Early Access Preview: Armoured Freedom17 Apr 2017 0
As much as I love the idea of pushing the likes of Ral Patha's pewter about the tabletop, and have even been known to paint a few Battletech miniatures in my time, I never actually did any physical tabletop gaming. As such, any chance to roam the hexes and pretend I'm feeling the felt beneath the fingertips is readily welcomed. Armored Freedom touts a touch of that, so when it dropped into Early Access the other week, I had to give it a go and see if its blend of capital-M mechanised action is heading in a fine direction.
As always, given its Early Access situation, everything is subject to change and my preview is a mere snapshot.
Armored Freedom doesn't appear to have much in the way of lore, bar four Front Mission-y factions and a big ol' hex mat. Currently, there is only single player skirmish, with a limited number of customisation options to fiddle with; namely avatars, basic hardware colour and selectable terrain type. Developers have promised expanded game modes and the much-anticipated online multiplayer, but for the moment, dishing out a walloping on the AI is what you get for the tiny asking price.
Up to three other factions start on the board when you boot up a skirmish. Tilting hard at its boardgame influences, dice rolls dictate a single unit's movement capacity per turn. Dice actually roll across the board, which is a nice effect, but they don't scale or stay locked to the player's screen. As such, if you're zoomed in to a specific part of the map, you might not actually see the dice as they tumble across the mat. Mere grievance, and one I'm sure will be fixed in an update.
Terrain offers some interesting bonuses. Repair pads offer defense boosts to local units, and movement is affected to a small extent on others. Elevation is currently not a consideration, given higher plain hexes are off limits to the leg units. There are also special tiles that offer random card drops or events, like an extra movement option or the current unit being locked down for a few turns due to technical malfunctions. It's a nice wrinkle.
You can expend the cumulative total of your dice roll on a single unit, but the option remains to move short or remain in place and burn off the roll. As there's only one unit allowed movement per turn, Armored Freedom isn't the most mobile of games, with the four-strong squad either breaking up in lone wolves or slowly being shepherded across the terrain.
Combat is card-driven and split between offensive and defensive actions. Players are dealt a random hand of cards at the start of the game, each with an associated number pertaining to power and -- relating to weaponry -- range. Once you select a weapon and operator, it's merely a case of playing the card on a target and seeing if they can see or raise the number on your offensive card. On the flipside, when players come under attack during an opponent's turn, defense cards are chosen and the numbers game once again comes into effect.
I reiterate that this is still a work-in-progress. As it stands, I want to see more crunch to the encounters. Moving a single unit per turn feels stodgy. Surely it'd be enhanced by letting players draw from the dice roll pool and use the movement points on one or more mechs per turn. And the numbers driving the card combat feels very simplistic. Given that the mechs aren't beholden to classes, where proficiencies might enhance or hinder the use of said cards, there's nothing particularly strategic about their use. It's a game of marching machinery into a line of contact, then wailing on a bogey by burning through the randomly-drawn deck.
What gives me hope is that a lot of meat could be strapped to the bone here without huge reconfiguration of the systems. More unique tiles, with more variety of effects; options like deploying minefields or electronic warfare attacks that strip an enemy's deck. Passive bonuses like assigning a squad commander, whereby squadmates in neighbouring hexes get buffs. Make elevation something and initiate line of sight. Tighten up the logic of offense and defense, where currently a ranged ballistic machine gun loses out to chaff.
Armored Freedom needs to drill down harder on their inspiration. I want to see the gristle and tendons of a heavy-duty turn-based tactics game that revels in the numbers. As much as the animations are currently rudimentary and sound is relatively basic, I wouldn't even mind if they embraced the Warbands: Bushido model and went full-throttle digital tabletop, if it meant more time could be spent fertilising the mechanics. Perhaps not to the point of Gear Krieg with a start-up check, but give the mech-heads something more to chew on. For a few bob, the price of freedom is very affordable, but at the moment feels massively under-equipped.
Armored Freedom entered Steam's Early Access program on March 24th, 2017. Current information states that the game will reamin in EA until the developers feel they have a "solid product".