as it is ‘buy the nearby people enough time to evacuate’.

Credit: Iron Galaxy

This setup plays out across the game’s 30-or-so level-long campaign. Your focus will deviate from time to time, but generally each level of Extinction tasks you with either safely evacuating a certain number of citizens or executing a number of Ravenii. Sometimes, you're asked to protect a set of watchtowers. Those levels suck. Regardless, each encounter takes maybe 5-10 minutes and also comes procedurally-generated, which keeps things relatively-fresh - even if it didn’t take long for me to start getting tired of the overall tileset.

Completing mission objectives in Extinction will earn you points, which can then be spent on upgrades between missions. Unfortunately, the upgrade system here is pretty linear - there’s not really any sort of skill tree or specialisation, just a set of boxes to be ticked that increase this or that aspect of Avil’s skillset (giving him more health, letting him evacuate civilians faster, letting him jump higher). Again, I was pretty disappointed with the lack of depth here, although Extinction does start you off in a pretty powerful place. There's no slow build-up, you're tasked with and given the tools needed to take down the Ravenii right from the get-go.

Like the heroes in Sanderson’s stories, Avil dashes around the battlefield with superhuman finesse and fury. In line with that Sandersonian-style of action fantasy, you’re only really told what you need to know and everything comes with a funny/grandiose name attached.

They're no ogres - they're Ravenii.

You're not a warrior - you're a Sentinel.

The story here isn't without some turns but it rarely ever gets more complicated than 'stop the bad guys'. If you’re looking for any tangible world-building beyond that, you’ll probably be disappointed here.

During and between levels, there’s some banter between Avil, Xandra and a few ancillary characters. These dialogue sequences often work in off-hand references to this place or that rival kingdom - but there’s rarely much time given to building up this setting and world in a way that feels realised or all that interesting. At least, within the game itself.

Credit: Iron Galaxy

Between levels, there are these gorgeous animated cut-scenes that show how Avil and his protege Xandra met and give you a bit more background on their characters. This actually proves to be the far more half of the story in Extinction. Though largely glazed-over, you get the sense of the broader arcs here and these short-but-sweet sequences made me want to invest myself more in the game’s story and world far more than anything else.

Frustratingly, there doesn't seem to be anywhere you can revisit or rewatch them.

However, if nothing else, they makes for a sharp contrast against the all-or-nothing tone and bare-bones storytelling present in the actual game part of Extinction. They made me wonder what a version of this game based around that narrative might have looked like.

The Harder They Fall

Of course, Extinction doesn’t just feel shallow as a narrative, it’s also pretty lacking in depth from a mechanical standpoint.

Between the slow-motion rune slashes and Avil’s grappling hook-style whip, the game gives you some fun tools to play with. Unfortunately, these tools rarely feel as precise or responsive as they ought to. Sometimes, it feels like you should be able to climb a surface - but you can’t and you fall to your death. Other times, it feels like it takes you way too long to kill the smaller goblin-like minions terrorizing the citizens of the city you’re protecting - but you can’t and you fail the mission.

From the moment I started playing, I kept running into moments where the experience felt kinda clumsy and not particularly well put-together. Moments where the seams were shown. The procedural generation that Iron Galaxy have used to build the levels in the game often yields surprisingly good results - but I would have preferred some better on-ramping and/or tutorialization nevertheless.

Credit: Iron Galaxy

Part of the problem here is that, while learning to dismember, disarm and take down a Ravenii for the first time is exciting stuff, Extinction struggles to escalate the threat or drama from there. Once you’ve beaten one Ravenii, you’ve kinda beaten them all. It’s all very rinse-repeat.

Sure, they might have different skin-colors or weapons. Unfortunately, the process of eliminating their armor, charging up your weapon and delivering a killing-blow is always the same - and you get that core experience pretty much from the first level of this game. As intimidating as they look, taking down the different Ravenii becomes trivial and tedious long before Extinction manages to diversity that routine.  

Rather than differentiate Ravenii by weapon or size, Extinction set them apart by armor. Some will have more armor than others, which you’ll have to take apart through a series of precise precise aerial attacks before you’re able to deal any real damage to or finish off the giant ogre. However, really, there’s not a huge difference here in the level of challenge - it just takes longer. Again, once you’ve taken one down with that armor type you’ll feel like you’ve taken down them all.

The Bottom Line

There’s definitely something to the Attack on Titan style David-vs-Goliath gameplay here. However, Extinction ultimately emerges as a pretty shallow and forgettable affair when all is said and done. I had some fun with this game, but I don't know if I would say I had enough fun to recommend it at the current launch price.

Like the Ravenii themselves, Extinction makes a big first impression - but is more light-handed when it comes to any sort of lasting impact.

Credit: Iron Galaxy

Extinction is available on PC, Xbox One and PS4 from today.

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Fergus Halliday
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