When Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown launches on January 18, players will be able to discover Mount Qaf, a place where time has ceased to hold sway and monsters straight out of Persian myth roam mazelike pathways inspired by the Metroidvania genre. A labyrinthine, freely explorable 2.5D world filled with elaborate puzzles, strange phenomena, and no shortage of lethal spikes, Mount Qaf is one of the highlights of Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown - and while Sargon, youngest member of the elite Immortals, certainly cuts a memorable figure with his paired swords and superhuman combat abilities, the diverse biomes and elaborate traps of the world he explores are what stayed with me after my most comprehensive hands-on with Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown yet.
Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown begins with a prologue battle that serves as a basic tutorial for Sargon’s incredibly flexible fighting style. Assisted at various points by the other Immortals, who appear here as larger-than-life heroes from across the Persian Empire, players can unleash rapid combos with Sargon’s twin swords, slide under enemy defenses, smack them into the air to juggle them, and slam back down to earth to send them flying. It’s easy to transition between attacks quickly and fluidly, giving every combat encounter the potential to feel like you’re doing something graceful and devastating. If someone tries to block and break your momentum, charging up an attack is usually enough to shatter their defenses, and if they wind up with a glowing yellow attack, parrying it will let you throw it back in their face with a deadly counter of your own. Just be aware that if the enemy starts glowing red, that’s your cue to dodge an unblockable attack.
A World Inspired by Persian Mythology
Following Uvishka’s defeat, the titular Prince of Persia, Ghassan, is kidnapped during the victory celebration and taken to Mount Qaf. The Immortals arrive to find that a disaster has warped time at the mountain, blending past with future and opening the door to strange new possibilities.
“One important thing we wanted with this Prince of Persia was to make players go outside of the castle,” says Producer Abdelhak Elguess. “Often in Prince of Persia, the Prince is in a castle – but because we wanted to celebrate Persia, we wanted to go outside the castle. Mount Qaf allows us, because it is a mountain, to showcase many different outside areas for players, and to be sure that the players have some areas that are really open, and others that are more closed within the citadel.”
It’s in Mount Qaf’s Lower City that Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown begins in earnest, and Sargon’s full skill set starts to shine. An impressive leaper, Sargon can jump off just about any wall (provided it’s not lined with spikes), and this comes in especially handy when he’s near one of Mount Qaf’s many horizontal flagpoles, which let you pick a direction before somersaulting off them. Over the course of the game, Sargon will augment these abilities with unlockable powers, including the air dash, which he can trigger in midair to reach platforms or sail past obstacles that a normal jump isn’t enough to clear.
The Lower City has many features you might expect from a Prince of Persia game: zombie soldiers ravaged by time, swinging spiked rollers, giant water-activated machinery, and lots of opportunities for acrobatic platforming. Once you leave the confines of the city, however – which you can do by fighting the Undead Prisoner, a massive oaf who swings a stone pillar like a club – things start to get much stranger.
Out in the Hyrcanian Forest, you’ll find hostile creatures with spears and feathered cloaks, along with giant mushroom-like leaves that act as temporary platforms, retracting shortly after you set foot on them. Here, you’ll likely stumble into a fight with Erlik, a gigantic, corrupted boar who’s easy to slip behind as he charges or vomits corrosive goo – but he’s also perfectly capable of kicking backward, so watch out.
Erlik guards a bow, which technically belongs to Sargon’s friend Menolias – but it’s a time-anomalous copy that Sargon finds on his own corpse in an event that hints at the extreme strangeness players will find in Mount Qaf’s further reaches. This bow quickly becomes one of the most indispensable tools in Sargon’s arsenal; not only can it fire arrows in any direction (with just a hint of aim assist for hitting those moving targets), but it can target distant objects like the pulsing blooms at the heart of the forest’s vine clusters, which can grow platform-petals for you to jump across once triggered. The bow itself also folds into a boomerang-like chakram, which Sargon can toss at enemies or through barred openings to activate switches or gears, with the latter staying activated until Sargon calls the chakram back.
Quiet In the Library
Things get weirder in the Sacred Archives, where you’ll find a maze of stairways that switch direction depending on which way you’re facing. Manipulating them the way you want can be tricky, especially when the resident scholars, driven mad by the time anomaly, continually hurl firebombs that can rapidly sap your health if you catch fire. Sargon’s ability to slide backward comes in handy here, both for climbing stairs in reverse and for dipping away from the bombers.
Once past the stairways, you may be faced with ghostly blue platforms that solidify only for as long as a nearby bell – which will usually be in arrow range – is ringing. Or you might meet the jailer, a blind giant with keen ears who will chase you relentlessly if you make a noise within his radius of hearing – and if he catches you, you’ll need to find your way out of the hazard-filled prison far below the archives. Should you manage to find your way back up and out of the Sacred Archives, your reward will be a meeting with Jahandar, a mythical manticore captured by King Darius. Jahandar packs a highly venomous stinger in his scorpion-like tail, which can create lingering toxic pools, and he has the ability to conjure roving balls of black lightning that can be lethal to stand under.
Seek Shelter Under Wak-Wak Trees
Mount Qaf is an extremely dangerous place, but Sargon can activate checkpoints in the form of Wak-Wak trees, which send out tendrils of beckoning light when they’re nearby. Resting at a Wak-Wak restores Sargon’s health and any health potions he’s carrying, at the cost of making all the enemies you've killed reappear (bosses excluded). If you’re defeated in battle, or meet the wrong end of a spikey trap too many times, you’ll respawn at the last Wak-Wak tree you visited. They’re also where you can swap out Sargon’s Athra attacks and amulets; the former include things like energy waves and healing pools, powered by the Athra power Sargon builds up as he damages enemies. Amulets can grant new abilities, buffs, and other enhancements, like an extra attack to cap off Sargon’s combos, or a boost to his attack power. The catch is that Sargon only has so many slots on his necklace (with the ability to find and unlock more), and powerful amulets tend to take up multiple slots.
The mountain isn’t entirely hostile, though; as Sargon journeys through the labyrinth, he’ll meet helpful NPCs who will sell treasures or provide other useful services for a price – like Fariba, a mysterious little girl who has the run of the place, and will share her knowledge by filling out Sargon’s map once he reaches a new area. She’ll also give you Memory Shards, devices that will actually take a picture of your surroundings and drop it on the map, which is extremely useful if you find an inaccessible path or treasure, and want to remember where it is once you’ve earned the right ability. Some NPCs will also reward you if you undertake side quests for them, like the Moon Gatherer, who needs help finding pieces of the moon scattered around the mountain.
Sargon can also discover Homa Statues that let him fast-travel around the game world – and to a safe haven in the Lower City, where players can get hints from Fariba, buy amulets and other essential upgrades from her grandmother The Mage, or improve their weapons with the help of Kaheva, the forge goddess. As the adventure progresses, this will also be where players can find Artaban, a fellow Immortal who sets up shop to offer tutorial lessons so you can hone your skills. Completing each of his lessons will reward you with time crystals to use as currency, and can teach you how to extend combos and other tricks for maximizing Sargon’s combat effectiveness.
From the Heights to the Depths
Our journey through Mount Qaf’s grandiose architecture and forbidding forests wouldn’t have been complete without a visit to its sewers – a revolting maze of tunnels, spinning spike rollers, rat people, giant wasps, and acidic slime where unexpected treasures lie in wait – but it was in the heights of the Upper City that the adventure hit its climax. Sargon finally tracks down Prince Ghassan, but in the process meets an unexpected enemy whose fighting prowess and command over time far exceed Sargon’s, and who sends him plummeting even further than the sewers, into Mount Qaf’s depths.
And that’s just the end of the first act. There are still plenty of mysteries to uncover in Mount Qaf, many of which are heavily influenced by the history and mythology of ancient Persia. For maximum immersion, you can even play in Farsi, with a fully voiced audio track you can switch to at any time.
You’ll be able to confront Mount Qaf’s mysteries yourself when Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown launches on January 18 for Switch, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC (via Epic Games Store and the Ubisoft Store), and Amazon Luna. Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown is also included with a Ubisoft+ subscription, with subscribers getting three-day early access. For more about the game, check out details on the free demo coming January 11, and visit the Ubisoft Store.