Skyward Collapse

Friday, May 31, 2013

I am a victim of mental conditioning. Most every game I've played in my time has made me choose a side. Skyward Collapse is one of the first to force me to choose neither.

An Indie game launched on Steam by Arcen Games, Skyward Collapse is a god game. Your goal is to achieve a sort of balance between the red and blue factions. Far from simply building walls between the two, you are encouraged to create thriving towns for both sides, build armies and wage war with your reds and blues. In fact, the score tally acts as a sort of carnage meter. When units are fighting, your score goes up, and the longer you live without some kind of conflict the more your score plummets.

To aid in the slaughter, and to help keep one side from completely running the field with the other, you have the ability to summon civilization appropriate mythological creatures to aid in your fights. Minotaurs and Centaurs for the Greeks, Frost Giants and Valkyries for the Norse.

Early on, I assumed that each side was merely aesthetically different, and that the units they produced and powers they exhibited were mirrors of each other. When the Norse Light Elf took out the Greek Chimera in one shot, I began to reevaluate the stats. Red and Blue units not only have different abilities, but different resource costs and battlefield tactics.

Even the resource gathering is different between the two sides. While the Blue Greeks seem to do well by creating mythological creatures from breads and incense, the Norse creatures require meat and precious stones before they step into the fray.

The game is staggeringly complex even before the lesser gods appear. At the beginning of the second round - known as the age of Monsters - each faction receives a Deity from their pantheon. Each Deity has a single passive ability and three activated abilities. These abilities range from creating hordes of hostile bandits to making one of your units temporarily invincible.

Complex and unpredictable, Skyward Collapse is a turn based game that functions at a frenetic pace. Constantly weighing both sides against each other while watching out for cataclysms and plagues (known aptly as Woes) and managing the terrain to keep strategic buildings safe, there is a lot to take in. The game sort of chucks you into the fray with a minimal tutorial that gives you a lot of room to play around.

A game with this much depth could easily burden itself by being too inaccessible. Skyward Collapse counters this with a light and playful tone at the outset, aided by a very funny comic intro by Strip Search contestant, Nick Trujillo. As terrible as my early performance was, I never found myself frustrated or lost. This game is immense fun.

I however, have a terrible handicap in Skyward Collapse. As I mentioned at the outset, aside from one or two sandboxes out there, I've always been forced to come down on one side of a conflict. That has been my greatest undoing in Skyward Collapse. I cannot help but choose a side in the conflict. I lean towards the Blue side heavily, and it nearly ended the game very early on. I only survived by flooding the world with bandits and minotaurs and building new towns sealed off from the rampaging armies in the center.

The numbers can be a little difficult to keep track of early in the game. Take this bit of advice to give you a leg up. The factions resources are enumerated on the right side of the screen, and you can hover over any building to see what unit is up next, or how much of any particular resource they create per turn.

Skyward Collapse is very different from other god games out there. It's strategic depth and light mood make it easy to play over and over, trying out new strategies, or just screwing around. The numbers and constant balancing keep the pace quick, but could turn off some younger players. Available via Steam on PC and Mac for $4.99, Skyward Collapse is a game well worth owning.