It's always interesting to see a table-top epic adapted into another form of media, particularly of the video game kind. Just take a gander at Dungeons & Dragons, Dragon Age, and even Warhammer 40,000. Cyanide Studio have picked up the now administrated Rackham Entertainment's Confrontation, a miniature war-game set against the dark fantasy world of Aarklash.
Like most table-top games, Confrontation is set in a dark fantasy world with a very rich lore. The world of Aarklash has been ravaged by the great war Rag'narok, split between two main factions: The Griffin and The Scorpion. There are two other factions that join in the conflict as well: the orcs who wave the banner of The Jackal, and the wolfen that fly the flag of The Wolf. You play as a group of elite Griffin Templars who have been charged with sneaking behind enemy lines to investigate The Scorpion's plans and what exactly their twisted alchemical minds have devised.
This is great storytelling. There is a lot of lore, a lot of backstory and it's just a huge juicy piece of meat to sink your teeth into. This is also one of the shortcomings of Confrontation. Unless you're already familiar with the world of Aarklash, it's going to be really hard to invest any significant amount of time into the game's story as it can easily come across as intimidating.
The game has been designed where story progresses along with each level you complete. Each mission is separated with narrated briefings and cutscenes, which serve as a nice break from the methodical role-playing. Unfortunately, the loading times between each level are excruciatingly long. It's no joke that you can make a sandwich and comeback in time to play the next level.
The gameplay itself isn't all that remarkable or ground-breaking, but I personally found it to be quite addicting. The pause-and-play mechanic lends itself well to the strategy involved with planning your attacks and actions. You'll be looking down on the action from a bird's eye isometric view, and you can control the camera a la Warcraft or League of Legends, with the added feature of camera rotation.
Positioning and timing plays an important role in combat. Some enemies will always attack the first person they see, so putting Darius at the front lines is always a good move. You have your standard auto-attack, plus skills and abilities unique to each of your four characters; each of whom fulfills a specific class role, be it tank, DPS, range or support. The game can be played in real-time, by clicking on the respective character and selecting or queuing up the desired actions, or the action can be paused, giving you more time to plan to out your battle strategy.
The AI aren't stupid either, while some tend to charge the first character they see, they'll at times switch their attention to the squishiest of the group: Zelia, and she just so happens to have most of the crowd control abilities. Despite this, the gameplay remains slow and very methodical, which may not appeal to a lot of gamers, but then again this game is targeted at a very specific audience.
In battle, you can anticipate what the enemy is going to do next by the respective colour representations. Red signifies high damage abilities, while green signifies healing, yellow for buff, blue for anti-magic and so on and so forth. When all's said and done, the active pause-and-play, class roles, and user interface system work together to create quite a tactical experience.That said, the user interface feels large and clunky. It takes up a lot of on-screen real estate, sometimes blocking the action. Not to mention the camera feels sluggish and unresponsive. To top it off, friendly AI aren't the brightest of the bunch. At times, you'll want to move a character to a certain spot, but he's stuck because another character's in the way or there's just some environmental obstacle. Rather than find another way around, he or she will run on the spot. It sort of kills the enjoyment of the combat when that happens, especially since positioning and timing can be the difference between victory and defeat.
The skill progression system is pretty simple, if a little uninspired. Attribute points, weapon points, ability points and the likes are earned as you level up and progress through the game. They are self-explanatory: attribute points allow you to level up a character's attributes, weapon points upgrade your weapon proficiency, and ability points upgrade your abilities. What is interesting is that weapon points are shared across your entire team, making it a very rare commodity. These points are generally spent in tiered trees, where picking one option over the other in a single tier will forfeit the latter. So make your choice carefully.
Confrontation isn't the most visually appealing game. In fact, the graphics look very dated, which makes me question why it's such a process-intensive experience, even on mid to high-range computers. There aren't a lot of effects or units on-screen at the same time. Bottom line, it just feels old, like a game out of the 90s. The illustrations seen in cutscenes, on the other hand, are gorgeous and dark, which is quite fitting of Aarklash. The audio design isn't remarkable. It gets the job done, but a lot of the soundtrack and voice work, save for the epic narration, feels like white noise.
What's cool is the Army Painter. In lieu of actually painting war-game miniatures, Cyanide have included a digital custom painter that lets you customize the colours of your ranks. It doesn't really do much to add to the overall experience, but it's a nice nod to the game's roots.
All in all, Confrontation is a fun experience rich in lore and deep in tactical gameplay. It is, unfortunately, taken down a step or two by its sluggish camera, buggy controls, and very dated presentation. If you're a role-playing fan and can look past these issues, you'll find a game that is quite rewarding. Otherwise, you might want to look elsewhere.
|Rich and intriguing lore.|
|Deep, tactical pause-and-play combat.|
|Army Painter is a pretty awesome feature.|
|Sluggish camera controls.|
|Process-intensive despite aged look.|
|Uninspired skill progression system.|