Have you ever found yourself tiring of selecting workers and clicking nodes on which to construct buildings? Well, rejoice, because in Siege Commander, you can now catapult whatever you want into its place. Need to build an outpost? Catapult it. Want to construct a barracks? Catapult it. See an enemy nearby? Catapult them with some TNT.
The RTS genre isn’t the juggernaut it used to be. Perhaps that can be explained by RTS games being a bit too rigid and formulaic in structure, but Siegecraft Commander sure seems like Blowfish Studios’ best damned attempt to inject some life into the genre. The result is a rather fun, if not entirely flawless, experiment.
Siegecraft Commander diverges from more micro-oriented strategy games by focusing on macro-management. Rather than churning out units from buildings, Siegecraft Commander has players leaning entirely on setting up a variety of buildings that serve unique functions. You’ve got your basic structure – the Outpost – which acts as a shock trooper equivalent that can fire TNT at enemy buildings and expand the base. There’s the Garrison that can launch barracks, which in turn spawns cannon-fodder knights. Then you also have Armories, which can build trebuchets, ballistas and other offensive tools. Tesla shields destroy incoming projectiles – such as missiles – and so forth.
Each building you construct is chain-linked to the rest of your buildings in tiers. Attacking buildings higher up the chain allows you to destroy more towers at once. At the heart of those buildings is the Keep and if you lose it, it’s game over.
While the game certainly demands a good amount of tactical thinking, it’s also less complex than it initially seems. A lot of one’s success in the game is tied to pure motor skills and out-aiming your opponent. Launching the catapults in-game functions much like firing a slingshot, where you have to gauge the angle and distance of each shot while also taking into account terrain and magic abilities.
There’s still enough of a focus on strategy that the game doesn’t feel like a mindless series of barrages, with a healthy balance between speed, finesse and outwitting. Being good enough at aiming lets you get away with more daring tactics, and that aspect of the game proves extremely refreshing. It’s even totally valid to spam outposts at the enemy as distractions, but tactical placement is the key to success because of how easy it is to box oneself in.
Without any real resource system or building time, Siegecraft Commander is the type of game that can be as fast as players want it to be, and that sometimes results in matches that hilariously resemble a really violent tic-tac-toe skirmish. This isn’t immediately apparent in the early stages of the single-player campaign, but once the AI ramps up the difficulty, thing get hectic fast.
The two single-player campaigns available consist of eight levels each and let you play as either Humans or Lizards. Things start off at a casual pace, but the difficulty really spikes about halfway through. Things never feel too unfair, though, and there are enough objectives throughout each level to keep things relatively fresh. There’s a thinly veiled narrative presented in a fabled storybook-like fashion, but it ends up being a bit distracting, with the voice-over work not being up to snuff and interrupting the flow of the gameplay too much. On the bright side, there’s a pleasantly engaging soundtrack to accompany the experience, and the game makes the best of the Unity engine to provide some aesthetically pleasing, albeit modest, visuals. You can even play the game in VR mode if you’d prefer.
Where the game starts running into issues is its lack of longevity. The single player campaign only lasts a few hours depending on player skill level, and after that, the lack of more depth becomes more glaring. There is a multiplayer component, but without an active community, it can take a long while to find fellow players. And without any AI bots, it’s easy to find yourself stuck with just the single-player mode.
For my part, I did happen upon a few multiplayer games, but after a while, a staunch repetitiveness sunk in. For one, maps are too cramped, and a lot of matches resulted in one player or another (myself included) resorting to ‘cheese tactics’ like aggressively spamming outposts all the way to the enemy base and bombarding the Keep with TNT. This lack of balance adds to the repetition, but could easily be mitigated by having an active group of friends to play with.
Curiously, there’s an option for enabling a turn-based mode in the multiplayer. Having this option available is a real treat and boon to the game, turning everything into a far more methodical and stimulating experience. Unfortunately, the option isn’t available in the single-player mode, which is a shame considering how well it plays.
More aggravating, though, were some of the bugs I encountered. The camera, for example, had a mind of its own, often veering off to the edges of the map and refusing to centre on the buildings I was selecting; there are some truly frustrating moments.
There are also some quirks with the control scheme. For a game that emphasizes twitch movements, there are some struggles with selecting and de-selecting buildings, as well as aiming catapults and trebuchets. There are some options in the menu to provide more control flexibility for players, but I often found myself struggling with the aiming because it was either too sensitive or not sensitive enough. This unfortunately hampers what is otherwise a relatively fun experience.
While I welcome fun additions to the RTS space, it is with caution that I recommend Siegecraft Commander – given its current pitfalls. With some time and polish, the game has the potential to grow into an exciting niche for RTS players yearning for something fresh. If you’re going to buy it, certainly get a friend or two to buy it with you.
Siegecraft Commander may be a bit repetitive and unrefined, but the refreshing concept and utter mayhem players can inflict on one another should prove appealing to the dedicated RTS players out there.