It’s not that often these days that I get to play turn-based strategy games, mostly because getting into one leads to a plunge down a rabbit hole that leads to damaged relationships, bad grades, a meeting with my job’s HR department, or a combination of the three. Not that I’m any kind of expert at this genre, but there is nothing as satisfying as zeroing in on an adversary and systematically taking them apart piece by piece until the floodgates open and you obliterate them. For this reason, I jumped at the chance to play Skyward Collapse by Arcen Games. Once I loaded it up however, it became clear that while it serves as an indie option to classic sim series’ like Age of Empires or Civilization, this game comes with its own twists.
The premise here is, like other God Games, to build societies by building resources and allocating them to units that sustain, fortify, and empower. The twist with Skyward Collapse is that you want your societies to fight each other, but not enough for one to be destroyed. This push-pull mechanic creates an entirely new strategic side to this genre, and that’s only the beginning. You need to not just to create balanced factions that can create resources, attack, and defend, but also effectively use higher-level skills as attacks get more complex, random, and dangerous.
Skyward Collapse is essentially what I would describe as a God Game full of atheists — you have ultimate control as a world creator, but your units don’t really care what you’re trying to do and act according to what they think they want. What this means is that your role is to constantly be arming and fortifying each side while dealing with random bandit encounters. Sitting back and building hippie towns however is not an option for a couple of reasons; the Norse and Greeks are programmed to go after each other whether you like it or not, and the latter phase of the round consists of getting nailed by random gods, natural disasters, and all other kinds of nonsense that is impossible to predict. The point here is you’d better be ready for anything.
For all its craziness, the buildup of this game is actually quite slow, in which you need to make use of your early turns hoarding up as many supplies and resources as possible. It can be a little tedious and annoying having to spend a lot of time preparing only to get stomped because you missed one critical component with which to defend yourself. To its credit, the game gives you some warning about upcoming events and adversaries at the top menu.
Visually, Skyward Collapse is a decent looking game but not terribly distinctive. The user interface is pretty clear about what you need to do at any given time. One feature which is greatly appreciated is the ability to fast-forward or skip while finished turns are playing out. That, plus the ability to choose the number of turns, allows you to have an epic adventure or just a quick match depending on your preference.
Getting into a game is pretty easy; there are only two factions to control, each with its unique strengths and weaknesses. Also, there are a number of maps with different terrain which also affect how everything plays out. One factor that scares a lot of people off from these kinds of games is the high difficulty wall from the start, and Arcen does a nice job of easing you into the experience…at least for the first part. It’s when the switch happens and the game becomes noticeably more challenging — even on lower difficulties — that a newcomer’s interest may wane.
Skyward Collapse is a game that I would recommend for strategy veterans as well as newcomers. It is pretty easy to pick up and play, and the number of units available is small enough to not be overwhelming but varied enough to facilitate multiple strategies. Now that school’s out for summer and there’s a lull in big video game releases, this game can provide a fun diversion with its clever take on one of PC gaming’s cornerstone genres.
[+New twist on classic genre] [+Randomness equals replayability] [+Adjustable game length/difficulty] [+Teaches you at every stage] [-Slow buildup] [-Mid-game difficulty spikes]