Sands of Aura is a brand-new action-adventure game set in a world buried beneath a sea of sand that draws inspiration from Dark Souls and Diablo. After more than four years in development, the game has just entered Early Access on Steam, with a full release scheduled in the first quarter of 2023. Obviously, with a new fascinating Souls-like arriving onto the scene, we couldn’t resist jumping in and testing it out, although we have to say, our initial impressions were mixed. Allow us to give you some history before we go into the mechanics. The world of Talamhel has been converted into a sea of sand when an enraged deity shattered the sands of time in the Sands of Aura. It’s up to you to restore order to the world and put a stop to a newfound power of evil that has spread over its numerous islands as a member of an elite group known as the righteous few.
When it comes to fighting, it bears many of the same characteristics of a Souls-like game. The action is primarily melee-based and extremely difficult, with just a few opportunities to cure yourself by ringing a bell. For murdering enemies, you also get Glint, which is equivalent to Souls (or Blood Echoes), which you can use to construct new things and upgrade your existing gear. The burst mechanic in Sands of Aura provides a unique twist to this well-worn pattern. As you slice away at enemies, a purple meter builds up, which can be used to launch a deadly ranged attack. In some situations, using this can mean the difference between life and death, so keeping it and only using it when absolutely necessary is a test of patience.
When it comes to the game’s treasure and isometric perspective, the Diablo influence is palpable. Runes can be obtained by killing enemies and opening treasure boxes, and they can be attached to various portions of your armor to improve your health, stamina, and critical attack. There are also numerous sets of armor that you can collect, and wearing equipment from a specific set can grant you unique benefits. Wearing the Nomad armor set, for example, increases the effectiveness of healing bells by 25% when half the set is worn and by 50% when all relevant items are worn. Unfortunately, we never felt completely in control of our character because there is so much input latency when avoiding and completing strikes. This only added to the aggravation of an already difficult game, as our unsuccessful attempts were frequently attributed to the controls’ unresponsiveness rather than our own mistakes. There’s also no lock-on feature, so you’ll have to constantly whirl the camera around quickly to make sure you’re looking the right way. We can’t count the number of times the camera got caught on walls while scrambling about during combat, rendering us entirely blind.
Aside from the close-quarters combat, you’ll be spending a lot of time on the Grainwake, a sand-faring craft. Once you’ve completed the prologue, you’re free to explore the game’s 10+ islands at your leisure, and there’s a tremendous sense of freedom in creating your own adventure. Each area also has a good sense of variation. We fought blazing skeletons in a burned-down chapel at one point, and then we were in a lush jungle dodging exploding deadly plants at another. However, it was during these times of investigation that the game’s most blatant technological flaws became apparent. When traversing the sands, the framerate suffered greatly, and objects and textures on nearby islands would appear out of nowhere. In addition to these flaws, we ran into an odd bug when speaking with a specific NPC. Until we reset the game and returned to the conversation, we were unable to select certain dialogue options. Because Sands of Aura is still in Early Access, we’re hoping that these bugs will be fixed before the game’s release.
Sands of Aura may have gotten off to a rough start, but it’s still early in its Early Access adventure, so there’s still time for it to develop. To the developer’s credit, five bug-fixing patches have already been provided as of this writing, so let’s hope this support continues in the future. For the time being, we recommend staying away from this one because it lacks the smoothness that a Souls-like should have. There’s a lot of input lag, there’s no lock-on system, and there are a lot of technical concerns.