rogue prince of persia review

The Rogue Prince Of Persia Early Access Review – Heavy Is The Crown

This new take on the Prince is off to a good, if light, start.

When developer Evil Empire announced that it was moving the release date of its upcoming The Rogue Prince of Persia to get out of the way of Hades 2’s Early Access drop, I realised we’d hit another turn in the industry. It’s not the first time a dev has shifted a release to avoid a crowded date, it’s not even the first time this year (see Final Fantasy XIV Dawntrail’s strategic dodging of the forthcoming Elden Ring DLC) but this change is indicative of the shifting expectations around Early Access.

Supergiant Games effectively broke the mould with Hades, while Larian Studio’s Baldur’s Gate 3 shattered it into pieces that even smaller indie titles like Dread Delusion are now walking all over. It’s a killer change for the players, better games earlier and cheaper and with more input from consumers than ever before, but it does shift the goalposts even further afield when a massive publisher like Ubisoft decides to play ball.

rogue prince of persia review

The Rogue Prince of Persia, a collaborative IP experiment between Ubisoft and the Dead Cells folks, bears the markings of Evil Empire’s pedigree from the moment you jump in. Stylish and immediately parsable, the game streamlines the Prince of Persia blueprint into a roguelike format, discarding anything it needs to drop to become the nimblest version of itself possible. We still have a Prince of course, this time a roguish young man gone to war with the invading Hun after inadvertently provoking their violent ire. Equipped with a magical bola that allows him to cheat death by reverting back to a set point in time, the Prince is set on a path of looping death as the Hun push deeper into his kingdom.

It’s a neat little set-up, adding in just enough timey-whimey nonsense to feel at home in both the roguelike genre and wider Prince of Persia mythos, and the additional layer of the Prince’s hubris being the inciting incident is a welcome one. The current version of The Rogue Prince of Persia is light on story content though, largely patched over by its solid systems and aesthetics, the leaner narrative and small cast of characters doesn’t do much to incentivise investment in events beyond the mechanical. Depending on priorities and feedback this may or may not change with time, but the bones of a cool world are begging to be fleshed out here.

rogue prince of persia review

Due to genre and release style proximity, it’s not unlikely that comparisons between The Rogue Prince of Persia and the Hades series will be made. Where the latter cemented its place in the zeitgeist with expressive character and worldbuilding as well as systems, the former opts for a stripped-down approach that might let its combat and traversal shine but dims potential elsewhere.

This isn’t to say The Rogue Prince of Persia presents poorly, if anything its art direction and tone is an achievement in its own right. To lift directly from my own preview, the stylish melding of Cartoon Network vibrancy with the sharpened edges of a Tartakovsky series makes for a distinct visual experience. Its simplicity deployed beautifully, abstracting places and faces into minimal but evocative tableaus. Likewise, the game’s score is already shaping up to be one of the best of the year, with pulsing synths that push you forward and create momentum and aggressive play by simply knowing what sonic notes to hit to make you feel like a badass at all times.

The Prince turns on a hair trigger, dashing, jumping, and wall-running his way through the game’s currently six available levels. In a genius bit of level design that never loses its magic, the game incorporates backdrops and walls into the play space, despite its 2D structure, allowing the Prince to move along and up surfaces that in any other game would be set dressing. Combined with a humble but effective jump, this grants the player a wider playground in otherwise fairly contained levels, adding a nice amount of potential verticality and exploration before moving on to the next stage.

rogue prince of persia review

The Rogue Prince of Persia escalates its platforming challenges the deeper in you push against the Hun, sharp reflex time and situational awareness becoming essential tools to reach equally escalating rewards. Some of this is organically strewn throughout the level, short bursts of spike traps and saw blades to overcome, but the sweatiest stuff is tucked away in challenge rooms that will push your mettle. You’re allowed a small window of grace in shifting the camera to peer below nearby floors and walls, but that verticality mentioned earlier will see you needing to make breakneck choices as you invariably plunge into the unknown and risk health and time spent on a run for a chest spied just over yonder.    

The Prince’s fluidity makes combat just as tightly tuned and thrilling as the platforming. The Hun are a great gang of foes; using shamanic magic to bolster their units, they flood the levels with a variety of enemies you’d expect to find (brutes, archers, beasts oh my), and the game isn’t shy about deploying as many as it wants against you. Things can get hairy quickly, especially against the two boss foes whose health bars boggle the mind. The Prince is equipped with a baseline dodge and kick, neither of which can deal outright damage but are critical in avoiding attacks and breaking shielded enemies or sending them careening into pits. To draw blood though, you’ll make use of a variety of weapons with primary and secondary arsenals running the gamut of light, heavy, and ranged.

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rogue prince of persia review

There’s a fun assortment of goodies here, again escalating nicely as you move from daggers to spears, bows to chakrams and so on. Each weapon can be found repeatedly in levels with increasing damage stats and is nicely bolstered by the game’s Medallions (run-specific power-ups), but for as keen as I was to find new tools, nothing overly revolutionised combat for me. Outside of hyper-specific items, the combat kept at a satisfying and tight loop without much in the way of highlights, competent if not all that thrilling. Likewise, certain weapons, like a throwable javelin, can’t be aimed in any way I could discern, so the novelty of having ranged options falls a little flat.

Medallions close this gap nicely though, allowing the Prince to equip up to four passive abilities that alter gameplay nicely in your favour. Broken down into subcategories like Fire, Poison, Healing, Throwing Knives and so on, the Medallions typically transform basic actions by adding offensive buffs. Vault over an enemy, drop a puddle of poison; break an enemy shield, set fire to those around you; kill a Hun using elemental damage, regain some health points. There are loads of these things in the game and it truly comes alive when you begin to combine Medallions.

rogue prince of persia review

Both weapons and medallions can be upgraded either during a run or outside using one of a few currencies. Sacks of gold litter the levels and are used at sporadic storefronts, but the real money is in Spirit Glimmers, a mystical substance dropped by fallen foes and used back at your Oasis basecamp for blacksmithing and so on. Glimmers are lost on death unless deposited in specific portals, which can be few and far between making the risk/reward feel especially tense given how pricey some of the Glimmer stuff can get. Still, it’s nice to have something to work toward, often I would go on runs with the only goal being to farm Glimmer and get the hell out of dodge.

It all coalesces into a solid roguelike experience, small pain points around health balancing and combat variety feeling inevitably bound for patching and refinement. On that note though, given how far out of its way Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown went to making itself as playable as possible to as many people as possible, The Rogue Prince of Persia’s distinct lack of difficulty modifiers or accessibility options beyond basic colour blind and text sizing feels deflating. Evil Empire has been clear that more options are to come in future updates but to launch with this little is a disappointment.

rogue prince of persia review

It’s not entirely representative of The Rogue Prince of Persia’s current form but it is emblematic. With the basic moment-to-moment movement nailed down, and combat beginning to shape up into something thrilling, the game is undeniably off to a great start. But it is light in other key ways, lacking diversity in its weapon feel and only clocking in around ten hours, a time that will likely compact rather quickly in the hands of genre fanatics.

Evil Empire is no slouch though, even within the review window a patch dropping that pushed quality of life changes like mid-run resuming if you need to close the game. With Ubisoft’s sizeable backing and open ears to player feedback, there’s nowhere to wall climb but up for The Rogue Prince of Persia.

rogue prince of persia review
Conclusion
The Rogue Prince of Persia enters its Early Access stage with a little less punch than you might expect but Evil Empire’s pedigree means the foundation is rock solid. Thanks to fluid and responsive movement and an overarching commitment to vibe, this is a prince with eyes set firmly on the crown.
Positives
Platforming is tight, responsive, and fun
Medallions and weapons combine to make combat rewarding
Levels have a good sense of challenge and verticality
Art direction and score are unique and outright cool
Negatives
Weapon variety needs to be punched up
Story and characters feel underbaked
Only a handful of levels and two boss encounters available right now