I was immediately interested when the good folks over at Arcen Games told me they were working on a god game. I’ve never really gotten into the genre, but I figured Chris Park would be the guy to make a believer (ahem) out of me. Therefore it was with great anticipation that I loaded up their newest title Skyward Collapse.
The first thing to greet me when I started playing was Nick Trujillo’s fantastic comic introducing the world and its conventions. I was taken by the concept of maintaining balance rather than directly controlling units. and I appreciated the tongue-in-cheek style.
Skyward Collapse is aesthetically pleasing in a minimalist sort of way. The hand drawn style we’ve gotten used to from the A Valley Without Wind series works well here, making units and buildings colorful, detailed, and full of personality. Information is laid out intelligently and effectively, never being overwhelming. I’d comment again on Pablo Vega’s soundtracks, but honestly at this point it’s going to start looking like I’m some sort of creepy stalker. I love his music. Love it, love it, love it. Have I mentioned that the soundtrack is nice? I think I just want Pablo to follow me around providing incidental music for all of my life activities from now on. (You’ve made your point, Jeff – Kinda creeped out here- Ed.)
I have to admit that the conceit for the game doesn’t make itself obvious at the beginning of the tutorial. I found myself asking, “Why SHOULD I build any units for either army if the goal is to maintain balance?” I discovered that the idea isn’t JUST to maintain balance between the red blue factions, but to allow them to cause destruction and “thin out the herds” without letting one side or the other dominate the conflict. While the game does a decent job explaining this, it just didn’t click for me at first. It seemed like a way of forcing the game’s story to comply with the idea of a single player “chess match” against yourself, and I was enjoying it. While I found the interface intuitive and well presented, I found I just didn’t understand the why enough to get really immersed into the mechanics. I was on the verge of giving up when something told me to try again. Suddenly, a light turned on in my head, and everything just WORKED. If you can be patient enough to allow that moment of clarity of the game’s purpose to coalesce, you get to see how truly brilliant Skyward Collapse is. The two sides NEED military units in order to fend off attacks from bandits, and they need to produce materials to allow them to deal with the worlds “Woes” which can throw things into terrible imbalance and disarray. When you start to understand the complex interplay between the two tribes, and really follow the logic of the tech trees and unit construction, this game becomes epic in a way that fits the “god game” genre to a T. What’s truly amazing is how quickly your actions (or inaction) can spiral the world out of control. My Greeks were producing units faster than my Norse in one game. Naturally, I felt the poor Norse would be overrun, so of course, I decided to build siege engines to defend the gates of the Norse town. Unfortunately, I over corrected for the Greek’s power, built too many engines, and watched in horror as they obliterated the Greek troops, AND half of their capital city. I had to hope I could scrape together enough resources to convince a minor god to smash the siege engines for me before it was too late.
My only complaint at this point is that it feels like resource gathering is a bit on the slow side, but at the same time, since I wasn’t sure how many turns I had before all hell broke loose, perhaps I was rushing construction. I DO like the fact that I can manipulate events to give my units more of certain resources at any point to help things along. It takes careful planning, but once you understand just what it is you’re supposed to be doing, you realize that the game does a good job letting you know exactly how you screwed up last time, and you realize how to avoid similar mistakes next time. Lots of difficulty settings will provide you a fair challenge, as well.
A sign of good game design (and good AI) is when you find yourself yelling at units you can’t control because they act intelligently and with purpose in a way that completely fails to coincide with your goals. Although the graphical interface is simple, it’s still a joy watching units go to battle. There’s something appealing about not actually seeing the battle because your imagination is left to fill in the details that a dwindling health bar represents. Skyward Collapse does an admirable job of achieving balance itself while showing the player just how damn difficult it can be to achieve it in game. That may be a sentence that only makes sense when you play, but for $4.99 on Steam, you owe it to yourself to try this out. I can guarantee you won’t have a similar experience anytime soon. For the patient, and those willing to suspend some disbelief here and there, Skyward Collapse is an absolute joy, and gets my highest recommendation.