Preview: Golem Gates Combines CCG mechanics with RTS tactics
One of the biggest surprise genres to come into the mainstream over the last decade or so has got to be Collectible Card Games, or CCG. Back in middle school and high school I used to collect Magic: The Gathering cards, had thousands of them, and even competed in some tournaments, so I totally get the appeal -- but it still caught me off guard. Riding the waves of Blizzard’s smash-success Hearthstone, other properties have risen up to lay claim to their piece of the CCG pie.
Golem Gates, conceptually, is the latest entry into that arena. However, instead of the game taking place in a turn-based manner or on a magically modified tabletop, Golem Gates is actually a true-to-form real-time strategy game (RTS) as well as a CCG. It sounds odd, but it totally works and yields unique results.
Underlying CCG Mechanics
At the core of Golem Gates is its CCG mechanic under the hood. Referred to as Glyphs, your harbinger hero unit is constantly drawing randomized new glyphs from a custom built deck to add to their hand over the course of a match, up to a specific number. To play a glyph you need to spend energy and you gain energy by taking control of generators spread around the map.
All of the gameplay and movement happens fully in real-time just like an RTS, so the only CCG element is the semi-random drawing of glyphs and choosing when and where to use them. You can’t place a glyph just anywhere on the map because you instead need to have sight there first. Every stage is shrouded in a dense fog of war effect that can only be cleared when a unit cuts through for sight.
Most glyphs take the form of being either offensive or defensive. Offensive glyphs might be fireballs or other damaging spells, or they could be summoning units to fight on the battlefield. Defensive glyphs grant buffs, plant traps, or build turrets. It’s all pretty standard RTS fare, but it’s wrapped up in that unique CCG element that really throws a creative curve on the entire concept.
Once you’ve depleted your deck of glyphs your harbinger has to recharge, which renders you unable to perform any actions for approximately 15 seconds, which can feel like an eternity in a fast-paced game like this. If your harbinger dies then you automatically lose so keeping him safe, while managing your forces, can turn into a complex juggling act.
Fast-Paced RTS Gameplay
Once the glyphs hit the ground and units start to spawn, that’s where the game really picks up. In a typical CCG you’d have a lot of time to sit back, observe your hand, and carefully plot each and every move you make. In Golem Gates, you’re not afforded that luxury.
In fact, I often found myself casting glyphs just as quickly as they hit my hand during combat in an attempt to turn the tide of battle. Typically in an RTS you’d be able to execute a carefully planned strategy of building up your resources, amassing an army of small units and eventually working your way up to your larger, end-game units that finally put the nail in your opponent’s coffin.
But in Golem Gates you might draw that super-powered unit right at the start and try to save it for the end and what you do during a battle is just as much a surprise to you as it is to your enemy.
The benefit of this system is that no two games are even remotely the same, but the downside is the feeling that you don’t have control over your own progression. Getting stuck with a slew of buffs and turrets when you need to be building your army can feel cheap and frustrating, but that seemed to rarely happen.
Breadth of Content
The main campaign kicks off with a basic tutorial before throwing you into the thick of things. Some missions task you with taking out a rival harbinger hiding somewhere on the map, whereas other missions may assign you the objective of destroying an enemy’s golem gate to close their access to this world once and for all.
In addition there’s a robust Survival mode that can be played cooperatively with friends, a competitive Versus mode, and perhaps my favorite, a Challenge mode with very strict rules and objectives for each map. For example, the first Challenge has you fighting another harbinger but you can’t actually reach each other directly due to a massive chasm between you. That means casting some glyphs across the chasm to attack your opponent and casting some near you as defensive measures. These sorts of creative gameplay boundaries are what’s going to help Golem Gates achieve serious staying power.
As it stands in Early Access, Golem Gates is overflowing with things to do as a creative mixture of both CCG and RTS flavors. Other than the last few bits of the campaign it’s basically feature-complete. The new game studio, Laser Guided Games, is founded by ex-Epic Games and Marvel team members, so it’s certainly head and shoulders above the competition from a pure visual polish perspective.
Golem Gates is slated for a March 28th, 2018 release later this month. It’s currently available in a nearly-complete Early Access state on Steam right now for $29.99.