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Game Review: Skyward Collapse

Skyward Collapse was a pleasant surprise for me. Much as I enjoy strategy games, I’ve never taken the time to try out a god game. For the uninitiated, a god game let’s players control an entire world from the position of a divine entity, and typically involve plenty of micro-management. Skyward Collapse, the god game I played, puts you in the position of a great creator, responsible for keeping the world beneath you in balance. Your objective is to encourage war between a pair of factions without allowing them to wipe each other out.

To start with, I like the game from an aesthetic standpoint- the music’s decent, and the visuals are neat and unified- everything fits. To be honest, I don’t think the graphics are particularly special- while the units have a decent amount of detail, they’re not animated. Besides their simple style, I can’t think of anything particularly memorable about the way the game’s units look. I do like the backgrounds- the world is a bit like that of Bastion in that land is divided into squares, kind of like a chessboard, and the units can be thought of as pawns and rooks and queens, all moving about of their own free will. I do appreciate that one type of land tile can have multiple sprites- there are a few different types of mountains. Other than that, though, I have nothing more to say about the graphics- for the most part, they’re just there.

The game’s music is pretty interesting- I find it kind of hard to describe it genre-wise. If you’re interested, you should check out Pablo Vega’s (the musician) blog- he apparently mixed Greek and Norse themes (as they’re the two factions that you’re trying to prevent from wiping one another out), and I have to say that he did a brilliant job. The game’s main theme, The Arrival, is stuck in my head. There’s something very carefree about it, like a Celtic piece, but it doesn’t feel adventurous- it fits the scale and scope of the game- you’re a deity pulling mountains up from the the land, deciding the fates of entire civilizations- no pressure. Overall I really like the mellow feel of the soundtrack; you can buy it on Bandcamp.

The presentation of Skyward Collapse is very good. The game’s tutorial takes you by the hand at first and slowly, surely, the training wheels come off the ground. By the end of the tutorial, I felt that I knew the game and wanted to experiment with it in order to get to know it’s complexities and such at a deeper level.

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One of the technical issues that I ran into happened in between turns with ranged units. When a siege weapon or an archer took a shot at a faraway unit, I had no idea which it was- sure, I could pause and find out, but to be honest, that struck me an unnecessary and time-consuming extra step. It’s something that could’ve been improved by the game automatically zooming out so that a battle could be seen in its entirety. While I appreciated how easy it was to know at a glance exactly how many of each unit each faction had at any given time, it was something of a pain at times to determine exactly where those units were- location plays a tremendous part in strategy.

Overall, however, the game was straightforward with regard to presentation- I always had enough information about the going-ons around the world to make smart decisions for both civilizations- though I didn’t always make them. This brings us to gameplay.

The game’s a top-down turn-based strategy game that allows you to add land (or eliminate it), as well as decide what buildings go up for each faction, namely, the Nords and the Greeks. There are buildings that provide resources, such as mines and masons (to refine said resources), along with buildings that produce military units. The military units are dependent on pre-existing infrastructure, such as farms, in order to be produced. It pays to make sure that each side has it’s resources cared for early in the game- while you want to start racking up points by getting each side fighting, you want to make sure that they can both fund the war, or it’s game over in a few turns.

The game has plenty of depth and requires a good mix of forethought and improvisational ability- need to cut off a village from attackers? Pull up some mountains- but be careful, since mountains cost plenty of action points, and you might not be able to do much else to help the village that you’re trying to protect. Then again, you could spend your action points to build them a University that makes new units new formidable, then use the action points from the other faction to pull up those mountains- whatever floats your boat. I particularly appreciate Skyward Collapse’s open-ended design- you have to be thoughtful if you want to win, and you have to be creative if you want a decisive victory in which neither side loses.

Another creative solution is the use of the godless bandits that will sometimes spring up on the land, either as a result of an item you used to advance the progress of one civilization, the result of a “woe”, which is a trouble that may affect one or both factions, or they might just pop up to spite you. They can’t be controlled- but they can otherwise be manipulated. When their units are destroyed, they yield points. There’s the added bonus of the fact that the faction with the larger army is more likely to fight the bandits, while the smaller civilization is going to be focused on defending itself. It’s possible to thus use bandits, which could be thought of as the “villains” of the game, in order to buy yourself time.

Overall, I don’t have any complaints against the actual gameplay- there was nothing that I didn’t like about it- while there were some elements that I think could’ve used some changes in order to balance them out (Arcen is still hard at work to improve the game; something like this needs extensive work and testing in order to become perfectly balanced), the game is mostly fair. While I hadn’t played a god-game before SC, I certainly want to play more now- it was an excellent introduction to the genre for me.

There was something almost funny, almost cathartic and very thought provoking about watching the factions go to war- the way they’d fight each other, go up against the bandits, watching them run off on quests to better themselves and fall heroically in combat- while I’m not crazy about the graphics, the game falls together very well aesthetically, and I can definitely recommend it if you’re a fan of strategy games.

Want to try it first? There’s a demo available for both PC and Mac. Want to pick it up on Steam? You can do that right here.

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Reviewed by jourdy288 on July 13, 2013

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