Golem Gates Review
Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 4Also available on Microsoft Xbox One, PC and Nintendo Switch
So many indie real-time strategy games seem so, so similar, especially those that get ported to consoles - games where you have to construct a base, and an army, then use them to take over a small map and capture strategic resources, in order to crush an enemy base on the far side of the map. Games big and small feel very similar, from Age of Empires and Battle for Middle Earth to, more recently War Party and 8-Bit Hordes - for a small while it feels like Golem Gates might actually be one of the few games to buck the trend and feel novel and unique, but that dream is short-lived.
Golem Gates is a real-time strategy game in which you construct a base, and an army, then… you’ve heard this before. Hiding behind the tired foundations is a new and interesting mechanic, in the form of a card deck that dictates you way you play the game, which goes some ways to making the game feel different from its numerous competitors, but not far enough.
The cards work as such: when you’re playing the game, along the bottom of the screen is a collection of the ‘cards’ you can play. They take energy to play, which regenerates over time depending on how many strategic locations you hold, and the cards get replenished every time a timer ticks down. The cards consist of troops you can spawn, turrets, special effects, and support actions - in short, everything you want to do in a strategy game, save command pre-existing troops, is determined by which cards you draw.
You can collect new cards from completing missions, and create your own decks in the main menu to tailor your play style.
This mechanic, when it works well, lends itself to interesting tactical situations; some times you’re close to crushing the enemy base, but you don’t draw any troops, giving the enemy a chance to counterattack; other times you don’t draw any turrets at the beginning of the game, so you have to decide whether to capture new strategic locations or defend your old ones.
However when you draw a fair mix of cards, as you easily will when you get to the stage of Golem Gates whereupon you can create your own decks, the game progresses just as any other similar strategy - except you can spawn troops wherever you want, except at your base.
On the topics of bases - there are none, save for the ‘Harbinger’, an uncontrollable and useless character who you need to protect for fear of losing the game. This changes the dynamics of a battle; instead of spending the first few minutes of each battle building up a base, rushing the enemy is the name of the game, and there’s less of a tactical incentive to take it slow.
Similarly the maps in Golem Gates are bare save strategic locations that, once captured, give you more energy to draw cards. This simplifies gameplay, as unlike a game like Age of Empires where there are many resources to gather, there’s only one, so you don’t need to balance and diversify your portfolio, so games are a lot more streamlined.
If this critique of the game seems mixed, that’s because it is - when the card draw is uneventful, even, and mixed, gameplay feels stale and indistinguishable from any other similar real-time strategy game. When your deck throws a spanner in the works, gameplay briefly becomes interesting, but this stops as soon as you can create your own deck.
Once you’ve gotten to this stage, all that’s left is playing repetitive games of ‘capture the objective, destroy the base’ again and again until the game is over.
If there’s something to be said for this system, it’s that it translates well to console controls - it’s easy to choose which card to play, and how to play it, and troop selection and commanding is simple too - perhaps a bit too simple, as you can only select troops en masse, but Golem Gates seems to embracing its ‘horde mentality’ style of combat. Navigating the battle map is annoyingly slow, but this just emphasises the need for one big lump of troops instead of any kind of strategy.
So does the story make the game interesting? There seems to be a story, and a world that developers Laser Guided Games have meticulously worked out and planned - but they apparently forgot to actually explain this in the game, and for the life of him this reviewer couldn’t make heads or tails of any of it. It seems that you play the aforementioned ‘Harbinger’, who’s leading an army to invade… something? And the titular Golem Gates protect that something? And somebody’s there to stop you invading that something? But it’s so confusingly explained (if it is at all) that the story can only be ignored.
The aesthetics are interesting, if nothing else. Bright neon colours permeate each map, but the actual landscape is dotted with dark indistinguishable masses, creating the sense of some cyberpunk-cum-hellish land. Troop design seems detailed and interesting too, but you can’t zoom in to the map, so it’s impossible to tell for sure that they’re not all low-res blobs.
But aesthetics don’t make a game - story does, but there’s none here, and gameplay can, but the gameplay borders on samey and repetitive. Golem Gates flew close to greatness, but ended up feeling far too similar to all the other real-time strategy games you can play on console right now.