Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Some Thoughts About 'Atlas Reactor', Following The Free Weekend

In certain corners of the Internet, it seems as though Trion has become something of a punching bag for gamers – and, I have to admit, It's an attitude that I just can't bring myself to share.

I'm aware of some of the issues surrounding their games, of course. Their handling of the Western launch of Korean MMORPG, ArcheAge, for one. The alterations that they made to the pricing structure of their own game, Trove, for another. There might even be controversies surrounding their other games that I'm just not familiar with - but, to be honest, I just don't care.

My own opinions about those other issues aside, the game that Trion is currently developing, Atlas Reactor, looked interesting enough to catch my attention (even if Trion's recent decision to switch from the planned free-to-play model to a buy-to-play one seems set to become another issue for players). So, with Trion recently offering a free weekend, giving everyone the chance to download the game and try it for themselves, it definitely seemed like as good a time as any to have a closer look at the game.

So, what is Atlas Reactor, though? Well, it's a mix of turn-based strategy and PvP arena – one intended to target a slightly different, though somewhat related, audience of more action focused multiplayer arena-based games (whether those be MOBA or FPS focused). As someone who enjoys the occasional bout of PvP as an option in the larger-scale MMORPGs that I play, I do have to admit that the idea of a game based entirely around PvP doesn't really have instant appeal. Atlas Reactor still managed to catch my eye, though – in large part, due to the simple novelty of it being a turn-based strategy game (although, the bright and cheerful aesthetic of the game didn't hurt either).

I think that the most important point I want to get across, regarding this game, is that I did enjoy the game-play it offers. I have always had a bit of a soft-spot for turn-based strategy games – and, Atlas Reactor does it very well. While I do have to admit that having everyone plotting out their turns at the same time was very confusing, initially, it did all start to feel much more natural after a few matches.

The basic structure of a turn in Atlas Reactor requires all players to make their decisions at the start of each turn, in a phase with a very strict 20 second time limit. The turn, itself, will then play out in four phases – Prep, Dash, Blast, and Movement. The Prep phase will be where any healing or buff/debuff abilities are played. The Dash phase will be where any dodge abilities are played. The Blast phases will consist of the standard attackers, and will be where most of the damage is done. Finally, the Movement phase will be, obviously, where everyone moves.

With everyone plotting out their entire turn at the same time, and at the beginning of the turn, the strategy of the game becomes as much about trying to predict what the other players are going to do as it is trying to decide what you should do. Using an attack on an opponent set to dodge on that turn, for example, could leave you firing at empty space – since, the Dash phases will play out before the Blast phase, allowing them to escape. Conversely, targeting an attack at an empty spot where you think an opponent might be head, could prove to be a effective tactic – since, once again, the Dash phase will play out before the Blast phase, leaving them helpless. It's all extremely chaotic, at first – but, as I mentioned above, it does start to come together, eventually.

The 20 second time-limit within which every player will have to plot out their entire turn is likely to be the biggest issue, here (it certainly was for me). Unless you already have a clear idea of what you want to do, it can easily prove to be a very tense process of desperately studying both your team-mates and your opponents – and, you could easily find yourself missing out on certain actions (such as movement, which happened to me many times). On the other hand, though, this all adds up to giving a match a much more rapid pace than you might expect from a turn-based game – and, sitting back to watch the turn play out after a frantic 20 seconds can be very satisfying.

The cast of characters on offer are also nicely varied, in both their appearance and their abilities. Lockwood, for example, is a futuristic gun-slinger capable of pulling off trick-shots – allowing him to hit targets who might, otherwise, be safely tucked away behind a wall. Zuki is a young woman who lugs around a large cannon – and is, obviously, much more interested in large-scale destruction. Quark (my personal favourite) is a an odd little ball of radioactive energy who can latch on to both friends and foes, in order to dish out healing and damage. The rest of the current line-up (sorted out into three categories – ranged damage, front-line, and support) are all a similarly varied bunch – both aesthetically, and in terms of their abilities. There's definitely enough variety for each match to, potentially, play out very differently. More importantly, though, there did not seem to be any glaring issues with the balance between different characters – it all seemed to come down to how well you played with your own character of choice.

As much fun as I have had over the past few days, I do have to admit to some genuine concerns about exactly how much longevity Atlas Reactor would have, for me – which is the main reason why I haven't put down any money, just yet. But, this feels like more of a matter of personal preference than it does a genuine criticism of the game. There is an impressive level of polish to the content currently included in the game – but, my main issues, at the moment, is that there just not seem to be very much of it. There are, roughly, a dozen characters to choose from, and three (very similar) arenas to fight in. The game is still in its Beta testing phase, though – so, obviously, there is still more to be added. And, of course, there is going to be more added after its official launch, too. But, at the moment, I'm just not sure that there's enough actual content there, for me.

That being said, though, the game does already feature some much appreciated options. The ability to choose between solo-mode, co-operative, and PvP is definitely appreciated (with AI controlled bots filling in, as necessary). Also, the variety of challenges that the game will present to you (such as playing a certain number of matches in a certain role, for example, or winning matches with different characters) should provide enough goals to work toward to give a player some sense of focus – while, also, encouraging variety.

Currently, the game also features a short tutorial that plays out like the opening stage of a single-player game – and, personally, I think I would like to see a bit more of that sort of thing. With that brief tutorial, we had elements of a broader story taking place behind the game, and an introduction to two of its cast of characters (Lockwood and Zuki – who seem to represent one of the factions in the game's setting). It was a fun little moment that came early in my time with the game – and, it left me feeling as though these were the two characters I wanted to focus on (although, neither ended up being my favourite). Unfortunately, as things stand at the moment, it's also the only content of its type in the game.

Obviously, the primary focus of Atlas Reactor is always going to be the PvP matches – that shouldn't really be questioned. But, that brief tutorial left me thinking that some similar story-focused stages, based around other characters, would be a fun addition. I have no idea if anything of the sort is currently being planned, though.

So, that seems to be where I stand, regarding Atlas Reactor, at the moment. What is there is both very polished, and genuinely fun – and, I definitely enjoyed my time in the free weekend. But, I would also like to have a better idea of how the game is going to develop in the future, before I decide whether to part with any money. At the very least, it's a game that I am definitely going to be keeping an eye on, as it approaches its official launch.

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