Meridian: New World Review
Reviewed on PC
It is incredible how tiny details can betray the overall sentiment of a game. On the first attempt at loading Meridian: New World we were met with a crash report suggesting that the sound drivers were using advanced effects that caused the problem. Frustrating, but at least easily fixed. On the second attempt the single-player campaign booted up, and after a neat introductory video and completion of the tutorial mission we hit the button to return to the main menu, falsely assuming that the game was saved given that there was no warning. Upon returning to the game and hitting the campaign button, it restarted from the beginning. Again frustrating, but there is at least the option to load an autosave from halfway through the tutorial in a separate section of the menu. Tiny details. Yet every single one, from battling with errant AI to lacking familiar navigational shortcuts adds up to a messy whole, completely hindering the game’s potential.
Perhaps some of these mistakes are understandable. Meridian: New World is an almost completely solo effort by developer Ede Tarsoly to recreate and update the classic Real Time Strategy games of the nineties: Warcraft, Command & Conquer, Total Annihilation and the many others that span across the currently out of fashion genre. All games that were made by large teams with bigger budgets. It is a testament to the talent of this developer that such a game can not only be created by just one man, but look far more impressive than the games he is trying to reimagine.
It starts off well enough, the tutorial missions displaying the stunningly beautiful graphics that it seems impossible for one man to create, and neatly setting the scene of a mysterious army that seems to be threatening the colonisation of this New World that humans must evacuate to, as Earth is dying. Between missions players can roam the ship as the captain Daniel Hanson, interacting with the ship’s data stores as well as the small roster of crew members. They’re generally linear conversations but, perhaps due to the novelty of having to stroll around the ship and clicking on people to interact, the player quickly forms bonds as one might expect from an RPG, rather than the traditionally weak storytelling of the RTS genre. As an intriguing plot of treason and treachery develops, it is hard not to feel directly involved and this story really drives you to push on with the missions to reach its conclusion.
It’s a shame then that these missions serve only to frustrate. It is brimming with nostalgia, with units vocally acknowledging commands with every click, just as they used to in Red Alert but when it comes to actually controlling these machines everything falls flat. This is disturbingly highlighted early on in an attempted stealth mission, where the player must guide a unit around the map avoiding the field of vision of the enemy. Far too often clicks will send units off on completely illogical paths and, in the case of this stealth mission, immediate failure. Part of the problem stems from the environment, which is admittedly beautiful, but does not fully convey whether or not any terrain is passable. Meanwhile units left to their own devices will often charge out at any enemy that comes in view, beyond the range of your own defences, and be quickly slaughtered if you are not paying close attention. Often the battle in Meridian: New World is with your own units, rather than with the enemy.
The enemy AI fares little better, sending constant drips of troops to your gates instead of building up a viable invasion force. They would barely be a threat if it were not for your own troops charging out of the base to tackle the invasion in front of your towers, or the rather bizarre decision to not allow the repair of any buildings, meaning defences simply have to be replaced at full cost to be fixed. With limited amounts of supply, which can eventually be mined dry, it seems like a rather cheap tactic to artificially increase the difficulty of the game instead of implementing a more cunning enemy intelligence.
There are a number of elements within Meridian: New World that make it stand out from other RTSs, but none of them serve to improve the gameplay particularly. As the missions progress your commander receives experience and gains levels, which unlock certain skills (ranging from healing units to increasing their attack power) that can be used anywhere on the battlefield. Each use of a skill drains a slowly recharging pool so cannot be abused, and this certainly adds some unique pacing to events, intensifying each battle with well timed usage, but they also seemed to be balanced in such a way that are ripe to be abused against the foolish enemy AI. The healing skill in particular ensures that the main single target that the enemy is targeting can instantly be fixed, thus negating all damage done and swinging battles in your favour too often. Fights too often come down to timing a heal spell correctly rather than any form of strategy.
Perhaps more interesting is the construction design which sees units crafted from a combination of chassis and gun turrets, meaning that any researched weapon can be built on any unit type resulting in a almost a hundred variations from only a handful of chassis. Since different weapon types do damage across a broad spectrum it is encouraged to build a wide variety to deal with any threat the enemy might possess. Overall it reminds us of that vastly underrated RTS Warzone 2100 but sadly Meridian: New World fails to grasp either the strategic or aesthetic depth that could be achieved with this form of unit construction. Perhaps the greatest problem here is logistical, which sounds rather cumbersome yet as your units march into battle, and you attempt to target units based on the effectiveness of your weapons, everything becomes incredibly messy. One could set control groups for each weapon type, but since there is no way to select the same weapon type across a variety of chassis (a double click selecting all units of the same chassis but disregards the turret type), it’s an incredibly laborious process creating these groups, which will then ultimately be destroyed in combat.
Making matters worse is the fact that units look identical on the screen no matter which weapon they are wielding, this makes battlefields incredibly confusing until bullets start flying. It could be an interesting design decision to deliberately hide which weapons the enemy possesses until a firefight begins but since clicking on an enemy unit reveals its weapon type it all seems needlessly obfuscated rather than intelligent. After several hours of struggling to battle with the frustrating logistics of ordering similar units, combined with the infuriating artificial intelligence, the most sensible, and disappointingly all too effective, solution was to build the same weapon turrets on each chassis. The fact that disregarding this element, and that doing so works all too well, highlights just how flawed the unit design seems to be.
If everything has sounded rather bleak up to this point then things sadly only continue to go downhill from here onwards. Feature wise Meridian: New World is desperately lacking all but the basics one would expect from an RTS, and some might argue it fails to achieve even that. There is only one single army type, human, which means you will always be facing the same units as your own and, if one ignores the weapon variation that has already been discussed, there are disappointingly few unit types overall. Beyond the campaign, players can play skirmishes against the computer on a small list of maps, but this only highlights the final glaring omission, especially for a game of this genre. There is no multiplayer. Without multiplayer the longevity of the Meridian: New World is severely limited: there are only so many times one can play the campaign or a skirmish (particularly against the predictable AI).
Meridian: New World feels like a game that has fallen out of early access far too early. The missing features, infuriating bugs, the terrible AI, the poorly functioning systems, all adds to an unfinished game. Tiny details may betray the overall resulting game very early on, but sadly there is nothing here to restore any faith in the game after several hours of playing. Only the rather charming story of betrayal and sacrifice kept us pushing on through the dirge of disappointing missions. It is perhaps a game that is simply not worth playing at this point, and this is hard to write because it is clear that the developer, with the game’s beautiful aesthetics, has really sunk his soul into the project. Given time to add patches and updates perhaps all this could change, but sadly it seems one man may not be able to pull off what much larger teams have done before him.