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Skyward Collapse lets you play god on both sides


This is a Snapshot, a quick, un-scored review of a game we think you should know about.

I can never play Skyward Collapse again. It's not that it's a bad game, it's just that I work from home. Frankly, having it – and the accompanying temptation – within arm's reach would be detrimental to my productivity.

I meant to play for an hour or so. Just to try it and find out if it was worth writing about. Unbeknownst to me, hours flew by as I built my two tiny factions of Greeks and Norse. You see, Skyward Collapse isn't about raising one faction to prominence, it's about keeping them all in balance. If either group annihilates the other completely, you lose.

Unfortunately, the people of Skyward Collapse possess free will, which makes my job as Creator a difficult one.

Gallery: Skyward Collapse | 14 Photos

Skyward Collapse plays somewhere between turn-based strategy and a traditional god game. As a child, I used to spend hours watching my brother play the Genesis version of Populous but, apart from that, I don't have too much experience with god games. The basics seem to be there though. As the Creator, you preside over a small world composed of square tiles. Some of these occur naturally – mountains, fields, forests, lakes – while you will have to build others yourself.

These include all of the many structures that your people will need to thrive and, ultimately, kill each other. Things start out simply with a few soldiers here and there. Eventually, each side will have sprawling military machines, filled with siege units, mythological creatures and even gods.

You may recall that the premise of Skyward Collapse is to keep both factions alive. So why let them kill each other? This is where the strategy bit comes in. While you can't let either faction obliterate the other, you still have to reach a certain score by the end of the game. As in any other strategy game, the easiest way to increase your score is to destroy military units and raze buildings.

The tricky part in all of this comes back to free will. You can set up each faction with everything they need to manufacture a military – buildings automatically produce units so long as you have the resources – but you can't do anything to directly control them. Each unit will choose its own target, and that won't necessarily be the one you prefer.

There are plenty of things you can do to influence the battle though. Is the Greek military dominating the poor vikings? Drop a frost giant right in the middle of their ranks. Is said frost giant now decimating the Greeks? Drop some Adamantine near a Greek barracks – the first human to walk over it gets a staggering 100x bonus to its health and attack, more than enough to handle a pesky giant. Of course, the downside is that now you have a raging soldier with tens of thousands of hit points that can one-shot just about anything.

Skyward Collapse escalates this way as you continually resort to drastic measures to undo imbalances between the factions. Then you take an even more drastic measure to undo the drastic measure you just took. Before long, the battlefield is littered with soldiers, trolls, bandits, Pandora's boxes and maybe a few invulnerable minotaurs, and every turn is a struggle to make sure that each faction maintains at least a tiny bit of cohesion. The rub, of course, is that the most devastating actions, the ones that create the largest imbalances, are worth the most points.

Take Thor's hammer, Mjolnir, for instance. When activated, it's worth over 20,000 points, but it also completely destroys the nearest enemy town. It could utterly wreck your game, but when you only have a few more turns to crank out a score of 96,000, it's awfully tempting.

Skyward Collapse is more complex than I've made it sound. There are numerous resources that have to be accumulated. As a Creator, you can literally move mountains to keep factions at bay. I haven't even touched on "woes," terrible events that occur after a set number of turns. (Reduce every single unit's health to 1? Why not?). Despite this complexity, the game is always presented in a friendly, understandable way. Every building, unit or token clearly displays what resources and prerequisites are needed to manufacture it. You don't have to sift through menus or tech trees – just highlight something and everything is right there in a handy tooltip.

That accessibility, combined with the game's addictive qualities, ensure that I can never boot up Skyward Collapse ever again. I sunk seven hours into it over the course of two days, and I just don't have that kind of time. If you do have the time, and you're looking for a different sort of strategy game – one where the world becoming a chaotic, smoking ruin means you're winning – definitely give Skyward Collapse a try. It's available now on Mac or PC (via Steam) for $5.

This review is based on a Steam download of Skyward Collapse, provided by Arcen Games.

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