Aeterna Noctis review | A hard day’s night, and then some

You can see what this gigantic Metroidvania is aiming for. A Symphony of the Hollow Knight, mixing Alucard’s gothic strolling with the scale and stiff challenge of Hallownest. All good things. But Aeterna Noctis is a little too hung up on difficulty. Even its easier setting (patched in after launch) only turns the harsh-o-meter down a single notch, and then at the cost of disabling achievements – a hint that developer Aeternum is more concerned with the integrity of their grand design than whether it’s as fun as it might be.

Still, there’s no denying it’s a fine piece of work – a sprawling fresco of 2D artistry spanning devastated cities plagued by wandering spirits, fire damaged churches and crystal mines teeming with goblins. The layouts of its lavish halls are painstakingly intricate, with hundreds of treasures, NPCs and useful things neatly tucked behind magic barriers, or in safe spots between spike-toothed pits and walls.

Yet this is the craft of a master painter who got caught up in the details and didn’t know when to stop. Every area in Aeterna Noctis is exasperatingly big. The first main goal, a golden tower, is so remote it barely fits on the map, and when you arrive at its base an ascent of Everest proportions remains to reach the summit. It’s almost comically dispiriting as you wall-grab, air-dash and pogo-attack onwards and upwards for what seems like forever.

At points like these, Aeterna Noctis is as much Celeste as Castlevania, but without as much invention and self-control. It doesn’t help that your avatar, the king of darkness, is a touch less lithe than ideal, forcing you to play with a heavy hand, heaving the stick away from enemies before an evasive dash, stamping on the jump button to reach the expected height. Anything less and you fall foul of a stickler’s insistence on precision, which feels unearned when some abilities, like the wall jump, are temperamental, or harmful objects mingle in exuberant backgrounds.

Aeterna Noctis

All of Aeterna Noctis’ environments boast a painterly art style.

The wide open structure can be needlessly uncompromising, too. Countless branching passageways prick at your explorer’s instinct, but might snake for miles before halting abruptly at gates you’re not yet equipped to pass. And thanks to a paucity of shortcuts and fast travel points, you may have to retrace your steps, and repeat the journey later. Fool you once and from then on you’re followed by a nagging doubt that you’ve done things in the wrong order, especially when struggling against a boss.

But that nagging doubt also makes Aeterna Noctis hard to walk away from, precisely because there are so many attractive routes to look into and cryptic quests to unravel. And because, for all the irritations, Aeterna Noctis is only some judicious editing and a kinder heart away from at least being a strong warmup act for Silksong. For those with zen-like patience, this opaque, gruelling adventure might still represent a tantalising challenge, even while, for the rest of us, it’s just being difficult.


The king of darkness is a refreshing protagonist and polar opposite to the cliched amnesiac. Locked in an eternal struggle with the queen of light, he’s done all this countless times before. Like the veteran player, then, he knows exactly what’s required to regain his throne and even treats tutorials with laconic distain.


A gorgeous, sprawling Metroidvania hamstrung by a mean spirit.


Genre: Metroidvania | Format: PC (tested)/ XBO / XB S/X / PS5 / Switch | Developer: Aeternum Game Studios | Publisher: Aeternum Game Studios | Price:
£24.99 | Release: Out now

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