Your typical military-based strategy game usually pits the player as the controller of some military force with the aim of defeating opposing military force/s. It makes sense. It works. Skyward Collapse is a turn-based strategy title that does, in fact, involve two opposing military forces going at it, but instead of choosing one of these teams to directly control, players embody an omniscient being that rules both, with the aim being to prevent the two sides from wiping each other out. It doesn’t make as much sense, but it is a uniquely interesting take on the genre with a fantastic pay off.
In every round the Red and Blue sides are each allocated three points which you can spend on buildings such as a barracks to generate soldiers, a butcher to feed these soldiers bacon or a pig farm to send some pigs to the butchers to be turned into bacon. There are numerous resource requirements that must be met before units can be made and buildings can be built and it can be a little overwhelming at times–the same can be said with every strategy game with a sufficient amount of depth, of course. It sounds a simple enough task though: don’t let either of these factions (the Norse and the Greek) annihilate the other. All you would need to do is avoid building militarised buildings such as barracks, siege workshops and defence towers, right?
Not quite. There is a quota of points that must be met by certain turns, forcing you to encourage the war between the Reds and Blues. To be successful players must be able to balance the power of each side to prevent one from having too much of an advantage, while also giving them enough force to overcome the pesky Bandits that like to get involved.
While you control which buildings are made where (and what mythical beasts spawn–wait what? Yes, there are mythical beasts, like Cerberus and Minotaur. It’s cool.), the production and movement of each unit is determined by the ruthlessly bloodthirsty AI, and they have a thirst for blood. Without ruth. It is so much more (or at least feels so much more) complex than most strategy games I’ve ever played, with so many meticulous details that need to be constantly taken into account–coming from Arcen Games, the team behind one of the all-time greats in the hardcore strategy genre (AI War: Fleet Command), this is both accepted and most welcomed.
It’s fortunate then that this title has a neatly paced tutorial that I can really appreciate, even though there is still quite a lot of reading to be done. A tutorial game of Skyward Collapse is taken a single step at a time, with rules dictating how to build up towns and in turn factions explained logically and clearly on each round, with a hint of humble humour. This beginning encourages a relaxing vibe, with some sweet casual tunes to make the play more comfortable. This title feels like a more casual game than most strategies, even turn-based, due to the simple, smooth aesthetic and easy-going sound. The somewhat polarizing art-style that Arcen uses in their games is particularly well-suited to Skyward Collapse, greatly detailed and appealing, while the tunes are ambient enough to not be obtrusive, but still sound pretty cool. And hip.
Another factor that makes this game feel a bit casual is the animation style, or rather lack thereof. When units attack, their body moves to the target but they remain motionless, as if they have been petrified and are now being pushed around on wheels. I could definitely imagine this bothering some players, but it’s not asking much to get over it; just remember that it’s better than jittery, crappy animations. Along with the humour, the basic movement animations help to make a nearly-goofy vibe that fits comfortably.
Trying really hard to think of negatives here, I guess the only beef I faced with Skyward Collapse was the confusion that came with all the many steps involved with gameplay and the accompanying loss of motivation to keep playing. Games are very long, and unless you save often you might find yourself being screwed over by past mistakes made because something was forgotten for a moment. This just goes to show how different and more complex this title is to more conventional strategies, and does not make it any less deserving of praise. Just more confusing and head-hurting.
I feel like Skyward Collapse will fly under a lot of gamers’ radars, with many seeing it as too casual or strange to give it a shot. This really is a bummer, since this latest release by Arcen Games definitely provides some unique fun with a totally new type of strategy. Forcing players to think less on how to manage resources to defeat an enemy and more on how to restrict and empower two hell-bent factions into some sort of mutual peace, Skyward Collapse gets a commendation for being one of the strangest games of 2013 so far. And I mean that in the nicest way possible.
Select Start Media was provided with a review copy of Skyward Collapse by Arcen Games.