I still recall a conversation I had with a friend from a couple of weeks ago.
“Hey man, are you going to review Atlas Reactor?” he queried.
“Huh? Atlas what?” I replied.
“Atlas Reactor. It’s a new MOBA that is coming out.”
“MOBA? You know I don’t do MOBAs,” I snorted.
“No…it’s a turn-based MOBA, and it’s really unique. You should look it up!”
After our chat, it didn’t take long for my curiosity to get the best of me. How could someone take a genre that I loved so much, turn-based games, and combine it with one that I abhorred, MOBA? What sort of sick, Frankensteinian perversion was this? How could this travesty have been allowed to happen? That was it! Perhaps, through further investigation, I could find those responsible for such reprehensible actions and…
Well, fast-forward to a few days ago. After actually checking Atlas Reactor out, all of my blustering and blathering was silenced. Someone (in this case indie developers Trion Worlds) had pulled it off—they’d fused the frenetic pacing of a MOBA (a genre which admittedly contain some aspects of teamwork) with the built-in strategy and forced noodle-utilization of a turn-based game. Not only that, but they combined only the best aspects of both, while eschewing the shortcomings of either.
First off, I must state that Atlas Reactor suffers from the same lack of marketing prowess that many indie games do, which is why I hadn’t even heard of it until my gaming friend regaled me of its magnificence, and placed it firmly onto my radar. And that’s not the developers fault—indie devs just don’t have the marketing capital and business connections that larger ones do. Which is why it’s a pleasure for me to write these reviews for indie devs, since they need all the help they can get—IF they’re good that is.
Atlas Reactor opens with a handy tutorial which teaches you the basics. These include how to attack, how to move—you know, all of the essential game mechanics, while also giving you a brief glimpse at a few of the main character’s special attacks. I must admit that after finishing the tutorial, I was still having problems wrapping my head around the game’s genuinely unique concept and mechanics. So, I jumped into a game vs. the AI.
Since Atlas Reactor’s multiplayer is a four vs. four affair, I chose my character and threw myself to the wolves. After making a few missteps here and there, the game opened up to me and I was better able to grasp its elusive gameplay rhythm. The concepts that abound in Atlas Reactor are not new, at least in and of themselves, but combined, they form a brand new genre defining creation.
So just how can you speed up a turn-based strategy game? Well, Trion Worlds made the ingenious move to limit the amount of time that each of the eight players has to resolve their turns. That’s right, everyone’s attacks, movements, special abilities, and so on, must be decided upon within twenty seconds. This really encourages teamwork and collective strategizing since the team that is communicating with mics will undoubtedly have the upper hand. It can be a mad scramble to go over who is going to do what within that short of a time span, and really ratchets up the tension and lends an immediacy to the frenetic proceedings.
When a team of four players are really working in sync, Atlas Reactor can be a real blast to play. I’ve never played a game where I had to coordinate with my three fellow teammates, and we had to collectively decide who was going to attack who, defend against what, and where we’d all be moving to, all within twenty seconds. On top of that, we have to decide if we could utilize any force multipliers, such as doubling up attacks or de-buffing a foe and then trying to finish them off with a super attack. The wide array of characters, along with their individual assortment of special abilities, means that the strategic possibilities are both far-ranging and fun to figure out. Matches are won by whichever team achieves five kills, or accumulates the most amount of kills within twenty minutes, keeping the matches relatively compact.
Each turn in Atlas Reactor is divided between preparation, execution, and resolution stages. It must be noted, however, that movement occurs after all attacks do. Conflicts can be broken down into four primary phases. Green is for abilities such as laying traps or buffing teammates, yellow is for dash attacks (effectively dodging), red is for your standard attacks, and finally grey is where everyone moves to their designated place.
At its best, Atlas Reactor can be a constant state of guessing and second guessing enemy movements and assaults, all the while forcing you to engage in double-blind decision making that can make or break it for you and your teammates. At its worst, it can devolve into utter chaos and confusion, as an uncoordinated team will sort of individually split off and do their own thing. The later only happened when I played with other players who didn’t have mics.
Atlas Reactor certainly has an interesting style. From the pulsating techno music to the garishly colored combatants, it seriously reminds me of Overwatch. Large, heavily armed and armored tanks lumber around cutesy, anime-influenced female characters. Some of the pixy-like females really look out of place with the more masculine, combat-ready characters, but since everything is so politically correct these days, some feel the need to have to force the little ladies in there somehow, even if it doesn’t make much sense.
In Atlas Reactor, you’ve find a game with breezy, whimsical sensibilities which belies it deep strategic gameplay. It oozes style but also offers up a lot of fast-paced, tactical fun that is best actualized when playing with a group of friends. Although it is composed of a few tried and true genre conventions that already exist, Atlas Reactor marches to its own drum—a gestaltic tour de force that could possibly turn out to be a dark horse contender for turn-based game of the year.
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