Developer: Cyanide Studio
Tabletop war games can segue nicely into strategic videogames. Relic Entertainment succeeded in sensational style with the Dawn Of War series, converting the beloved Warhammer 40,000 franchise into an epic RTS and a more intimate, character-driven experience. However, Games Workshop aren't the only player on the field, and Cyanide Studio aim to accomplish the same feat with the lesser-known miniature skirmish game Confrontation. From the two levels I was able to play, they certainly have the basics down.
Rag'Narok has come to the world of Aarklash. In fine wargaming tradition, a once peaceful and generic fantasy world has been riven into factions by the war to end all wars, with the beleagured and righteous Griffon army under siege by an league of mechanical horrors. The Scorpion faction has unleashed a horde of nightmarish creatures onto the battlefield, clones and corpses twisted into a steampunk assault force by the Technomancers' dark arts. As an omniscent Griffon commander, players will lead small squads of elite soldiers against the Scorpion threat in pleasingly strategic skirmishes buoyed up by some slick RPG elements.
At first glance, the Confrontation experience is familiar isometric RTS fare. You command your small fantasy killteam from an overhead perspective on a rotatable 3D map, selecting them with clicks or drag boxes and then moving them with a simple right click. Soldiers fulfil traditional roles - tanks, DPSs, mages and healers - with handy icons reminding players of how best to wield them. It's highly reminiscent of Dungeon Siege or the PC version of Dragon Age: Origins in this regard, but the tabletop strategy pedigree becomes apparent as soon as battle is joined.
Forward planning will be a core part of the experience. The maps are covered with a greyscale fog of war that pares back to reveal enemy locations when you secure lofty vantage points, allowing players to size up their foes and decide how best to deal with them ahead of time. Powerful melee combatants such as hulking techno-magical clones are surrounded by a red aura, denoting their prowess in close combat and suggesting that a ranged approach might be the way forward. Characters boast multiple weapons suited to different scenarios (for example, the skirmisher can dish out close quarters damage with a pair of swords or pepper foes with pistol fire), and choosing the right tactic for each situation will pay dividends.
Once engaged, combat plays out much like any standard RTS. Right clicking on an enemy causes your selected character to attack with the weapons they have equipped, but rushing in headlong will usually result in catastrophic humiliation when facing a mix of brawlers, archers and spellslingers. Instead, canny use of each unit's special skills is the key to success. Hitting the space bar instantly pauses the real-time action and will let you queue up several actions for each soldier, including powerful melee strikes for tanks, myriad buffs and a nifty stun strike provided by the fire mage. It's a powerful, tried-and-tested mechanic that allows players to instantly respond to any situation, shifting tactics dynamically as the combat unfolds. Intuitive keyboard shortcuts make the process as convenient as possible.
In terms of a direct comparison, Confrontation reminds me most of Icewind Dale (Black Isle's lesser-known Forgotten Realms Infinity Engine title): intense skirmishes against mixed groups of foes that often feels like a selection of cerebral puzzles. Working out which enemies to tie up in melee combat, who to debilitate quickly and how best to split your small force is a satisfyingly tactical experience, and we hope that Confrontation will offer some larger scale battles on top of the smaller scuffles.
The RPG side of things appears to be a little on the light side. Your units share experience gained from killing foes and completing quests, which eventually provide attribute points to spend on strength, dexterity, magic power and other traditional stats. It's basic and functional stuff. More interesting, however, are upgradeable weapons and armour facilitated by limited resources scavenged from the battlefield. Each character's armaments can be enhanced through a binary skill tree that provides a trade-off between simple damage boosts and more esoteric effects. For example, will you opt to massively increase your tank's damage output or accept a more modest boost that affects all nearby allies? Players will want to tailor their units to compliment their own gameplay style, and this system should hopefully provide the customisation options we crave.
In keeping with the series' tabletop roots, Confrontation features an "army painter" suite that lets wannabe miniature designers decorate their forces with a range of coloured dyes. It's sure to delight franchise fans, though I daresay that new players will likely ignore the feature.
Confrontation is set for an April PC release, and there's still work to be done. Hopefully the finished article will feel a full-scale war rather than a linear selection of disconnected disparate set pieces, and we can't deny that graphics and voice acting could use some more work. Either way, we're looking forward to seeing how it turns out, and discovering whether the niche tabletop strategy genre has a new contender.