Developer: Cyanide Studio
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Warhammer isn't the only tabletop wargame to receive a videogame tie-in. Cyanide Studios, the developer behind Blood Bowl (a Games Workshop spin-off) and the upcoming Game Of Thrones RPG, has acquired the rights to the obscure Confrontation miniature skirmish game, and summarily designed a small-scale fantasy RTS around the experience. Range rulers and dice give way to standard isometric troop movements and pause-able strategic combat, but can Cyanide make Confrontation feel like an epic war rather than a disconnected series of tabletop scuffles?
Our fantasy setting du jour is Aarklash, which in predictable videogame style, presents a world of destroyed beauty riven by the war to end all wars. Rag'narok, specifically. The once peaceful nations have been shattered into factions in order to survive, chief amongst them the beleaguered heroic Griffon army and the nightmarish Scorpion technomancers. Players assume the role of an omniscient commander in control of an elite squad of Griffon troops who sally forth against the Scorpion hordes, hoping to cleanse Aarklash of cyborg clones and reanimated corpses for good. An unintentionally hilarious narrator and dramatic animated cutscenes do a reasonable job of imbuing the experience with a sense of urgency from the get-go, but it's just another cookie-cutter fantasy setting that acts as a vehicle for the combat.
Combat that needs to excel, because Confrontation definitely isn't an RPG. Despite Cyanide's best efforts to deceive us with a breathtakingly disingenuous product description.
Once you've entered one of the lengthy (if linear) missions, you'll be presented with your four-strong squad of valiant Griffon operatives. Each of your quartet specialises in a single familiar role (durable tank, fragile DPS, you know the drill), and can be ordered around the isometric 3D maps with traditional RTS controls. Characters can be selected individually or in groups, and moved to locations or attack targets with a simple selection of clicks. Once your foe is in sight, you'll drop the hammer as your troops close to engagement range with whatever weapon they have equipped. Shouting some po-faced nonsense about "the light" and "victory" while doing so, naturally.
This somewhat straightforward setup has been bolstered with some intriguing and pleasingly tactical mechanics. To start with, many of the encounters will allow you to size up the enemy force before engaging, which gives patient commanders the chance to work out which technologically-enhanced abominations, Orcs or Wolfmen to prioritise. Approach planned, you'll be able to queue up a number of class skills and special attacks. The flimsy Pyromancer, for example, can stun or temporarily cripple key combatants such as spellcasters and melee powerhouses to give your melee fighters time to mop up the vanguard, using either close combat or selectable ranged weaponry. You can pause the real-time action with an effortless jab of the space bar, using the respite to size up the ever-changing situation and assign different skills or targets to your troops mid-battle.
It's a deep, exciting and rewarding strategic core that should have come into its own after the first couple of levels.
But this foundation is never built upon, it never really goes anywhere. The vast majority of Confrontation's maps are just linear collections of self-contained skirmishes, with little in the way of exploration or multiple entry points to consider. Weak pathfinding, regularly repeated enemies and the pathetic range of the Pyromancer (who should have been a devastating long-range option to deploy from lofty vantage points) turn what could have been satisfyingly cerebral experience into a bland, stodgy crawl. I'm sorry to report that our initial concerns were right on the money: Confrontation never manages to feel like an epic war, just a set of inconsequentially minor, very similar battles strung together over the course of a few hours.
Confrontation's concessions to role-playing mechanics are brusque to the extreme, occupying an odd middle ground. Character motivations and backstories are never explored, and they never become more than simple tools in your arsenal. There are no towns to explore, NPCs to interact with or meaningful storyline choices to advance. However, your team does gain conventional experience and levels through killing foes and completing objectives, resulting in a few small dollops of attribute points to spread amongst some traditional character traits. Being that each soldier focuses on a single combat role, giving us the choice of how to spec their unbalanced stats is fairly pointless. Luckily, the weapon upgrade system is infinitely more interesting, providing a binary choice between improving base damage or adding buffs/modifiers to key characters. This streamlined approach is fine - since Confrontation is based on a tabletop miniature wargame rather than a pen & paper RP experience - but I can't help but wish that character customisation had been either massively fleshed out or canned entirely. Many players will be disappointed by the lack of an inventory system and other RPG staples, and it's a shame since the core experience doesn't really need them.
Confrontation isn't actually an RPG, but it should never have been billed as one in the first place. Be sure to understand this going in.
Confrontation is a student of the old-school, then, resembling the combat portion of Infinity Engine titles divorced from the deep roleplaying, exploration and sidequesting. So, a little like Icewind Dale in several respects. But whereas Black Isle's underrated classic featured dynamic encounters that could be approached with any selection of heroes, Confrontation's four-character focus doesn't grant the flexibility and replayability of its venerable forebears. As mentioned, I personally feel that majority of the levels are too restrictive and linear in design, never really giving players the opportunity to plan grand strategic encounters around superior battlefield placement; instead relying far too often on choke points and short-range scuffles that rarely offer any meaningful tactical freedom. Players will soon fall into repetitive habits and rely on particular skills and formations to push through the majority of similar, repetitive battles.
Multiplayer manages to be more compelling, especially since it taps into the original tabletop wargame for its inspiration. You'll take part in some 4v4 skirmishes against other players, with the ability to choose your squad and decorate your miniatures using a supplied army painting suite. Sadly, interminable loading times between matches (sometimes upwards of five minutes, and corroborated on other rigs/internet connections) scupper the simple joys of locking horns with another collector - it would be quicker to just buy some miniatures and play an original game of Confrontation. Hell, you could usefully spend the loading times painting them.
Graphics are somewhat middling. Since you'll spend a lot of your time zoomed out to the camera's maximum extent, it's easy (and preferable) to ignore the horrible character models and primitive animations for a while, instead focusing on the pleasingly varied colour palette and biomechanical enemy design. As with the multiplayer, though, the loading times are absolutely shocking - oddly so for such an unambitious engine.
Worse, for a game designed around combat, Confrontation's battles simply aren't exciting to behold. Characters and enemies stand still, grimly facing each other, duly repeating their attack animations until one of them keels over. Weapon blows lack weight and don't make a visible impact when they connect. It's a shame that Cyanide didn't take more effort to ensure that the battling felt as epic as Confrontation's hammy narrator would have us believe.
- Functional isometric core combat
- Enjoyable pause-able action and forward planning element
- Pleasing selection of special abilities and skills
- Homogeneous, uninspiring, small-scale linear encounters
- No meaningful roleplaying elements, misleading product description
- Disastrous loading times, both for singleplayer and multiplayer
- Humdrum combat animations, poor pathfinding, weak and derivative visuals overall
The Short Version: Confrontation is a functional and thoroughly unambitious translation of an obscure tabletop wargame that could have been so much more if the strong core gameplay was fleshed out with a worthy campaign. Fans of the miniatures will ask "why now?" whereas newcomers will wonder "why bother?" Damningly, for thirty quid, these are questions we can't satisfactorily answer.