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Skyward Collapse Review [Steam][PC]: Playing God is a Fickle Thing

Posted on May 31, 2013 AT 09:24am


God games are fun stuff. Who doesn’t want to be God for a day? Do what ever the hell you want, kill all humans or don’t, the list of fun activities goes on. Sadly the one flaw with such games is that playing God does get old pretty fast. There’s little challenge to it. Create what you want, then destroy it. See an obstacle, kill it. It’s straightforward and after some time can get monotonous. Perhaps that was why the people over at Arcen Games decided to change things up in their RTS-God-Game-Thing, Skyward Collapse.

Skyward separates itself from the pack by adding some key features: first of all it plays out like a good old fashioned RTS from the days of Civilization and Warcraft (not, WoW, the original Warcraft). The game has you building woodcutters to make logs, carpenters to turn the logs into lumber, quarries to get rocks, stone masons to make cut stones, basic resource gathering. Buildings and combat units cost resources to make. However the similarities with other RTSes end there. You play the role of a God who has to manage two factions: Red and Blue. By default, Red are Vikings and Blue are Greeks, however you can change this at the start of the game if you so please. The game’s AI creates all combat units on its own provided it has all the right resources. Furthermore, your “loyal” subjects have free will and as such are not under your direct control, but the AI’s instead. Your job is to ensure BOTH factions survive the Age of Man, Age of Monsters and finally, the Age of Gods. This means doing everything in your godly power to make sure they don’t kill each other. The catch, of course, is that the AI on either side is programmed to kill the opposing side by any means possible. This means you as the God play every role from the Devil’s Advocate to Benefactor, to Untimely Destroyer as you attempt to keep the little bastards from killing themselves.

To add even more mayhem to the mix, the game puts mythological creatures and gods at your disposal, unique to the race the factions happens to playing as. For instance, Vikings get Elves, Frost Giants, Trolls and Valkyries. The Greek Gods Apollo and Aries sometimes come down from the heavens. It is in these mythological units that Arcen’s genius shines through. Reading the descriptions on the various powerups and creatures themselves, it becomes very clear the game designers really did their research on Viking and Greek mythology. For instance, Vikings can call upon the Yggdrasil Tree in the form of a “token” which when placed on the map, will call doppelgangers of both factions’s units from the 9 worlds into the fray. Placing Pan’s Pipe’s on the map allows the God to play them and distract all military units, reducing their attacking range to one square.

To add an extra bit of challenge, every so often, Bandit Keeps spawn on the map at random points near thriving towns. Bandit Keeps spawn Bandit Combat Units which wage their own personal war against whatever faction happens to be firing range. The player has no control over when and where the Keeps spawn, and just like with the Red and Blue factions, the AI controls their combat unit spawning and fighting.

As if that wasn’t enough, random catastrophic events called “Woes” occur on the map at set intervals. The only saving grace of this is that game does tell which Woe is coming and in how many turns. Woes can be anything from a serial killer to a sudden influx of mountain ranges. Woes certainly keep things interesting, though as the world’s God, one would assume they could control or even cause such things on a whim, sadly the game designers decided the game needed this thing called “balanced gameplay” in order to keep the game flow going and not go stale. Those bastards.

On a more serious note, should the player ever find the challenge of maintaining a perfect balance between waring factions to be too easy, the game does offer several options at the start to up the ante and keep the player coming back for more. The overall difficulty level can be changed, which changes the spawn rate of Bandits, unit costs and health rates, and which Woes will be inflicted over the course of the game. The Woe frequency can be changed, from averaging every 20 turns to every 3 turns at its hardest. A score requirement can also be placed, which forces the player to meet a certain high score by the end of every Age in order to progress to the next Age. The number of turns can also be altered, from the default 30 turns per Age, to up to 50 turns. There are also multiple maps, and the player can set it to Greeks vs Greeks, Vikings vs Vikings, the list goes on and on.

The challenge is wonderful, and the gamplay is great, but no game is without its flaws and Skyward is no exception. The tutorial difficulty setting is an excellent way for the player to get their feet wet and figure out the game’s mechanics, however when I first started playing, I kept losing… on the easiest difficulty, and the game wouldn’t tell me why. It confused the hell out of me, because I was far from finishing the second round and yet every time I would get to about round 40 and suddenly get the ‘YOU LOST THE GAME” message. I finally figured out it had something to do with the score requirement, and after setting it to “off”,  that minor problem was solved, but I do feel it brings up a valid point. For a player just getting into the game, the score requirement should be turned off, or at the very least, the player should be informed that it is there and not meeting it will cause them to lose prematurely. Another flaw I found was the Woes system. I will admit on the easier difficulties, the Woes kept the gameplay from going stale and an extra bit of excitement to the fray, however on harder difficulties and I can it causing much rage quitting since the player will have enough to deal with while trying to stop two warring mythological factions from killing each other while also protecting them from increasingly harder Bandits. Placing God Tokens might help ease the stress, however using Gods also costs points, and while using Mythology Tokens does give points, they also will often shift the balance too much.

Maintaining that precocious balance between the Red and Blue factions is a challenge on any difficulty and Skyward Collapse does an excellent job of showing us that being a God freakn sucks. He can keep his job, for all I care. I could barely keep two civilizations from destroying themselves. Keeping 195 from killing themselves must certainly be a delicate and hazardous job. The game is excellent and well done. It has some rather minor flaws, but they are easily overcome by changing a few settings. Overall, this is a game that more then worth the price.

Summary: A rather interesting God game, taking an old-school RTS approach to the genre. Fans of Civilization or the original Warcraft games will thoroughly enjoy this look into the day in the life of a God.

  • Pros: A fresh approach to the God-Game genre, giving the humans free-will and then forcing them kill each other. It’s so much like the real world, it’s almost scary. Catastrophic Woes and Bandits mix things up and keep the game from going stale.
  • Cons: When you lose, the game doesn’t tell you why or how. It is a rather minor annoyance.

Score: A


James Conrad is a Pokemon fanboy, lover of the arts and is forever broke.
Tweets: @JRCnrd

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