The Sky Is Falling
Skyward Collapse is a fresh entry in the god simulation genre by relatively new studio Arcen Games. God sim games have you in control of the land and its people, generally with the goal of wiping out the opponent god. Think of games like Populous and From Dust are examples. Arcen Games raises the bar by reworking a formula that hasn’t changed in 25 years.
Skyward Collapse plays from an overhead three fourths isometric view. You have the tool bar on the left to develop your world. You create buildings and terrain to be populated by the units that spawn automatically. You have zero control over units once they appear; this is important. Later, you have the ability to create monsters, or world conditions ripped directly from the myth and folklore from the culture the units represent. You have zero control over the monsters once you turn them loose.
Now, here’s where it gets interesting: you have two factions that must maintain a balance of power. If one side wipes out the other, it’s game over. Remember the lack of control of units? Well, at least they’re predictable – they will go right after the other side. To make it even more interesting, the units on each side are asymmetrical. They require different resources to spawn them, and have different stats. In other words, you can’t just match archer for archer to keep things at an even keel. On one side, the Greeks, with their grunt units and siege engines, are unmatched on the battlefield. The other side are the Norse, whose mythologies are the harbingers of Ragnarok. Frost giants kick the crap out of minotaurs, who knew? Skyward Collapse even sets a third faction, the bandits, and score requirements to keep you from sitting on the sidelines. The bandits pop up forts and units from either side and attack everyone indiscriminately.
Skyward Collapse enters a new age every 30 turns, and at the end of each age you have to meet a score requirement. You get points added to your score for every unit and building destroyed. Every age also brings more destabilizing additions to your world, with minor and major deities from either side appearing in the later ages. But wait, there’s more. Random environmental conditions, called Woes, are always queuing up to further complicate things. Woes affect the entire game and range from droughts, being cut off from magic to summon mythologies, and the serial killer.
If this sounds like a lot to take in, it’s because it is. Skyward Collapse has a cliff face of a learning curve. It starts you off in a tutorial mode version of a real game, which you can fail. Which I did. No joke- in the final age, the bandits started dropping myth beasts all over, and I was caught with my proverbial pants down watching all my towns getting stomped into ruins.
Let’s talk about graphics and sound. Let me also preface this with the fact that Arcen Games is a small indie studio, so keep your expectations with that in mind. The graphics, while not bad, felt uninspired. Everything looks like what you’d expect it to look like. The units are 2D sprites that aren’t animated. They actually remind me of the card stock pieces you’d get in similarly styled board games from the 80s. They just slide across the board and bump into each other to denote combat. The music – the loop of lute – gets really old…really fast. Thank you PC options; I’ll just put my own tunes on. What is it about turn-based games having the most god-awful music?
Anyways, it is the gameplay itself that makes Skyward Collapse worth a look. This is the first time anyone ever made a god game where you have to balance two sides and just endure to the end. I would love to see Arcen develop Skyward Collapse into a series, because the core idea has so much potential. I also see Arcen needing to patch and tweak the game in future. The biggest issue I have with the gameplay itself is that once the balance tips, it’s over. The game doesn’t allow any way for you to recover in time, and there’s a ton of stuff to keep track of! Have you ever been hanging out, drinking with friends, and decided to play Jenga? It’s like that.
I am glad I got a chance to review this game, as I really enjoy playing Skyward Collapse. The challenge just makes you want to get better. You can find Skyward Collapse on Steam for less than what you paid for lunch, and I promise it comes with enduring enjoyable entertainment. Great job to the folks at Arcen for reworking old formulas and being risk takers. I look forward to seeing what you bring to us in the future.