Review: Acaratus13 Jun 2017 0
Released 25 Feb 2017
It seems you can't go a day or two without finding another strategy tagged game sitting atop Steam's new release list. Even with the near infamous Steam Greenlight indie project being shuttered, everyone's favorite gaming marketplace is gearing up to offer a fresh new way for indies to make themselves heard and seen. One title which managed to break through before the untimely demise of the system was Acaratus - a turn-based strategy title that left Early Access back in April.
With Steam once being viewed as a safe haven for indies looking for the greatest exposure, independent studios flocked to the platform in droves, leaving each fighting for a piece of the proverbial pie. Acaratus might have slipped by us the first time, but its 1.01 update just so happened to give it another quick 15 minutes of fame before being pushed down by the weight of the wallet.
Acaratus, as mentioned earlier, is a turn-based strategy game - and a relatively simple one at that. Rather than duke it out as a World War platoon, band of angry orks or slithering insectoids, Acaratus features an intriguing mix of old-time tales and steam-powered machinery. It's your typical steampunk affair wrapped in a time where slavery evidently went on a little longer than Mr. Lincoln would have hoped.
An animated cinematic plays out the moment you fire up the game. And that's all that really separates you from the action. While my laptop struggled to play the motion picture without stuttering every few seconds, it isn't entirely clear whether that was a down to a hardware issue or something amiss in the source. Either way, the mixing - when the scene played long enough to squeeze a word in - felt problematic; meaning it was difficult to hear the words over the music. As sad as that happens to be, I can appreciate the time it took to piece something like that together on a typical indie budget. Thankfully, it hardly seems necessary to grasp the gravity of the situation playing out. We don’t seem to be here for the story. It’s broken up into brief exchanges of text on specific world map points – either on the road, at encampments and towns or through smaller side-quests.
Jumping straight into raw gameplay from that point on, you learn more or less what you need to square off against your foe in one quick bout. Battles have you commandeering a 'battle suit' across a typical grid-like map as you trade blows with the enemy. You click your unit and move them a pre-determined amount of steps dependant on their suit type and choose between executing an attack through melee or ranged combat until the battlefield is clear.
Simple as it may be, it isn't without its twists and turns - for better and for worse. While you may be going at it alone for a little while, you'll eventually find yourself commanding a small army of these chunks of metal as time goes on. At that point, the battlefield can start to feel a little cluttered as units begin to accidentally block the paths of each other. Sure, it may only fair to have to think about each move (similar to a chess piece), but when moving offers the risk of taking more damage from a blow to the back, decisions eventually become somewhat stressful.
The story mode - of which will be eating up most of your time in this snowy world - plays out much like any other turn-based strategy game of its kind. Upon pushing through the brief tutorial mission, you're presented with a world map. Across it are dozens of inter-connected points ranging from towns, pathways and watchtowers with little stopping you from simply travelling all the way back to the beginning in a few seconds flat.
While each of these points can house an event, not all of them do. Quest points may have you defeat enemies on its own spot or elsewhere for a fixed reward - like gold or gear - while others can feature more enemies, chests, merchants or watchtowers that reveal more of the expansive road beyond upon visiting. Towns themselves typically feature blacksmiths able to increase the units (health) of a mech in your load-out while enabling the mechanic feature of your hotbar for when you want to piece together new parts into a fresh new teammate or to augment a pre-existing brawler for your next round. You gain experience used to level-up through quests and fights, but this crawls along as such a slow pace that the rewards reaped from gaining another rarely feel like anything to specifically aim for.
While gold isn't particularly tough to come across, having major unit gear tied to a literal one-arm bandit in towns means those running on harder difficulties will likely be falling victim to a random number generator rather than their own tactics - a major short-coming for those hoping to test their skill. It's saving grace, however, is how falling on the battlefield doesn't really pose a problem. Despite being a slaver on the run with stolen property, you're typically free to go if things don't go your way. Simply travel back to the nearest town , recoup your 'units' (for free) and figure out a new gameplan. Though beware. Despite the UI giving a real-time indicator of a particular fight's difficulty curve, there were multiple instances where easier fights crushed me with ease while others proved trivial.
Inadvertently easing up on those short-comings, however, is the card system. Thankfully not locked behind the same ‘RNG’ process as the more meaningful unit weapons and armor, cards are purchased through in-game gold on merchant spots and slotted into 'decks' on the world map.
Executed at any point during your turn by dragging them onto the desired unit, these strategic buffs expend a set amount of ‘AP’ in exchange for effects; including worthwhile guard attempts, heals and one that seems to trump them all – Dash. A skill that has your unit propel itself in a straight line and deal damage to the first enemy contact. While a great way to finish off a foe after a ruthless attack, it's a good get-away card - or one capable of literally carrying you to victory if there's a clear path between your unit and the 'goal' on certain maps. Viable in most situations, it's essentially a staple card that calls balance into question. It's a fun way to break up the repetitiveness of fights that feel mostly the same on everything other than a slight shift of enemy types, numbers and obstacle placement; but it certainly feels like one particular perk far outweighs the benefits of another.
The fact is, Acaratus isn't a bad shot at the genre. For the relatively low asking price, you get a game that's certainly trying to be all that it can for its worth. It may not be the prettiest title on the market right now, but it's difficult to assess whether its quick-fire story elements are what ultimately leads to the overall package feeling a little too flimsy. It's almost as if the team decided most of its potential playerbase wouldn't want story scenes and text pulling them away from skirmishes too often. But it ultimately feels like the repetitive nature of the fights could have their appeal stretched further if the story was truly enough to compel players to push on.