E3 2021: Sands of Aura hands-on preview: Infinite Souls

Shacknews goes hands-on with new indie Souls-like Sands of Aura with an E3 2021 preview of this cute game with some serious bite.

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There are what seems like hundreds of indie games at E3 2021 and Shacknews was able to sneak a preview of one upcoming isometric Souls-like with an enormous dune covered open-world for you to sail, explore, and plunder. We got to talk with Chashu Entertainment about Sands of Aura, coming to Early Access on Steam in late 2021/early 2022. Come and skim the sand seas of Talamhel with us as we preview an alpha build that debuted during the E3 Digital Showcase.

It's coarse... and rough

One of the first draws to Sands of Aura are the sand seas themselves, vast and endless, beckoning adventurers to seek out its many islands and treasures. Every refuge harbors unique dangers however, with tiered difficulties that can be tested early by intrepid and courageous pioneers, or probed prudently by more meticulous and wary travelers.

The tale of the sand seas is one of tragedy and calamity, with a cataclysm provoked by a tormented god shattering the hourglass of time itself and suffocating the world. The only remains of the previous world are now a corrupted and violent place, devoid of any former glory. It’s up to the player as one of the righteous few to endure as one of the last protectors of man.

Familiar Souls, infinite variety

Sands of Aura is immediately familiar to anyone who has seen or played a Souls-Borne-Ring-whatever-type game. Combat is punchy and dense, movement is loose but responsive, and the world is full of lore and interesting characters. The developers at Chashu pointed out that they are aiming for a full single-player experience with a narrative focus, but players will be able to ignore the lore and get straight to the slicing, slashing, mashing, and bashing if they aren’t interested.

Chashu wants to make the NPCs in the game more emotive compared to other Souls-games, with crucial lore to share and complex relationships. Non-player characters can not only offer lore, but side-quests, gear, or even a challenge if you decide to do away with them altogether. The art style for the characters themselves is evocative of early pre-rendered CGI. When I complimented the developers on that fact, they mentioned Final Fantasy 9 as a particular influence as well as other current fantasy adventure games and the connection was immediate to me.

The combat variety in Sands of Aura is perhaps the most interesting aspect of this new indie title. The sheer number of weapon combinations and armor set customization is nothing short of astounding. Sands of Aura gives full control to the player when it comes to their choice of corruption cleansing cutlery. Seven distinct fighting styles can be chosen at the forge where players craft their equipment. From there you have a choice of several weapon heads, then pommels can be attached to give weapon effects, and codexes cap it all off to further modify and enhance the tools of your trade.

Combine all this with hundreds of unique items to find in your quest, 28 armor sets with a bonus that applies when wearing two matching pieces and a bigger boost for four, and runes to socket into armor for even more status effects and the possibilities are endless. The developer encourages players to find their optimal builds or go crazy and find the most over-powered combination ever. They assured me that they won’t be nerfing anyone’s fun times, they hope experimentation will lead to unexpected results.

A beautiful game with a promising future

It also helps that Sands of Aura is just a pleasure to take in and view as the brutal combat bears down on you. Gorgeous shader work and post-processing pipelines really bring Talamhel to life with reflective and believable physically rendered materials, warm and alluring lighting, and expressive animation. I didn’t get to see the developer sail across the sand seas but I was assured that it was the artist’s favorite part of the game. From the video and screenshots I’ve seen, I imagine it will be the same for many players.

Sands of Aura is a colossal game from a minimal development team. The folks at Chashu told me they started with only six core members and have doubled to twelve in the last year to really flesh out the missing components of the game. The work absolutely shows with an impressive and intriguing demo of a new indie Souls-like open-world action RPG. The team is busy preparing Sands of Aura for a release to Steam Early Access by the end of 2021 into Q1 2022. A full 1.0 launch is hopeful for the end of 2022. I really enjoyed my look at Sands of Aura and I want to thank Chashu for taking the time to demonstrate the game. To stay up to date on any further developments for the game, keep a bookmark on our topic page for Sands of Aura.

There’s so many new game reveals coming out of E3 2021 that it’s almost impossible to keep track of it all. Shacknews is here with all the biggest reveals and announcements from the full event.

Contributing Editor

From the test launch of the NES in New York to 4K gaming in his living room, Bryan Lefler has been immersed in video games his entire life. Battle tested in the arena shooters of the turn of the century yet kind to all animals that may cross him, Bryan enjoys a breadth of games but strives to be the best in any contest of digital skill. He is a former esports competitor and has been part of the Shacknews community for over 15 years. You can also catch him on skankcore64 streams on the Shacknews Twitch channel where he plays through the N64 library.

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