Game Review #288: Golem Gates (Nintendo Switch)
Reviewer: John B Developer: Laser Guided Games Publisher: Digerati Category: Strategy, Multiplayer, Role-Playing Release Date: 05.31.19 Price (At Time of Review): $24.99
Buy Golem Gates from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.
Golem Gates for the Nintendo Switch, from Laser Guided Games and Digerati, blends together some pretty cool ideas. Dark sci-fi/fantasy post-apocalyptic setting? Check. Slick graphics and well-designed characters? You got it. Collectible card game-inspired real time strategy combat system? Oh, yeah. Right off the bat, the ingredients list for Golem Gates is intriguing. As with any game, though, the most important question remains, as always: is it any fun? In this case the answer is, resoundingly, “Yes!” Though there is a short adjustment period at the start of the game to learn the controls, Golem Gates incorporates all of its elements into one cohesive, fun-to-play whole.
Through the Gates of Hell
You play as the Harbinger, a being capable of manipulating the ancient nanotech-based substance known as “The Ash.” You are compelled by a mysterious entity to combat the forces manipulating the Golem Gates, ancient machines spewing forth mechanical soldiers. The Harbinger clashes with the forces of the Golem Gates across 15 levels (plus a tutorial) for control of their war-ravaged world. While the setting is pretty cool visually, and the story has the potential to build some compelling lore around the setting, it never quite comes together. It’s not bad, really, it’s just not especially deep. The story as it exists is just an excuse to get from battle to battle more than it is an attraction in itself. The good news is that the battle system is really cool enough that it doesn’t really need an expansive narrative to make the game interesting.
It’s a Book, Not a Deck
Strategy games are built around two elements: resource management and tactical combat. There are two types of resources that require your management, your glyph book and the Harbinger’s energy. Your glyph book is basically like a deck of cards in a collectible card game; the game just calls its cards glyphs and its decks books. During battle, you use the Harbinger’s energy to use glyphs to summon units, build structures, or use other special abilities. On every map there are energy nodes that you can capture using your units. Every second you have a node captured, the Harbinger’s energy pool is not only replenished, but expanded to grant the Harbinger a greater maximum energy as well. Having a larger energy pool allows you to either summon more powerful glyphs or summon smaller glyphs at a greater rate. The rates of replenishment and expansion grow for every energy node you control.
At the start of battle, you draw a hand of six glyphs. Every few seconds, you draw a new glyph from your book, up to a maximum hand of eight glyphs. When you have run out of glyphs in your book, you enter a shuffling phase for a few seconds during which you are unable to cast glyphs, even if you still have some in your hand. You can only draw each glyph in your book once per shuffle, but you can have multiple copies of glyphs in your book. There are unique creature glyphs which can only have one copy active at a time; for example, if you already have the Spider King summoned, and his glyph comes back to your hand after a shuffle, you cannot summon him again until your first copy is killed. His glyph still takes a slot in your hand, however, so unique monsters, while powerful, can sometimes have adverse effects. Still, books are pretty easy to manage during combat. Balancing deck construction between glyph management and ensuring a smooth progression of energy consumption is a fulfilling, vitally important part of the game that adds an element of depth to mission preparation.
Rallying the Troops
The actual combat element of the game plays out in a traditional RTS format with just a little MOBA thrown in for good measure. The Harbinger is the player’s avatar on the game screen; when his HP is depleted, the mission is over. Using glyphs, players can summon squads of soldiers, defensive structures, mines, and traps. You can also use ability glyphs to launch fireballs, view faraway portions of the map covered by the fog of war, buff your soldiers, or debuff your enemies, just to name a few. You can move soldiers around the field either by individual squad or as one huge mob. The aforementioned energy nodes are captured by having your soldiers occupy it for a small period of time. Campaign missions are cleared by meeting their main objectives, usually by destroying a Golem Gate.
Golem Gates’ RTS combat is smooth but at first I thought it was probably better suited to a mouse and keyboard. Moving the camera with one stick and the cursor with another took some getting used to, but once I had it down I barely noticed the problems I had early on. I found that playing undocked with the touchscreen to be preferable to playing with a controller, however; the touchscreen is just a lot more convenient for things like moving around the minimap and summoning glyphs. The thumbstick was more comfortable for moving the camera whether I was playing docked or undocked. The only drawback to playing undocked was a small loss of detail in the graphics; things just looked kind of pixelated on the Switch’s small screen.
Rules of Engagement
Golem Gates has a cool story mode, but it consists of only fifteen missions, so its replay value is pretty low there. Luckily, there are three other game modes to keep you playing long after ushering the Harbinger to the end of his tale. Trials mode is a lot like the campaign, just without a storyline. Each trial map has a main goal and possibly some hidden goals, and your goal is to complete them for credits and glyphs. Replaying challenges does not give you additional rewards, unless you complete an objective you had failed before. Survival mode tasks the player with surviving for a set amount of time. Waves of enemies will spawn and swarm to your Harbinger, and you have to stay alive for the duration of the time limit to reap the rewards – which are, as always, credits and glyphs. You can play a survival map multiple times and get more rewards; the rewards will be randomized, however, so if you’re only looking for one particular glyph it could take a while.
Versus Mode lets you battle players around the world. You can play other players either one on one, in a four-way free-for-all, or in teams of two. I assume there are rewards for competing this way, but I am unsure of the structure. In my time with Golem Gates I wasn’t really able to find a match through the game’s matchmaking feature. Granted, I was playing an early code so the game may not have had time to really catch on yet, but unfortunately the online community isn’t quite there yet. I hope it does catch on soon, however, because the game is quite a lot of fun.
Spoils of Battle
After clearing missions, you are rewarded with new glyphs and/or some credits. Every mission has a main objective, and when you get a few missions into the campaign some hidden objectives will start to show up. For the campaign missions, specific rewards are tied to each objective. Replaying missions does not give you extra rewards, unless you complete an objective you had failed previously. Other game modes have different, repeatable, semi-randomized reward structures, but we’ll get to those in later sections. You can also collect rewards via the in-game achievement system. Clearing certain requirements will unlock achievement rewards like powerful glyphs and large sums of money.
Reviewing the Archives
Between missions, you can enter your glyph archive to see the glyphs you have unlocked, create and edit your glyph books, and access the forge. Creating and editing decks is fairly simple and easy; although like the camera controls, it took me a little while to figure everything out. There isn’t really a tutorial for deck creation, so I had to figure the controls out for that myself. It was pretty simple, like I said, so it wasn’t a huge issue. The forge is the game’s shop, where you can buy new glyphs using the credits you earn. The forge has five cards available every day, and the stock changes every day. Make sure you don’t miss your chance to buy a glyph you want if you see it; unpurchased glyphs do not carry over to the next day.
Golem Gates is blessed with 3D visuals a cut above most other indie games. The models for the Harbinger and all of the game’s units are well-designed and of a very high quality; not quite on par with the biggest budget AAA thrillers, but very close. As I mentioned before, the graphical quality does slip a little when you play the game undocked, however. It wasn’t gamebreaking or anything, but it was a little bit of a disappointment that I had to downgrade the graphics to get to the more comfortable control scheme. The soundtrack features a stunning, dramatic, and engaging selection of orchestral music that creates a grand, tense atmosphere from the second you get to the main menu. The music was maybe a little too intense for a menu, actually; some games wish they had a battle theme that compelling. Still, it was a cool song, so I won’t complain too hard.
Open the Gates
Golem Gates marries a bunch of great concepts; from its RTS and CCG-based gameplay concepts, to its dark, visually engaging setting, the ideas behind the game are rock-solid and well-implemented. Creating glyph books and commanding your troops in battle are equally engaging and important on a strategic level. The story and setting are cool for what they are, but I could have done with a touch more depth in the narrative. The controls do take some getting used to, but once you’ve grown accustomed to them you’ll barely even notice. Still, playing the game undocked has the far more comfortable control scheme, but you do have to trade off a little bit of graphical quality in exchange for it. I suspect that the game’s online community will grow once the game has been out for a little longer, but for the moment it leaves a little to be desired. Still, despite these small problems, Golem Gates is a great purchase for anyone who enjoys the real-time strategy genre.
Buy Golem Gates from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.
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*Review Code Provided by Digerati