Confrontation is a new tactical role-playing game released by Focus Home Entertainment and Cyanide Studios based on a fantasy miniature wargame by Rackham and combines role-playing game elements with group combat strategy elements focusing on small scale tactical battles. The game is set in a realm called Aarkash, where the age of Rag’narok is fast approaching and different factions complete for control of the realm.
In the main campaign the player takes control of a small elite group of Griffin warriors trying to prevent the Scorpion faction from cloning and releasing giant war beasts called Mecasyatis. Dealing with the Scorpion threat takes the characters deep into enemy territory (including those of the Wolfen & the Jackal, the other two factions in the game), exploring wilderness, dungeons, secret laboratories and other environments.
Confrontation has a ‘pause-plan-assign-play’ squad based tactical combat system similar to other role-playing games, such as Baldur’s Gate and Dragon Age, however there is one new and interesting difference - each character has an action queue so that you can plan several actions ahead. Each character has five or six skills, each of which can have up to five ranks. These skills can buff the single character, nearby allies, damage enemies, and so forth. Each use of a skill uses some of the characters’ energy (mana, stamina or faith) and in most cases the characters can use two skills in rapid succession before needing to ‘recharge’ their energy. Additionally some skills such as ‘Meteor’ deal continuous damage to enemies within a specified area until the character using the skill (in this case Zelia) runs out of energy. Because each character can only use a very limited number of skills before their energy is depleted it means the player must choose carefully and use the right skills at the right times and one of the main tactical elements of the game is working out the best methods of combining each character’s powers to gain an advantage over the opposing forces.
During the campaign the player will unlock additional soldiers from the Griffon faction, each with their own combination of skills and abilities, and as with many modern combat based games each of the characters falls in to one of the general groups: tank, damage per second, mage or support, allowing the player to change to composition of the group depending upon the mission they are undertaking. Sometimes it is even necessary to restart a section of the campaign and try out a different party make-up to see if it proves more successful.
Another interesting element of the combat system was that when a party member runs out of health they collapse to the ground in agony but don’t die straight away, instead they have an agony bar which slowly decreases the longer they are left unattended. To revive them you simply need to send another character over to heal them, however this is best left until all the nearby enemies are dealt with. Rolling around in agony for a while does have its side effects as the revived character get a penalty to the experience they gain from that point until they activate a special ‘Sanctuary Areas’ that can be found in the dungeons.
This does, however, seem to lead to your weaker characters falling behind on experience as they tend to get knocked down more frequently.
If any of the characters’ agony bar is completely depleted then they die and the game is over and the player is forced to reload a previous save.
The battles are the main element of the game and these can be very challenging, most groups of enemies the player encounters are capable of wiping out the party unless the characters’ skills and abilities are used correctly to take out or neutralise the most dangerous foes, control the crowds and buff their allies. The enemies also have skills and spell-like abilities which they can use to provoke, immobilise or silence your characters preventing them from using their skills which can often be the tipping point of the battles. Targeting enemy spellcasters is a must otherwise you may find your entire party disabled and slaughtered. The player is able to pause the action at any time during combat to analyse the situation and issue new orders to their party allowing them to use their abilities to overcome the odds and emerge from the battle victorious, and this can be quite satisfying, although after a while it does feel as though the same tactics are being used over and over again.
Tactics are definitely the key to the game, if you approach each combat as a toe-to-toe battle you will be reloading quite regularly.
After each battle your characters will gain experience allowing them to increase their level, attributes and skills. There are six attributes: strength, constitution, agility, vivacity, intelligence and wisdom. Unlike some other games all of these attributes are important to all characters, as for example intelligence improves damaging skills and improves defence against damaging skills, this means that players are better off taking a balanced approach to increasing the character abilities rather than focusing on specific attributes.
The inventory system within the game is very simple - basically there isn’t one. Each character has a primary and secondary weapon choice (and at least one doesn’t even appear to have the second choice) and some armour which can never be swap or changed and the only way these items can be improved is by using weapon and armour glyphs that you find in weapon and armour racks throughout the game. Even these upgrades are limited so each weapon or armour can only be upgraded one every five levels. This leaves the game with very little in the way of loot gathering to encourage the player to push further into the campaign and explore every area. The only other loot you can gather are bandages, which you find in treasure chests, that can be used to heal players during battle. The bandages also seem to disappear when you move from major game location to another, which is quite frustrating when you’ve built up a good stock only to find the counter reset to zero when you enter a new dungeon.
The simplified inventory and character development system may be similar to the original miniature wargame but it doesn’t seem to give the characters much depth or personality. The lack of depth in the characters starts to make them feel like nothing more than units in a RTS game, and this is not the way a RPG should be, there should be investment in the characters, a connection, even a feeling of loss when they are injured or killed. Though in fact in Confrontation if any of your characters are actually killed the game is over and you have to reload anyway so it isn’t actually possible to lose a character from the game.
Data about enemies, characters, factions, important locations, etc. is added to Codex but this is only accessible from the main menu of the game and not as an ‘in-game’ resource which limits its usefulness. For a game that focuses on tactical combat not having this tactical information available as you play is very disappointing.
The path finding within the game is probably one of the most frustrating elements of the game; it is terrible, quite a lot of the time. It is really easy for your characters to get stuck in silly places and even behind one another, when there appears to be plenty of room for them to move around. This can and often does mean the difference between winning and losing a battle as one or more of your characters will be unable to reach their intended target. It is often necessary to delay the movement of some characters to ensure the others can move correctly, which can really mess with your tactics.
The campaign itself is very linear and gets quite repetitive, it is really nothing more than a string of similar encounters all linked together by a flimsy storyline that isn’t very engaging. The fact that the characters rapidly heal between encounters also makes each battle feel like little separate actions, where you only need to survive each one rather than having to plan for longer time survival. There are 8 secondary missions that become available during the campaign but these are even more restricted as your team is automatically selected for you and the characters do not gain any experience during these missions.
Even the narration is pretty dry and can be quite confusing if you do not know the background of the game with lots of places, factions, and people being mentioned that the player has very little detail about unless you read all of the Codex entries you unlock.
The game also includes a multiplayer element although this is fairly limited allowing the player and an opponent to pick squad of four characters from one of the factions and fight to the death. During extensive checks we foudn the online lobby is usually pretty empty so it can be quite difficult to find opportunities for multiplayer battles.
The game also includes an ‘Army Painter’ so that the player can create custom team colours for use in the multiplayer game mode and this is a link back to the miniature collection and painting aspects of the original table top game which may appeal to fans of the original game. However, the overall the poor character development and improvement mechanics combined with the repetitive nature of the campaign produce a game that although initially interesting quickly loses its attraction and is very easy to put down. This is a great shame because Confrontation had the potential to to bring something new and exciting to the RPG arena especially with the experience of both Focus Home Entertainment and Cyanide Studios, an established game world, and fan-base. The game shows glimmers of this potential but never really lives up to the expectation.