Imagine having the power to turn the tide of battle by will alone, or possessing the ability to destroy mountains and land with the blink of an eye. What would you do if you could summon mythological creatures by your voice and watch as they wipe out legions of their enemies, all in an effort to restore balance and harmony to a war-torn world?
Arcen Games’ Skyward Collapse asks you these questions, and gives you the power to carry out your will as you see fit. In this strategy title that resembles something like a virtual board game, you play as the Creator, an all-powerful being whose only job is to keep the warring factions on the planet you rule over from wiping each other out over the course of time. The Greeks and the Nords have been feuding, leading to a perpetual state of war. As they try to kill each other, you do your best to keep both sides from becoming extinct by controlling everything from town construction to the landscape to the lesser gods and mighty beasts that can enter the fray. All of this is explained through a comical, tongue-in-cheek comic book format presented when you first start the game.
After playing through the lengthy and somewhat confusing tutorial, you can start your own game with a range of different settings. Players can choose different difficulty settings, what the environment is like, the frequency of random events, and even the background image. When starting up, a plethora of information is present to you. The left sidebar tells you what actions as the Creator you can carry out. The menu on the right explains how many of every essential resource each faction has (and there are a lot). Finally, at the top, players can see what turn they’re on, the number of towns and population for each side, their score, and other information.
Basically, as the Creator, it’s your job as a player to keep the population between both sides as even as possible for 90 turns. Every 30 turns, the age changes, starting with the Age of Man and ending with the Age of Gods, and each change brings a new gameplay element to the table. Each age also comes with a score requirement to reach or else you fail, forcing players to keep both sides constantly battling in order to earn enough points. At the end of each turn, you can watch your inanimate units slide across the board and butt heads like little green Army men, but after awhile this becomes boring and time-consuming; you’re better off skipping the sequence altogether.
At the beginning of each game, you set up two towns: one for the Greeks, and one for the Nords. By giving them things like rock quarries, pig farms, and iron mines, you can create stone masons, butchers, and smelters to turn these raw resources into useable items for building, expanding armies, and other unique features. What can make the gameplay grow stale quickly is the fact that the best way to play is to reflect actions on both sides to keep things even. Just gave the Greeks some barracks and a wheat farm? Better do the exact same thing for the Nords or you risk throwing off the balance of both factions.
While at a basic level both the Greeks and the Nords play the same, it’s when created units come out that the gameplay changes. The two sides fight in different ways, and when one side starts becoming obliterated by the enemy, you can throw in unique units for each side to restore order. For instance, if the Greeks ever start dominating the Nords and ransacking their towns, the Creator can put a god or mythological unit into play (provided you have the resources) that can quickly turn the tide of battle. The special units available to both sides are different and lore-specific, which makes the balancing that much more challenging and satisfying.
Other things beside the two warring factions can disrupt the balance you so desperately wish to keep. Random events such as Woes can change the face of your game by randomly destroying land tiles (even ones with units and buildings on them) or releasing other disastrous things such as serial killers onto the playing field. Bandits can also spawn and wreck havoc in the middle of battle, making them a menace you should put down quickly. Things like this keep the somewhat stale gameplay from getting too predictable.
Despite what Arcen Games does right in turning the god game genre into an interesting strategy title, they miss the mark on a lot of things. By the end of a match, the map is so large and confusing that it’s difficult to keep track of what side has what resources. Do the Nords already have enough clay farms or am I wasting a turn by giving them some more? A menu to tell me how many of each building both sides have would be immensely helpful. Instead, I was often forced to scan the map manually before each turn to make sure I wasn’t wasting resources mistakenly constructing a building or unit I already had.
On top of that, games can becoming extremely long-winded, lasting hours even when skipping the battle animations in between each turn. Add on the fact that half of the game is spent simply reflecting actions equally on both sides in order to keep things balanced and you have a recipe to lose players’ interest quickly. Even worse is the nightmare that is multiplayer, which isn’t user-friendly at all. The game supports eight-player co-op, but you have to know the host’s IP address to even join him, greatly restricting how easy it is to jump into an online game. The game is also plagued with a terrible soundtrack and inanimate units, a great way to bore those amused by audio and visuals.
Skyward Collapse is an interesting and unique take on the god genre. The game succeeds in crafting a new way to approach strategy titles, something that turn-based strategy fans should appreciate, and for that, I applaud Arcen Games. But what the developer has created in the process is a title brought down by issues such as stale gameplay, tedious resource management, and needlessly complicated multiplayer.