On the hunt for something to play last week, I stumbled across Arcen Games‘ Skyward Collapse through the magic of Twitter. From what I could garner, Skyward Collapse would put me in the celestial shoes of The Creator, an Ultragod-esque god of gods tasked with preserving balance in the world of Luminith. Which, given that that place is populated with a whole bunch of gods, monsters and annoyingly free-willed humans, will probably turn out to be tricky. You can see why I had to try.
(Spoiler levels: Narrative, largely nonexistent. Mechanical, significant, but you just might thank me for it.)
I can’t be entirely sure, but it really sounds like Skyward Collapse’s menu theme starts off with some guy chanting ‘defeat’. Here, listen to it on Steam. That’s not just me, right?
Also worth noticing is the floating island front and center on the menu screen. Turns out the world of Luminith is made of floating hunks of land. Who knew?
My usual detour through the game options is derailed a tad when one of the first options in the first options tab reads ‘View Nick Trujillo’s Comic’. Clicking it reveals an interesting (if poorly scrollable) comic that’s basically The Creator’s diary in comic form. I was going to say something about resisting the urge to post all seven or so screenshots I have of it here, but then I found out the whole thing is available online. So here you go, I guess.
Incentivized by the prospect of lording over man and god both, I decide to bypass the usual options rigmarole — also, there aren’t really any interesting ones — and start a new game. Turns out Skyward Collapse has, like, seven difficulty levels… but one of them is literally called ‘tutorial’. So guess which one I’m going with?
I sit through the introductionary comic again, because apparently Arcen Games really wants me to see it — can’t blame them, to be honest — and before long, I find myself in…
…the world of Luminith.
Well, that’s… sparse. Next to the red, longhouse-like city of Thule and the blue, Greco-Roman marble city of Donoda, — both of which seem to be teetering on the brink of an endless abyss like they’re competing to host the next X-games — I see some grass, some trees, a few mountains and a whole lot of sky. I’m lording over this place, then? Where are the gods and minotaurs I was promised?
Skyward Collapse’s tutorial is of the guided hands-on variety, which means that it tells me to do stuff a lot. Right now, it’s telling me that I’m in “a brief setup round, during which everything [I] place will be free of charge”. I… don’t know what this means? The information panels at the top and at the right of the screen aren’t really helping, either.
Apparently, right now, I’m controlling the red Norse faction. I have nine actions, which I can use to place a bunch of buildings in the city limits of Thule.
The tutorial tells me to place a barracks somewhere. So I do.
The tutorial tells me to place a pig farm somewhere. So I do.
The tutorial tells me to place a butcher somewhere. So I do.
An iron mine and a smithy quickly follow suit.
In the prompts surrounding my placing buildings, Skyward Collapse somewhat-clumsily attempts to feed me information. As far as I’ve understood it, the deal is something like this:
I can place buildings in cities. Some buildings, like the pig farm, produce raw materials, which are added to my global stockpile. A pile of pigs, if you will. Other buildings, like the butcher, use those raw materials to produce advanced materials. But those advanced materials are bound to the town the butcher is located in… except when they’re not? It has something to do with the barracks, which takes certain amounts of certain goods to automatically produce certain troops at certain intervals. But I can’t directly control how or what or why, I think?
Rather than explaining all this interplay in more detail, Skyward Collapse moves on to introducing mythological creatures. For example, this Light Elf! Given the correct resources, I can directly place these creatures on the battlefield. I’m not sure why I would do this, since the game itself warns that ‘doing this this early could severely upset the balance’, but hey. I’m Ultragod, I don’t have time for your rules.
After the red team’s actions are spent, and before I can ask ‘wait, so how is buffing up the Norse side balance‘, I end my turn and immediately switch over to the blue team. Here, the tutorial loosens the reigns a bit, giving me complete freedom to use the Greeks’ nine actions as I see fit. Poor Greeks.
I provide the Greeks with much the same buildings as the Norse. Upon closer inspection, the barracks makes a little more sense: there are three unit types that can be created, but whichever unit is actually created depends on the buildings I place in the supporting town. I set it up so that the Greeks get access to some cavalry dude, because cavalry dude looks neat and I can’t immediately tell what the differences between the different soldiers are anyway. I also give the Greeks a chimera, because chimeras are awesome.
‘Alright!’ says Skyward Collapse, ‘You did the setup! Now press the End Turn button again and prepare for your first taste of actual combat!’.
I do so.
Okay… a Norse soldier fell out of the sky and onto the barracks, but nothing else actually happened. Now I’m the Norse again, with only three actions. What gives?
I End Turn twice more. The first just takes me to Team Greek, but after the second, stuff actually starts happening! So ‘turns’ in Skyward Collapse consist of taking a Norse move, then taking a Greek move, then watching fireworks. And more some reason the setup phase doesn’t count, even though the game intimated it would. Whatever, I’ll roll with it, yo.
The Light Elf moves forward a few squares and fires a few bursts of sparkly energy at a Greek building in the distance, reducing it and the square it’s on to blacked-out rubble. The Chimera moves forward a few squares and murders the Light Elf in a single volley.
‘Alright’, goes the tutorial, ‘now survive until turn 6!’ I… survive? Yes, survive: since my goal is to maintain balance, I have to prevent both sides from wiping each other out completely. Why I even built barracks and mythological monsters in the first place is a mystery, but I guess Ultragod’s ways are inscrutable even to himself.
Regardless, the first few turns fly by. I place buildings here and there in a vain attempt to figure out what’s what, only to find that resource costs are much more pressing in post-setup land. The chimera is taken down by a Norse berserker, who himself quickly falls to a Greek cavalry-dude-whose-name-I-forgot. Prodomos. Prodomos dude rides up to Thule and starts smacking things up, only to run into another berserker. That I upgraded, just now, because it turns out I have that power.
And all the while, every turn, squares of land fly up to expand the continent. A mountain here, a lake there. I think I saw that power for myself somewhere, too, but I can’t be bothered to figure that out.
Because once I hit turn 10, the suddenly-appearing bandits help me understand why pacifism is not the way of the day.
Alright, these bandits are partially my own fault. See, I noticed while playing around with the Greek stuff that I can place collectible unit upgrades. Stuff like ‘Nemean Lion: the first five units to pick this up gain 3x attack and immunity from bandit attacks’. One in particular drew my eye: ‘Adamantite: grants 100x attack and health to the unit that picks this up, but doing so causes ten angry bandits to spawn at the end of the turn’.
Amusingly, the bandits aren’t really the issue: the existing soldiers and the newly-minted Greek Wolverine make short work of them. What is an issue is that… I guess I don’t know what I was thinking when I read ’100x attack and health’. Maybe I figured that was a typo? But no, it works as written: the Greek soldier who grabbed the upgrade is now basically an unstoppable murdering machine.
Panicked, I start building ancillary towns. I also use a Greek item that spawns a whole bunch of minotaurs on either side of the conflict, reasoning that they can fight each other and Captain Greece for a while.
It doesn’t really work out that way.
This barely-controlled chaos goes on for a while. Buildings get wrecked, monsters get spawned, and armies live and die on a turn’s notice. The indestructible Greek super-soldier wreaks havoc in the Norse camp, while the surviving Norse soldiers and minotaurs seem preoccupied with burning the Greek cities instead of saving their own. I rapidly learn more about which buildings do what, and about which terrain types block what access, though that’s less thanks to the tutorial and more just sheer necessity.
Thirty turns in, the tutorial shows no signs of slowing down. The opposite, in fact: after expressing surprise over the fact that I am still alive…
…I’m introduced to Gods and score. Not necessarily in that order.
Turns out most combat-related activities have a point value attached to it. Dudes getting killed, buildings getting destroyed… Each set of thirty turns, or ‘age’, has a score quota attached, and failing to hit that quota is as much a game over as getting one faction wiped out.
Fighting, destroying and killing scores points, but you know what else does? Gods! In this new age, the Age of Monsters, each faction has received a Lesser God: the Norse now worship Heimdall, while the Greeks get Pan. Gods are incredibly powerful, but they don’t really do much on their own; they can, however, be bossed around with ‘god tokens’, which draw them to a location — possible fighting whoever’s in their way — and have an extra effect, too. For instance, Pan’s Flute distracts soldiers and reduces their sight ranges, Pan’s Goat makes it rain resources from the sky, and Heimdall’s Gjallarhorn heralds the coming of Ragnarok and kills all non-God units on the map.
Suddenly, a cunning plan forms. Among my Ultragod powers, which I haven’t really mentioned yet but which are totally real, is the ability to ‘mark’ one faction’s God as a prime target for the other. This causes that faction’s units to basically drop what they were doing and attack the marked deity. Sounds like suicide, right? That’s what I’m banking on: the (by now) fully upgraded, kitted-out-with-adamantium-and-other-stat-boosts Xyphos — Greek for ‘Wolverine’ — is way close to the Norse Heimdall. I figure I’ll have him attack Heimdall and die, and that should restore the (currently skewed) balance a tad.
Crikey. Forty turns in, two towns burnt to cinders, two out-of-control armies hell-bent on destruction, and an actual lesser God slain not ten turns after he first appeared. And there’s also something called Woes now. And this is turn forty of ninety. Will I hold out, folks?
Can I hold out?
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