It’s common wisdom in our industry that RTS controls are necessarily complex. Unlike action games, managing troops across a vast battlefield requires the precision and skill that only hotkeys provide. While there have been many attempts to simplify things over the years, none have really hit on that mix of strategy and pacing that general audiences crave.
Golem Gates takes another crack at the puzzle, mixing real-time strategy and trading cards with intriguing results. A CCG layer may bring in a more casual crowd, but the mixture proves to be volatile during this Early Access period.
If you’ve played the Blitz mode of Halo Wars 2, you already have a rough idea of what to expect from Golem Gates. You have a defensible position, a handful of soldiers and a stack of constantly regenerating energy. Play your units on the battlefield, send them off to take over control points and then topple the opposing force. You don’t mine for minerals or construct bases here. You just summon troops and call in the occasional automated turret.
This can be quite unusual for an experienced strategy junkie. You don’t need to mind a base, just defend your avatar at one end of the field. You don’t pick an army from all available options, you draw cards and hope to get an epic unit to crush the resisting force. Once soldiers are summoned, you can maneuver them like you would any Zerg. It’s a stimulating balance to master.
Battles are a rush since you never know when a huge group of enemy soldiers could spawn and decimate what you’ve set forth. Everything else can get a little tedious, especially controlling smaller groups of units. Golem Gates’ controls are not refined yet and trying to select the exact units you want can be a struggle. This clunkiness also extends to the pathing, which can send your spellslingers walking into walls rather than enemy camps.
While gameplay is still a work in progress, Golem Gates really shines when it comes to style. The game’s world is one of techno-wizardry, with elements of the old and the new. It would be easy to mistake the setting as medieval if not for the laser swords these knights wield. It’s a unique look, and one of the strongest parts of the game by far.
The narrative that goes along with these interesting visuals is less exciting. The “Harbinger” character you play as talks to a giant energy sphere at the beginning of each campaign stage. The two exposit about how the titular Golem Gates are spitting out baddies. Of course you have to go close them. It’s pretty typical stuff that will be familiar to any Destiny players but it works.
Golem Gates isn’t really going for an epic campaign. The single player only has the first set of levels during Early Access, and the focus seems squarely placed on competitive play. This is good because fighting against another human and smashing your forces against theirs is much preferable to the timid AI. Computer players prefer to hang back and let you rebuild over and over, making single player content tedious and slow going.
If you can find an online match, the game runs smoothly. However, this is the preview phase, so the player count and feature set are understandably mute. You do gain progress towards cards online, but there’s not much beyond that. The game lacks a leaderboard to climb or a visible ranking system. Progression feels slow and lacks the pull of a lot of other online-focused titles.
This leaves just the campaign and a set of single-player trials, which are really necessary despite the issues with AI. You’ll want to expand your playable options in short order. Sadly, dredging through the single player scenarios is the only reliable way to earn new cards. You can clearly see a scenario where boosters packs are sold separately, but there’s nothing resembling microtransactions as of now.
Golem Gates is an honest stab at something new. It brings a console style of RTS back to the PC and does a decent job of expanding that out. The gameplay just isn’t where it needs to be, but the style of everything surrounding it goes a long way towards keeping me invested. The steep $20 price is going to keep the game from gaining a huge online following. Still, the card/RTS hybrid works, and I’m excited to see more.
Golem Gates was previewed on PC via Steam with a code provided by the developer.