I am a die-hard fan of souls-borne games, having played every single From Software game and a handful of indie souls-likes such as Tails of Iron. When I heard of Sands of Aura, an indie souls-like game that seemed promising with its take on challenging combat and interesting lore, I couldn’t wait to try it out. However, after playing the game, Sands of Aura feels like a pile of sand that can’t hold its own shape.
Sands of Aura is an isometric top-down open-world souls-like game that offers traversal across a world, buried underneath a sea of sand. The moment you start a new game, you’ll be prompted with a character creation screen that seemingly serves no purpose because this game is played via a top-down perspective. After starting the game, you are tasked to restore water, and after countless hours, I still don’t understand what is happening.
“Combat is the crux for any souls-like game and the hardest part to replicate effectively.”
Sands of Aura draws heavy inspiration from Dark Souls in its game design. You have your “souls” — named glint in the game— that drop upon death. And you also have one chance to retrieve it the next time you respawn. You have refillable estus flask equivalent bells to ring that gets replenished at a bonfire, which is just a bigger bell. The developers have made the interesting decision of not allowing souls to level up your stats. Instead, their only purposes are to buy items at shops and craft. However, the only shop I ran into sold items that were utterly useless, which gave me no reason to be careful with my spending.
Combat is the crux for any souls-like game and the hardest part to replicate effectively. Unsurprisingly, Sands of Aura fails miserably. Alongside, your basic attack, dodge, and parry, Sands of Aura introduces special moves that you can execute after a bar has filled. The game also adds elemental rune slots to your weapon. Although, it doesn’t feel unique enough to stand out. This is also made worse by the game’s overall performance and input lag.
“Sands of Aura gives you the option to set a waypoint, but not the option to see it.”
Your character in Sands of Aura feels incredibly floaty and unresponsive, especially when you try to block or parry. There’s no lock on or cursor to aim so combat usually results in randomly swinging at enemies and praying the camera angle will coincide with where you are trying to attack. Additionally, there is absolutely no feedback on getting hit, and the only action that occurs is your health bar dropping. Ultimately, combat feels like the weakest part of the game.
Aside from combat, Sands of Aura markets open-world traversal via a ship. While the concept of travelling over a bed of sand across a dystopian world is breathtaking and refreshing, Sands of Aura butchers any enjoyment out of this somewhat unique open-world traversal. The ship travels extremely slow and the controls are unresponsive when I try to turn or navigate directionally. Your position on the overworld map is never updated and stuck in one place unless you reload the game. Except you can’t reload the game because you can only save at a “bonfire”. Therefore, you must dock at a random location that contains one.
“Perhaps the juiciest part of this game is the plethora of bugs.”
Along with the previously mentioned concern, the compass that appears on the HUD randomly disappears as well. This causes you to sail aimlessly with no sense of direction. The game gives you the option to set a waypoint, but not the option to see it. I even managed to crash into invisible rocks that render after my ship hit them.
Perhaps the juiciest part of this game is the plethora of bugs. While in the tutorial area, the game prompts you to press R to heal. After a moment, it then prompts you to press E to heal. Lo and behold neither of the two buttons healed because F is the correct button to heal. This is the most rudimentary type of quality assurance I would expect an Early Access title to figure out.
“I recommend staying far away from Sands of Aura until the issues are addressed.”
As I was travelling cluelessly on the vast sea of sand, I docked somewhere random to save my game and reload to fix the map bug from earlier. Little did I know that after docking at this particular island, the ship becomes inaccessible for some reason, forcing me to explore the island. Not only did this island have no exit, it clipped me inside a wall then I fell to my death. This wasn’t a big deal as I only lost about two hours of progress.
For a top-down isometric game, the performance runs extremely poor. While there are no crashes, Sands of Aura features an astonishingly unstable 30 frames per second. Regardless of the price, I can’t recommend this game to anyone given that it fails in just about every category there is to judge on a game. At this point, Sands of Aura feels like it had no quality assurance, and instead, has been released in Early Access for players to test the game out. I recommend staying far away from this until the issues are addressed.
*Disclaimer: Reviewed on PC, code was provided by the Publisher.