Review: Battlestar Galactica Deadlock: Anabasis23 Oct 2018 0
Review: Battlestar Galactica Deadlock: Anabasis
Released 18 Oct 2018
Battlestar Galactica Deadlock is a pretty special game. Not only is it a great experience for fans of the show, but for tactics fiends looking to get their starship combat on, Black Lab Games have been honing and expanding the title since launch in August of last year. They've just released a new expansion, and it’s a belter.
Anabasis is the third slice of DLC for Deadlock, served up as a post-script to the main campaign. It offers familiar gameplay in a new light; mirroring the reboot series’ shoestring survival within the confines of the first Cylon war. On the Cyrannus frontier, the Cylons have come knocking. Conceding the periphery, it’s up to Colonial Fleet to scoop up what survivors they can and hoof it back to Caprica. Replete with limited resources, persistent damage and growing responsibilities with dwindling capabilities, therein lies the truest series interpretation we’ve yet seen.
The new expansion lets players start with any colonial fleet composition, under the proviso that larger fleets diminish the end score. It’s not a bad trade-off, and given the procedural nature of map curation and Cylon aggressors, there’s plenty of breadth to play around with different fleet types. Your military vessels are charged with the protection of an increasing number of civilian vessels, who incrementally join the fleet as the exodus unfolds.
There are a number of big shake-ups that feel quite novel in Anabasis, even if the gameplay itself is not a radical departure from a mechanical standpoint. Each mission has a turn countdown, both for fleet FTL spooling and for the next wave of Cylon reinforcements. These numbers fluctuate based on certain sector parameters, which we’ll get to momentarily.
The Anabasis module offers up a game more of evasion than the carnivorous campaign fights to the death. The beeline for Caprica is dictated by survival, as you will never have the resources to play it fast and loose. There are no gimmies beyond Cyrannus, where Pyrrhic victories in the campaign could be mitigated by colonial tithes and Daidalos churning out fresh ships. In the campaign, the economy wasn’t too difficult to manage. But when income – in this scenario, scrap and salvage forms the currency – is intermittent and stretched, it’s a different game of pyramid.
As damage is persistent, you’re forced to think very hard about what gets fixed and when to gamble on putting a broken vessel in harm’s way. Arriving in a sector that allows for a pre-encounter repair lets you consider if and how gathered salvage is to be used. It’s a sobering, miserly and utterly engaging affair. I found I was forced to really shake up the way I used certain classes, particularly broadsiders like the Berzerk and Minotaur vessels. Without the comfort of a campaign-style repair, knowing that the overworked Celestra support vessels could only do so much, every DRADIS contact offers an increased threat.
But you’re no longer merely at the mercy of distance.
Prior to Anabasis, map design wasn’t hugely varied. Maps like Refinery offered a namesake point of interest and cover, but space – however true to form – was a little sparse. This expansion brings twelve new map types to Deadlock's roster, the likes of which radically alter combat in the game.
Enter phenomena like dust fields, or gas clouds. Wreck-strewn crossroads. Dense asteroid fields. The shake-up are the creation of zones that aren’t distinct obstacles. We saw hints of this in some of the campaign missions, where mines prohibited areas until dealt with or fallen prey to. But gas fields and their ionic interference? It damages strike-craft and scrambles target lock. Dust affects the ability of turrets to track properly. These form dynamic environments for fleets, where you’re just as likely to draw benefit from natural phenomena as you are mitigating its effect. Gas fields are perfect for avoiding Cylon missile barrages, but by the same token, you suffer similar crippling effects on your guided ordnance. I’ve had the breathtaking pleasure of seeing enemy capital ships shake nukes by juking into cloudbanks, the likes of which showcase an opportunistic AI. For those BSG tragics playing along at home, it has shades of Ragnar Anchorage or the caustic star cluster from The Passage. Clever nod, and appreciated.
The trip back to Caprica isn’t wholly linear, either. When jumping, you have a split choice of destinations. Each prospective destination offers little sweeteners, like the chance to patch up and resupply prior to a mission. Other times, it’ll reduce the turn-count for FTL spooling for the next jump. Balancing that are things like accelerated arrival of enemy reinforcements, or negative effects on salvaging. Again, small but very crucial decisions to make when calculating for the fleet.
Added pressure comes in the form of Vipers and Raptors needing to back on their carrier vessels before jumping, less they get left behind. Same goes for any ship with their navigation subsystems offline. There’s an anecdote I’ll end with regarding this very mechanic, so keep reading.
Anabasis also brings with it four new ordnance packages, for use across the spectrum of Deadlock’s modes. The first is a celebration of Colonial scrapyard confetti; the debris mine is a cheap and dastardly anti-fighter creation, wrecking any raider’s morning if caught in the blast radius. Alongside that, the EMP generator triggers outwards from its operator ship, damaging Cylon capital ships caught in the blast. The Cylons receive the Comet PCM, a devious non-denominational hijacker of missiles, and like a prophet, leading all new followers hopefully into the guts of an enemy starship. Our chromic friends also get the defensive Scrambler, which offers a refuge for neighbouring friendlies against guided munitions.
The sole nitpick I have with this expansion is that the mode is screaming out for online co-op or adversarial multiplayer. Being able to share command of an embattled clutch of survivors would sing with two players, but this is a small wish that doesn’t detract from the already detailed multiplayer found elsewhere in the game.
Anabasis does not radically alter the fundamental mechanics of Deadlock. You are playing the same game as you always have. But it excels in putting this solid base in a different, more restricted scenario, and for that, it suddenly intensifies every single choice you make. Every arc, every vector, every exasperatingly limited missile fired; the gambles are real when playing for keeps. The campaign is great, but Anabasis is something extra special. And to underscore the summary, I conclude with that promised anecdote:
After weathering a particularly brutal attack by a Cylon fleet, losing an Artemis-class Battlestar and leaving the convoy in the battered, brutalized care of two Berzerk assault carriers, it was time to jump. Cylon reinforcements were swarming, their missiles bearing down on the colonial survivors. As my fleet began to disappear into hyperspace, one Berzerk took a stern load of Cylon ordnance and its navigation subsystem went offline. And we were gone, leaving that stricken ship as carrion for metal vultures.
The next sector balanced its salvage scarcity with a shorter FTL spool, but as the colonial fleet arrived, DRADIS contacts bloomed about the civilian gaggle and its sole Berzerk protector. Raiders began to close in, overwhelming the targeting computers about the increasingly lame carrier. Visual identification was made on Cylon capital ships, missiles chaperoned by turret broadsides sealing the colonial fleet’s fate with each and every hit. The Berzerk was making a valiant last stand, broken and on fire. And suddenly, there was the booming signal of an FTL jump.
It was the sister ship, the one we had left one system back. It had survived. It had survived, only just, and caught up! I had no idea such a thing was possible in this campaign, but it was a shining moment that upheld the finest traditions of emergent game-play. Regardless of how futile my resistance was despite an extra ship, the incident really crystallised the idea that, for me at least, Anabasis is Deadlock at its best.