The Future of Turn-Based Is Here
HIGH Finally catching a teleporting robot by swinging at where he was going to be, not where he was.
LOW Having to grind for around 30 hours to get the prized Conan-themed skin.
WTF You just went from cute to terrifying, robot dog.
Atlas Reactor is fast.
That’s not a particularly rare trait in videogames, of course, but when one considers that it’s a turn-based title, it becomes a little more noteworthy.
Even more unusual? It’s a title in which eight people make their moves simultaneously. If someone told me before playing that such a thing could be smooth, precise, and easy-to-learn, I wouldn’t have believed it. Yet just minutes after completing AR‘s brief tutorial, I was holding my own in 4v4 matches, never once feeling that the game was getting away from me.
Featuring a bright and shiny sci-fi future world filled with cartoony characters zipping about in bulky armour, Atlas Reactor will no doubt remind many of Overwatch, which is presumably what the developers had in mind on some level. Beyond the aesthetic and team-focused gameplay, though, what AR really shares with it is the ease with which it can be picked up and played. Matches are short and intense, fought to five kills or whichever team is winning at round 20.
I never played a game which made it to round 20.
Of course, it’s simple enough to make a turn-based game faster — just limit the amount of time players have to decide on a move, but what happens when there are eight players making moves? The seconds can add up fast. AR‘s simultaneous turns sidestep this problem without creating undue confusion.
Every player has to make their moves in a 20-second window. As players lock in their choices, their teammates can see distinctive attack, support, and movement icons popping up on the playfield. Even without enabling team talk, it’s a simple matter to plan coordinated attacks, with one bold player locking in a move quickly and everyone else moving to support and finish off the prey. Each player also gets two 5-second time extensions per match if they need just a little extra room to plan, although the controls are so intuitive that I didn’t see many players using them.
Atlas Reactor‘s real genius comes in how the turns are broken down. Every turn is divided into planning and resolution. Based on where teammates and enemies are located on the map, everyone comes up with a plan of action, and then everyone sees how it turns out. Players can both move and fire every turn, and the key element that makes the whole thing playable is that movement comes after attacks.
Combat has four stages: Green for buffs and setting traps, yellow for dodges and dash attacks, red for standard attacks, and then finally gray, where everyone moves to a new position and the whole thing starts over. Players succeed or fail based on their ability to predict enemy movement and set up multi-stage strikes.
Many characters have powerful attacks that are fired one turn and hit the next. This puts them in a position to either correctly guess what their enemies are planning, or relying on a teammate to perform an attack that locks the target in place. With the huge variety of characters offering complementary skills, the combination possibilities are nearly limitless.
Characters are broken down into three broad categories — shooter, melee, and support. Right now there are far more ranged attackers than any other group, which seems to suggest that the developers are struggling to figure out different ways for players to hit with swords or heal teammates. Every character manages to feel distinct from the rest, however, as they all have tweaks which suggest different strategies to use. Some do well hiding behind cover, while others need to wade into the thick of battle. There’s enough variety here to satisfy any playstyle, and so long as the matchmaking service puts the player with complementary characters (which it’s good at doing) there’s no wrong way to play.
Atlas Reactor‘s Free to Play and episodic elements didn’t intrude much on my experience.
F2P players only have access to a limited pool of characters, which will apparently rotate regularly. However, all characters are available immediately with the purchase of a single pack. When players earn experience they unlock loot boxes which contain skins and coins, and more boxes can be purchased. Characters also unlock tokens to make skill modifiers available. None of the modifiers are concrete improvements over any other, so a higher level character won’t have a clear advantage over a lower one, just more options in the way they can play. It’s an elegant solution keeping the game accessible to newcomers while adding depth and strategy for those willing to put in the hours.
Atlas Reactor has tons of strategic depth compressed into hyper-kinetic ten-minute chunks. Entirely removing random number generation ensures that players never feel cheated, and every match is a learning opportunity. Its look may be derivative, but AR‘s mechanics are its own, and they make turn-based combat exciting enough to draw those who might not normally be interested in the genre. I’m looking forward to seeing how it will grow in the future, but it’s already accomplished a huge amount by making turn-based combat immediate and relevant.
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Trion. It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on PC. Approximately 1 hour of play was devoted to single-player mode, and 5 hours of play were spent in multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated Teen and contains Violence. If you ask me, it’s just a case of Sci-Fi mercenaries shooting each other, nothing more, nothing less. Even their deaths aren’t permanent, as the game’s short-story text narrative points out that some kind of ressurrection technology exists, justifying the quick respawn rate! There’s no blood or booze, and the costumes aren’t particularly salacious.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: There’s no story, and no audio cues of note – go nuts!
Remappable Controls: Yes, the game’s keyboard bindings are fully remappable.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.