Golem Gates: Cards, Strategy, and Shortcomings

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A few towers circling my avatar should be able to hold anything off long enough to send him somewhere safe, or at least recall my soldiers. So I thought, at least. It sounded like a solid plan. And then, there were just so many of his units. The towers melted, I melted. It was okay, though. The deck probably could be tweaked. It was the fifth level, and I had resigned to using the standard deck until it hit a problem before I looked at it. It wasn’t a bad deck, and I didn’t have too many new cards, but my playstyle seemed to rely heavy on troops, so I needed more.

Before returning to the campaign, I tried out a Trial, Mind the Gap, and the new deck won, cool. Tried a Survival map solo. Bad idea. No problem though. I wasn’t able to try an online match, no games available when I played, but I’m not counting that against the game since I was playing prior to release. I never got back to the campaign. The story was, well, ok. There wasn’t much explained. You’re alive again, you gotta fight the evil. LET’S GO!

Let’s start on a positive. Graphically, this game is pretty, compared to other strategy titles. It’s a good looking game. Even the fog of war is more than just black or grey over the map. Troops and buildings are great, spells look pretty. Audio is.. Forgettable would be a word, if only because nothing really has stuck with me the second quit the game. While not good, that means it also isn’t terrible enough to be noted. I had a frame drop in the second episode, but it didn’t occur past that, and I kept everything at high. The different kind of units were noticeable, so in theory one could identify which to target.

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In theory. For me, the biggest problem was pathfinding. Every order you give must be followed as closely as possible. This includes walking past attacking enemies, and if the enemies happen to be standing in front of your units, they will just keep trying to phase through them. They will not attack. Normally, one would solve this with an attack-move option, however.. To my knowledge, there isn’t one. I checked the keybindings, and there is an attack option with the A key, but it didn’t seem to work as an attack-move. No waypoint system, either, which led to increased unnecessary micromanagement. Don’t get me wrong, I love micromanagement, but only to a point. When attacking a unit, which all spawn as squads, the specific unit within the group you click is the target. No other enemy unit exists, which could lead to units attempting to walk around the melee, while getting hit, and dying prior to swarming the single, poor unit I wanted dead. I admire the dedication, but their desire to do only what I say is a bit much. On the other hand, units are automatically assigned to hotkeys based on spawn hierarchy, which gave a bit more ability to successfully assign individual targets, but was not enough. It was not enough to hinder the first few levels, but it becomes obvious quickly.

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So, the AI. The campaign starts off showcasing an AI that has absolutely no will or desire to live for the first several levels. While not unusual in strategy games to steamroll the first few levels, the AI felt very meager and I was just sweeping them up without much of a strategy. Spawn, group, annihilate. And then I tried level four and for a second it was a bit more of an oh man moment that quickly transitioned to spawn, swarm, annihilate. Few troops have any sort of active abilities, and most can be turned to Auto mode, and I let it do as it wanted. Then, level five happened, and the starter deck ran into its first snag. There was a very sudden increase in general AI competence, not unbeatable, but a large spike. More aggressive, better troops, larger numbers. I was too spread out, then starved of any troop cards for several long minutes before eventually having my avatar killed. Trial AI, I didn’t have much experience with. The first level was beat on the first try, but that could be due to the luck of the draw. Survival AI, well, it does what it should, it swarms.

Mechanically, the game works, but can cause artificial drag on levels at certain points. The cards are slowly pulled into your hand on a cooldown, and you gain the main resource passively, along with a slow increase to your cap. When your deck runs out, you can reshuffle it – which puts you in a fifteen second stasis, unable to issue commands, move or do much of anything. I love it for the unique idea, but hate it. I’m unable to speak about higher level gameplay, when one has all the cards unlocked and the freedom to create decks that work, but spending several minutes mid or late game doing nothing is not fun. The lack of base building sets up a strong early game and potentially enjoyable late game with a larger selection of cards, but initially there are times that feel like they’re just dragging by as you wait two minutes for one of your last cards to be a troop card, not pull a troop card, reshuffle, and continue to pull non-troop cards for another two minutes. The enemy might be killing you throughout this, or they might also not be able to do anything. A desire to see this out to the end so I can unlock all the cards is unable to contend with the un-fun of the AI and the pathfinding problems.

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I like to see games for what they are, as expressions of art, entertainment, or culture. I can overlook an issue or two if my experience is generally rewarding – when given a beautiful story or great action, I can overlook an occasional terrible line of voice acting or a bad texture. But sometimes, the mechanics themselves can get in the way of the game, and then it becomes harder to ignore. Golem Gates combined a real time strategy game with a card game, and has some great looking assets, but features, for me, fall pretty short. The pathfinding is irritating, your troops devoted to doing only what you told it to do, and the AI add up to a game that is particularly rough to get into, especially at the asking price of $30. The multiplayer may add another layer to potentially enjoy, however I was unable to find a match during my playtime.

 

Overall, I’d give Golem Gates a 6 out of 10.

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