by Jason Parker (Ragachak)
I’m not the best at RTS games, so I don’t really play them competitively. It’s mostly all the APM stuff that slows me down, despite having a pretty fast WPM in regular typing. But Golem Gates really caught my interest anyway. Because while I’m not as big on RTS titles, I love a good deck-builder, and that’s what Golem Gates is: Part Deck Builder, Part Real-Time Strategy. It’s very dark, and as the Harbinger, you spawn creatures from beyond the Golem Gates, and use them to do battle against the other Harbingers (players). But unlike your average RTS, you can spawn your creatures anywhere you have creatures already! That really caught my eye without a doubt. Your Harbinger is essentially your “base”, and the goal is to kill the other Harbinger, or yours is killed by the enemy. Your available units are a series of cards (called Glyphs) that you put together in a deck, which will contain spells, creatures, and buffs/debuffs, which can only be cast when you have enough energy (which fills pretty slowly unless you have several of the choke points that exist in the world).
But at least you can play them wherever you happen to have units already, which is a definite bonus. I definitely like not having to only build units at my base, but anywhere I happen to already have someone. Going back to the summoning though, there’s a wait time, in addition to waiting to have enough energy, which all told, really slows this game down. I would tell you how the PVP is, but unfortunately, after over a week of playing, I have yet to have a single online match. Waiting 10-15 minutes with no matches, in a variety of time slots, that adds up to a whole lot of wasted time for me. Which is unfortunate, because this game is really interesting! I like the concept a lot, and would probably like it more if it didn’t feel so much like swimming through molasses. The card variety is nice, from drawing extra cards, stealing enemy units, a whole host of units from large to small. You have traps, defensive turrets, all kinds of things to defend your Harbinger, which is fantastic because you have no idea where the enemy could come from in some of the stages (like Survival).
The fog of war is serious, and it’s persistent. If you do not have a unit in a spot and do not control a choke point, you cannot see what’s going on, which is both a positive and a negative. If you do not know where the enemy is coming from, you have no idea where to set up your defensive structures, and the stages don’t really seem to have much in the way of natural defensives, which can really create a serious sense of paranoia and loneliness. This game really does a fantastic job of making the setting feel authentic because the stages are pretty dark, pretty empty. I’m personally not really a fan of fog-of-war not going away, because I’d like to have some kind of idea of what’s coming from where, but if you’re smart/safe about how you use your energy, you can summon stuff while you’re patrolling, leaving traps behind to stop enemies from taking your energy sources. But let’s talk about cards a bit more, speaking of these units. You only have so many cards in your deck, and when you run out, you have to reshuffle used cards back into the deck.
That sounds like it’s not a big deal, but a “Shuffling. . .” sign overlaps your screen, and you can’t really see what’s going on while it’s happening. The screen darkens, but you can still see units shuffling around anyway. This is definitely a bad design choice in my opinion because while it would definitely slow the game down to pause/shuffle, especially for PVP, if your enemy sees you aren’t doing anything, or they are already attacking, you can’t stop the shuffle. You can’t cancel/pause it, you’re stuck until it’s over, which I can see it causing you to lose in a very pitched moment. With that in mind, be wary of how you use cards and when; don’t just cast willy-nilly, but don’t let your energy bar just sit full all the time, because then you aren’t casting new stuff and letting it refill. It really becomes a dangerous balancing act. It would be awful if you were out of cards for the whole match, but I feel like the game shouldn’t stop you from acting while you were shuffling. You usually still have cards to play in your hand, after all.
There’s a deep Campaign in place, or so I believe, but I have not played past the Tutorial yet. It’s locked until 2018, which is fine. I was really hoping to get into the Campaign though because that’s the part that interests me the most. I’m hoping it will be a better way to get cards unlocked as well. It seems to be pretty slow to acquire them only playing against the AI, which is the only option I’ve had so far. There’s also a Co-Op Mode that I also had to solo, where you go into a Survival Map. You have a set amount of time to either dominate all of the other NPCs hidden on the map or simply hold out. I was unsuccessful every time I tried this, but I got pretty close alone. At best, I controlled two of the energy points, almost three, before having to retreat due to being swarmed under. Then there are Versus Matches (AI). They can feature up to four teams, and you can adjust all manner of settings, which I love. You can make it as easy or as hard as you’d like. There are four difficulties (changeable per AI opponent): Easy/Normal/Hard/Insane, and Three Gameplay Styles (and Random): Balanced/Rush/Turtle. Balanced is a fine line between aggressive/defensive gameplay, and Rush of course is a Zerg-Rush style aggressive mode and Turtle is uber-defensive. You can also change the Energy Regen Rate, Energy Growth Rate, Glyph Spawning Rate, Game Speed, and Starting Energy. Then you have the maps to choose from:
Daedalus (2-4 Players): Chokepoints and corridors in the center hide a Super Destroyer that can pave the way to the enemy. You definitely want to control the center, which is terribly hard with everyone vying for the same spots.
Chasm (2 Players): Take the side paths or use vision to leapfrog over the chasm and take the enemy by surprise. Unlike Daedalus which is cross-shaped, this is a big circular map with a player on each side (left and right). Each player has access to an energy charger.
Icarus (2 Players): A chokepoint leads to two identical lanes in which to fight for supremacy. This felt more like a MOBA style map, which is absolutely fine. Each player has access to an energy point, and each of those two lanes has one halfway down the middle, so it’s all about how you manage both of those lanes, whether you think you can dominate both, or simply hold one and put defenses in the other.
Bottom Line: It’s A Good Start
I love the idea for this game a lot if I can be honest. But I’ve had such a limited experience, despite having the game for well over a week. If I could have played with other players, I’d have a better idea of exactly how it goes, not to mention the Campaign. If it’s not completed yet, that’s fine, but as far as I know, it’s simply locked. The Tutorial, however, is very solid and teaches you exactly how to play the game, which I appreciated. There are about 100 cards in the game as of this writing, and I have a feeling more are on the way. At first, I had a very hard time telling cards apart and did not seem to be able to highlight them and get their stats in the game (but I believe that was fixed/patched for Early Access). It’s a very cool idea, and the gameplay’s pretty fun. The units and art design is fantastic and sharp, and I’m looking forward to more of it. But as of right now, I simply have not had enough of the actual game to say one way or another how I feel/how it plays when dealing with other players, and unraveling its story. I enjoy the concept immensely, once it begins to open up a bit more, I’d love to revisit it and take another look.
Note: A code was given for review purposes.