Siegecraft: Commander (PS4) Review
From what I'm learning, Siegecraft: Commander has it's roots in the mobile RTS strategy world, and holds it's pedigree very closely. Players control either a human or lizardman race with the purpose of defeating anything that moves. This can be a computer-controlled defending army or up to three additional human opponents, either online or locally. Multiplayer matches can be real-time or turn-based, adding a bit of variety to the mix. Players advance by building their castles up and branching out the tree of support structures. Build a garrison to get the barracks which allow knights to be trained, or build a library that lets you build defensive towers around your main encampment. At it's core, the mobile pedigree shines through with the construction of new towers. You have to Angry Birds-launch your towers around the battlefield. Using the analog stick, players select a tower to be built from, yank back on the stick, aim, and fire. Each new tower is dependent on the ones before it, and need a constant lifeline to the main encampment, or you might find yourself losing half your towers if an enemy manages to get behind your main line and whittle down an earlier structure.
Personally, I have always been a fan of games like this. In college, I drove people crazy on Warcraft and Starcraft, bouncing around the map and crafting new battalions or putting a hidden second base out for falling back upon if my main encampment was taken. Also, the building and structures shown in the trailers remind me very much of the classic trackball game Rampart. I was excited for at least some semblance of similarity there. Unfortunately, this is not to be.
When "launching" a new section of your castle, a ballista arrow pops up around your launch point, showing what direction you are aiming in and at what power. There is no "landing zone" marker, though. The control is loose, yet sensitive, as a slight twitch on the analog stick would cause the arrow to spin halfway around the circle. Over or underestimate, and you have to try again, with a reset strength meter and no way to really guesstimate where you were on the last throw, because you had to re-select everything through the wheel menus again. Add in that the powerful buildings have a cooldown period whether you successfully built or not, and it becomes a waiting game, especially if you make accidents.
And accidents will be made. In the first tutorial level, it gets frustrating. Even without enemies attacking, you are to learn how to use each structure by hitting the precise rings they hope your new tower to be in. One notch out, and it's try again. I thought this might be over when I started the first real level, but came across several other issues. Can't let your wall touch water, or it's try again. Is there a hill in between the two locations? Try again. Too close to a wall? Tree? Decorative rock placement? Try again. Couple this with detailed, narrow environments and the sensitive, constantly readjusted direction and power slingshot method and you find yourself frustratingly trying again. That is, until your cooldown period keeps you from doing any defending and an enemy grunt gets past you to whack down the building four back in the chain, nuking everything you just made.
In order to give or receive damage, you must directly attack a castle node. Even though you create walls between your castle points, they do not appear to take any damage, but they can and will block ground troops: both your enemies and your own. Launched walls would kill a swath of my own troops or just simply block them off. Once I was nearly dead and scrolled over to find ten of my own knights standing in a corner because they couldn't get past a wall. I physically destroyed my own tower (killing half of them in the process) just so the other half could get through and finish off my enemy. With the wonky controls, I found myself making mini-throws with my castle pieces, making tiny towns just so I could build up some offense. Unfortunately, you can't even build "through" your own materials, so if you surround your main encampment with a library, garrison, and barracks, you can't launch another outpost, because your own stuff is in the way.
The game has a "storybook" style of tale telling for the main campaign, but by and large it turns into static shots of the same couple characters over and over throwing witty banter back and forth. Humans want to advance for progress, lizards want to protect themselves, traditional fare. It doesn't offer too memorable a storyline, so it becomes hard to recommend it to people looking for an enthralling solo campaign. It's hard to recommend for trophy hunters either, as in my play time with it I got zero, and there are only 13 trophies that look like they may more rely on luck than skill to achieve.
Who I can recommend the game to is those who can set up a good local multiplayer party. I can see Seigecraft's RTS-style of gameplay leading to some unique multiplayer matches, much like the Warcraft games of old. I am glad to see local MP as even an option, as most games these days rely on online services for multiplayer. Getting a successful kill on Seigecraft could be quite fun when you can see the angst on your opponent's face. Finding four people willing to deal with all of the above issues may be harder than completing the game by yourself, though.
Seigecraft: Commander attempts to pull a mobile series onto home consoles and PC (the PS4 edition supports cross-play with PC gamers). Unfortunately, the natural thumb swipe or mouse drag does not translate over to analog easily, and even the precision controls (moving strength to shoulder buttons and allowing you to focus on aiming) doesn't really remove the wonky control setup. The game relies too much on precision when it can't guarantee precision via practice and skill. As the game continues, it's just more of the same, and even multiplayer will find you frustrated with level geometry and unreliable physics. The game is pretty, and there is some humor to be enjoyed, but the execution leaves plenty to be desired. Hopefully, some of these issues can be rectified in patch form (such as better analog control, landing zone markers, and being able to build over your own towers), but if not, I think the sequel could have promise if they take the time to listen to fans. Fun for a diehard RTS fan, but the flaws may be too many for your average gamer.
Thanks to the developers for providing a copy for review.
Final Score: 2.25/5