What happens if you play a strategy game where you cannot directly control the characters on-screen? What if your only job was to create, and then sit back and watch as your creations went about their lives, doing things that make you facepalm and wonder why you even bothered creating them at all?
Oh my goodness, I just described parenthood.
Such is the concept behind Skyward Collapse, a 4X “god simulator.” You play the role of The Creator, and are tasked with building up two warring factions, the Greeks and the Norse. Yes…you will be responsible for BOTH sides. Here’s where Skyward Collapse immediately separates itself from other strategy games that I have played. Most games, strategy or not, have you take the role of one side, and you have an opponent. Very rarely do you have any say over both sides of a conflict.
The key to Skyward Collapse is all about balance. As awesome as it would be to watch these two factions lay each other to waste through endless war, that’s not the point of the game. If either of the two sides destroys the other, you lose. The Greeks cannot dominate, and vice versa, the Norse cannot dominate.
Suddenly the game is about keeping two sides apart while building each side up to a thriving civilization. It almost feels like those situations when you’re in a bar with some friends, and your drunk buddy starts a fight with another, with you in the middle holding them apart. “Don’t do something you’ll regret!” you say to your drunk, idiot friend. I found myself saying that a lot to my monitor throughout the course of the game.
It all starts off innocently enough. You jump into the tutorial, awash in the beautiful music radiating from the background. You follow the game’s directions to build a carpenter, a rock quarry, an elf, etc. The game gently holds your hand, guiding you through the basics, even allowing you to start from scratch with the opposing side once the main tutorial is finished. You jump into the game, extracting resources to create goods or creating soldiers to train.
Then, once you’ve grasped the concept of everything, you’re on your own.
Here’s what makes Skyward Collapse so difficult; even though you can pretty much control how each side is built and what units and structures comprise each faction, you probably won’t know exactly what each faction will do until they actually start doing it and it’s too late. You have no direct control; only the knowledge that whatever happens, for better or worse, is probably your fault to begin with. Each faction has their own free will, and although it’s somewhat rudimentary, it’ll wreak havoc on your plans if you don’t think far enough ahead.
At this point you may be thinking to yourself “Great, I’ll just build two harmless sides with minimal military strength so they can’t possibly destroy each other. Sounds easy, and kind of boring.” If only it were so easy. You see, even though the point is to prevent one side from completely obliterating the other, you still need to meet the win condition to officially “win.” This means obtaining a set score set in each of the game’s three Ages; The Age of Man, The Age of Monsters, and The Age of Gods….which is done via destroying structures, killing troops, etc…the typical strategy game “battles.”
Sure you can occasionally drop mystical creatures to like centaurs or elves to help with any issues of imbalance, but you better know what you’re getting yourself into if you decide to drop a giant into your town. They will act according to their own free will as well, so don’t say I didn’t warn you. Add to that the concept of disasters like in SimCity, and you actually have quite a few variables at play, either for you or against you.
Graphically, the game is bright and colorful with some lovely looking designs, but it’s clearly not meant to melt your graphics card. It doesn’t necessarily have the details of something like Civ V, but I never found myself thinking “Man, this game looks like garbage.” It looks like a living board game. The one thing I did not like about the design is the UI. It’s just kind of…confusing. You have a pretty heavy section of text up top with info like the turn number and population, and then you have a vertical menu on the each side of the screen with resources, buildings, units, etc. Mousing over any unit or structure reveals another wall of information.
That’s all fine and good, but Skyward Collapse falls into the trap of both providing too little and too much information all at the same time. I would like more info to be accessible at a glance, maybe within the menus on the side. However, when I do mouse over a unit to get my information, the wall of text is a punch in the face. Obviously this is just a personal preference; some of you may not mind the walls of text. Take that as you will.
I don’t think Skyward Collapse is the sort of game an OCD control freak could ever play; too much control is taken out of your hands. In fact, it might take quite a while to get used to for most video game aficionados, since the whole concept of video games is to control; control your characters, their actions, their surroundings, etc. I will admit, it took me a while to really get sucked into the game simply because I kept trying to figure out how to control my characters.
Once you get over that hurdle, however, and embrace what the game has to offer, Skyward Collapse is filled with potential. It’s a great game that really plays with your emotions as you watch your minions (for lack of a better term) do things that will have you pounding your desk in frustration. In a good way.