by Jason Parker (Ragachak)
Turn-based strategy games have to work pretty hard to stand out these days. From X-Com to Atlas Reactor, it feels like just about everything has been done. Enter Insidia, which has been compared to the slightly-older Atlas Reactor in that you have simultaneous turns and work towards a general goal. That’s about as far as they go for similarities though. Instead of having to hope your team works together and has a general strategy, it’s all put upon you. The general premise is, you pick a team of four heroes and deploy on a map, with a goal of destroying the other team’s base. In general, the matches will last about fifteen minutes, controlling key objectives on the map to destroy the defenses of the opponents base. This, for the most part, felt very clear, but I would have games where I won and had no idea how, until I realized that surrendering counts as a win for you. So, that was a positive!
However, I feel it’s important to say that do not plan anything during the time you are playing Insidia. The timer for your turn actions are incredibly short (15/20 seconds~) and unless you don’t see the symbol under a character, you might not be aware that they can’t perform an action that turn. But this shouldn’t be a problem because the tutorial is fairly clear. One of the most important things to know is that you cannot take an action on consecutive terms. Also, if you move a unit too far (which is clearly indicated on the map) then they cannot perform an action. This is not a game that features auto-attacks either. You don’t have a standard “attack” ability; everything is based on your abilities. Each of these champions has a passive, standard ability, and an ultimate, which everyone So you have a crew of characters; six now, and twelve total when the game goes fully live. How do you deal damage? By luring characters into traps like the landmines of Naira, the Sniper, or you rely on their passives. That’s where the combo system comes into play.
Each character’s passive does something different. For example, Naira fires a shot dealing four damage to the closest enemy, provided she has line of sight. This would trigger Gunther’s passive, Stone Warden. Once a nearby enemy (melee range) has taken damage, Gunther strikes them for 2 damage. Not all of the Passives are this easy to control though. Infestus, the Gatekeeper’s reads: “Miasma: If any unit is near a Blight Tendril, they release a poisonous cloud, dealing three damage to all in range.” And Angor, the Eternal Hunger’s passive, Frenzy, sends him charging three spaces and deals damage to the first unit hit, which can definitely be one of your own. The other team has an Angor, and you want to punish their greed? Use Gunther’s Gravitation Pull to tug someone into the path of Angor, and force them to take damage, then smite them with his passive. You have to put real, serious thought into what your team composition is, and from the moment you see the enemy team is, you must consider what they can do. But it’s not always clear as it could be: I had no idea from one minute to the next if someone was in Naira’s line of sight. If there’s a way to tell, it’s not obvious.
So if turns happen simultaneously, how do you figure out exactly who does what when? They use an “Initiative” system. Each character has an Initiative stat, so depending on who you decide to activate and use, they might go first. The current fastest character is Shiryo, the Spirit Blade. He’s an assassin, with an initiative of 70. So if you deploy Shiryo (probably the smartest move, which I’ll get into), and they deploy Gunther, with his 35, and those are the only two characters on screen, you’ll go first, no question. If you both have the same initiative, whichever character has a Golden Ring around their “Done” button will act first. If you don’t see it on your screen, then you’ll know it’s the opponent. But wait! There’s another thing to consider: Quick abilities. There are a few abilities that have “Quick” on their descriptor. That means it will activate instantly on the Resolution phase. Consider it an Instant like in Magic: the Gathering. So a team of all slow powerhouses might be fun in the beginning, but once you lose all the objectives, a valuable lesson will be learned. Personally, I think a smart strategy for almost any game for turn one is to play Shiryo to your top/bottom Energy Pools and leave him there. Each turn he’s on the field but hasn’t attacked, he stacks up to four spirit charges, which boost his damage for his attack/ultimate. If you hold this one or the center platform without interruption for three turns, you gain an advantage towards defeating the other team.
So let’s talk about the actual gameplay now. You have two phases: Tactical Phase (where you move a character/perform an action) and Resolution Phase (when the move/actions actually take place). There’s a cross in the center of the field, and holding it for three turns gives you a boon. If you can hold it for three turns without an enemy taking it or standing on it, you’ll gain a gun that blasts the enemy base. Each player has three statue in their base, with three charges on them. Getting rid of all three will blow up that statue and open a gateway. That’s when Shiryo charges their base, kills anyone in the way, and win the game! If you get a character into the enemy base, you gain a new command, a “sabotage” command. It destroys their base, and you win! You don’t have to beat all three gates, but it does give you more options. But there’s another way to win which I have had way more success with. If you simply defeat all three platforms in their base, you also will win. But how do you get this victory? After a champion is killed, it can be respawned, but it must be respawned in their base. This weakens the base as if the mid platform were captured (one mark off a statue). I managed to lock down several players with just three characters, holding the middle and setting up a combo, forcing them to respawn and come to me.
It’s definitely a good start
When I started, Insidia was infuriating. There was no bot mode (but there is now!) and with the insanely fast timer and only a brief tutorial, I was obliterated because I wasn’t honestly sure what to do. And sometimes, the response of the controls are spotty and dreadful. I wasn’t always able to swap my character’s position when moving because the terrain was in my way. It was very much trial by fire. However, they do appear to be listening to their audience, and from what I understand the timer went up a few seconds and there is now also a Practice Mode. In Practice Mode, you do not have a timer, and so you can take as long as you need to figure out strategies and tactics. However, the NPCs seem kind of on the dim side, as it was very easy to beat the Practice Mode. I’d recommend some difficulty sliders for this. But it’s great to figure out your bearings, find what teams you like, and how to create combos. I also want to warn new players: the game has friendly fire mechanics. I have been stunned by my own Land Mines before. You can use this to your advantage though, Gravitation Pulling someone right into their own mines. It’s amazing to force someone to be stunned, hit them, and have Naira also hit them, reducing someone’s life to zero in one shot. I enjoy Insidia, but I do hope there will be more maps and a bit of variety in the characters.
The ones that the game has now are interesting, but I am curious to see what they come up with next. It’s a game where if you don’t think on your toes, and aren’t paying attention, you will lose entire turns. I would be interested to see a pause command because you know, life happens. This is a game for people who have a good 15-20 minutes to kill and want to focus on pure, strategy gameplay. It does certainly offer a tactical environment. I enjoy it, but right now, it feels very clunky and unforgiving. It’s not easy to see your stats/skills in an actual match unless it’s your tactical phase. And then, it’s too short to really take advantage of! You have to make moves! I think what will make this stand out is a bit more variety. Maybe certain maps require different team numbers or different objectives? There’s a lot that can be done, and honestly, I enjoyed it for what it was. But it’s still early access and very much in development. We’ll have to see what comes next. The parts that are good are exceptionally good, but the parts that are frustrating are equally so.