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Confrontation

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I recently had the honor of playing the action RTS/RPG hybrid Confrontation. Cyanide Studio’s new game is set in a fantasy world that is named Aarklash. This world is filled with conflict between two main factions: the Griffins and the Scorpions. The first are a noble race of holy warriors, the second an evil race that is set on dominating the world with the help of their evil experiments. The campaign starts with four Griffin warriors that you get to control. These warriors are tasked with the mission to thwart the Scorpion threat. Throughout their journey, they encounter the armies of two other races, the Wolfen and the Jackal. Basically, it’s a standard Dungeons & Dragons fantasy storyline, but without elves, orcs and goblins. There is an attempt to create something original, but it failed. Don’t try understanding too much of it either. The story is mostly told through voice-overs by a storyteller. The characters themselves have little dialogue, which leads to a lack of immersion.

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The game's spell effects look very nice. That's about the only good thing about the graphics I can say.

The gameplay in Confrontation  instantly makes one think of the RPG elements in Warcraft III. There are standard unit statistics: strength, intelligence, wisdom; when earning enough experience points you can choose to upgrade your skills; there’s a mana/skill/faith bar, depending on which class your hero is, much like in World of Warcraft. But it all amounts to the same: using skills/spells costs an amount of points from this bar and the only difference is that a mana regen spell doesn’t work for a warrior’s skill point bar and vice versa. There’s loot to be had, levels to be gained, skills to learn and lots of enemies to slay along the way. Of course there’s still a bit of micromanaging to be done, but it’s never anything that is tedious or unexpected in this style of game.

Your heroes are given commands as in the old Infinity Engine games: you see an enemy, then you pause the game with the spacebar, after which you give your characters commands which they execute after unpausing. Pausing is a must because battles can be decided within milliseconds. The execution, often times, fails as characters get in each other’s way or fail to execute a command, even when clicking an action multiple times. An often occuring scenario is when you try to heal your teammates with a band-aid (they can’t use them themselves), but get the message ‘cannot reach’; even when that character is standing right next to you! The same goes for the reviving mechanic. When hitpoints are reduced to zero, your character enters a ‘dying state’, where a meter goes down. That meter indicates the time left for an ally to revive you. It takes some time to revive an ally anyway, but sometimes other units are ‘blocking the way’ (which means that the pathfinding is terrible) and even if you still reach your ally, sometimes you still can’t revive him because you ‘can’t reach him’ (even though you’re standing right next to him). This all takes away valuable time and I’ve lost countless battles because of this fact. When one hero dies, the game is over. It had been better if they had just used a revive spell or something you could do during fights. Fights can be challenging enough, and you don’t need the stress of keeping your teammates alive while monsters are bashing your skull in. It’s simply an annoying and unnecessary game mechanic.

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This screen is where you select your team members for the next mission

Next to that, battles are definitely interesting: each confrontation, with different enemy team setups, has you using different tactics, so there’s never a horde of grunts to kill in a mindless hack ‘n’ slash-fest. Gameplay wise, Confrontation offers a whole deal more than this. Using yours wits to defeat enemies is a must. For instance, when facing a tank enemy backed up by a crossbow unit and two spellcasters that can sap my energy and use stun spells on my team, I wil use my rogue to walk stealthily behind one of the spellcasters, backstab him and throw him to the ground, after which I attack the other spellcaster. My tank will then attack the enemy tank and I’ll have a ranged unit help finish off the spellcasters, then switch him to melee and take on the crossbowmen, together with my rogue. All this time my spellcaster stays behind and uses spells to lower the enemies’ stats and damage them. In the beginning of the game, you have a set team, so there will be little customization what battle tactics are concerned, later on, however, more characters join up and you’ll have to setup a team for each one, giving you lots of choice as to which type of combat you prefer, which is a part of the game I really like, reminiscent of the Baldur’s Gate series.

The camera is reminiscent of Warcraft III, since there is only a close up view. The only way to change the view is turning the camera 360 degrees. As the camera is very close to the characters and environment, you’ll instantly notice the ugly character models, sloppy animations and other details that just plain say: this game should have been released five years ago. One positive though: spell animations are very well done.

Level design is another minus for this game. Levels are linear and very confusing. The fact that the camera is so close to the game certainly adds to this. Of course there’s a map of the level, but it’s always unclear how to get somewhere, which lever opens which door and where you can and can’t go. What does help though is that the path your party has traveled always shows on the minimap, so accidental backtracking is out of the question. Though often you get the feeling: haven’t I been here before already? This reflects the lack of variety in level design. You have dark laboratories, bleak deserts, mountain roads,…but inside a level, everything looks more or less the same.

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Coming up: one tricky battle

To conclude: from the beginning on, Confrontation disappointed me. There were lots of bugs that should have been taken out before the game was released and that should have been clear to the developers. Later on, the game gets better, much thanks to interesting battles and character customization. Unfortunately, the most important thing in an RPG is a story, something Planescape: Torment was the definite proof of. That game had nothing of interesting combat mechanics, but still counts today as one of the best RPG’s ever. And this is what Confrontation lacks. There is nothing about a storyteller doing voice-overs that can get me sucked into a game, when characters are as plain as vanilla. Its technical flaws don’t account for much either. This kind of game could have been released five years ago, but I suspect it wouldn’t have gotten very high scores back then either.

 

The Good

Challenging battles

The Bad

Tons of bugs | Crappy pathfinding | Storyline not very immersive

2/5

Tom has been a gamer since he was a small child, spending his childhood glued to his TV, enjoying beating up imaginary people and blowing the heads of imaginary monsters. From the NES over Playstation to his current preference of gaming system, the almighty PC. In his 'free time', he enjoys a variety of martial arts, drinking, reading, and other boring stuff. And he's totally into rock music.
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