EA Preview: Golem Gates10 Jan 2018 -1
It’s been a long time since I’ve fully delved into an early access title here on StrategyGamer. In a welcome break from usually incomplete throwaway projects on Itch.io and juggling with my own morales to assign a single-digit score to a ‘finished’ game, it’s time to take a look at Golem Gates and decide whether or not it’s on the right track.
Spoiler alert: It is. Mostly.
Put simply, we’re looking at a sci-fi/fantasy RTS with light CCG elements yet again. Nothing we haven’t seen before. This one, however, feels far more StarCraft-y than I was expecting. Being in Early Access means it’s missing its promised Campaign, and its limited map pool makes the whole thing feel like some kind of MOBA. Intentional or not, it’s honestly kind of refreshing. You and your opponent each control a Harbinger at one end of the map, with the goal being to simply kill the whichever isn’t your own. The Harbinger doesn’t do much damage on its own, but it has a lot of health and can periodically send out a weak high-speed birdy to scout out points of interest. Your Harbinger is constantly pulling Glyphs (combat units, structures, traps, and tech) from a custom deck and regenerating the energy you use to summon them to the field. Being real-time means this game is heavy on the macro.
Just like Hearthstone, Shadowverse, Fable Legends and the like, you start off with a max mana count that doesn’t allow for much, but grows over time to facilitate bursts of spawns as the match goes on. The fog of war lays claim to the vast majority of the battlefield – as you’d expect – but you’re free to execute the cards in your hand on any spot not covered by the mist at that time. If you’ve played StarCraft in the past, each match ultimately feels like a Protoss mirror matchup with either side sneaking in a scout as close to the opposing Harbinger as possible and warping in units from afar. Set up a few turrets and poison traps before heading into combat, and you’ll have a decent defence to fall back on should things not go to plan. This also means you can quickly back up your forces in the middle of combat should you have have the energy and glpyhs on hand to summon more. They spawn almost instantly, too, so there’s no need to buy time like in other RTS titles; though structures and traps are an exception to this rule. If you need help in a pinch, having a few spells like Fireball on hand can cause significant AOE damage with a good aim, while others can stun targets or beef up your units to give you the edge. It’s all about reacting to the individual situation.
Apart from everything looking a little too dark thanks to the more neon-heavy aesthetic going on within the shadows, Golem Gates is a visually impressive real-time strategy that looks to be enjoyed in bursts thanks to its relatively short match time. It’s difficult to say whether that’s always going to be the case with it being too quiet to try out its matchmaking features, but playing against a couple of AI opponents made me more excited for its eventual campaign mode. It isn’t overly complicated, either. If you’ve played just about any well-known RTS title in the past, you’ll probably be clicking through the tutorial points quicker than it can dish them out. There’s no complicated build orders to research; just spawn what you have (and can afford) and go from there.
So what happens in terms of balance? The energy meter means you or your opponent can’t just spam unit after unit in battle, and having a hand full of useless cards will stop you from periodically drawing more until you make room. Once your deck is empty, you’ll have to take a 15 second pause to shuffle used cards back in and you won’t be able to make any commands during this time, either, so identifying a free moment to take this necessary time out is important. Just as you can see your opponent’s reserves and moves at the top of the screen, they can see your own; and clearly running out of cards in the middle of a skirmish will create an opening your opponent likely won’t ignore. Having captured a few points on the map and turtling up with turrets might hold them off for a little while, but there’s enough buff cards in the form of ‘tech’ that can silence defensive structures and units long enough to destroy. Having experience in both RTS and CCG titles really does render most of this game void of any truly unique selling points. It’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s a fairly solid mash-up. Just be prepared to go up against some strong competition if you’re new to the genre.
Early Access Promises
Golem Gates is already making a strong case for itself, but it’s still asking for a lot without giving much in return. As of the time of writing, there’s absolutely no campaign missions to speak of. Not even a prologue to whet our appetites. Its inclusion from the start could have generated another talking point for the small amounts of those currently playing, but we’re left with AI matches and the slim hope of finding a real player to duel against for the time being. A comment from the developers on the game’s Steam page tells us that some “single player content” is coming this month, but the FAQ/Q&A still mentions the campaign launching alongside the full release (currently planned for March). Could we just be looking at extra bots? There’s no denying the promised campaign mode will be a welcome addition, but not having it from the get-go isn’t giving this the best start.
Aside from that, there isn’t much to complain about right now if you know what you’re getting into. It’s a little surprising to see a game with additional cards (glyphs) randomly awarded at the end of each match not be a free-to-play affair, but it’s easy to understand that this relatively small studio doesn’t want to get involved in the lootbox/microtransaction debacle that’s swallowing up everyone’s social media feeds as of late. Earning cards through play feels satisfying with Laser Guided Games fully embracing Unreal Engine’s reputation for fancy particle effects. The cards you earn might not mean much at the time, but cracking open the boxes on the results screen tickles that itch. Currency earned can be spent on forging specific cards that rotate daily for those looking to build a very specific deck.
Maps feels symmetrical and fair, but I do still feel like they’re often too dark to easily navigate, but this could just be something you get adjust to over time. My only major wish is to see units in a ‘squad’ become semi-detached. Micro-managing a low-health unit away to prologue their life in battle means moving everyone they spawned with. It just left me yearning for my forever-Gold StarCraft days. Some of my units did get jammed on a particular map, but that’ll be a bug at best.
I’ve said it a few times already, but I truly feel like Golem Gates is on the right path. Gameplay-wise, at least. With so many other multiplayer CCGs around, it’s going to have a hard time finding a lasting audience sat behind a double-digit paywall. It may be the only way to dodge microtransactions these days, but it just might not be enough to entice people to part with their cash just to try out. A solid campaign mode and some well-written lore is what this will boil down to in the end. I wish it the best of luck.