Before we start this review I feel I have to let you in on a little secret.
I don’t like reading game reviews.
‘But Chris, you write game reviews, how can you not like reading them?’ I hear you ask. I know, weird right? So let me explain. However objective the reviewer tries to be, some subjective opinions will get in their work. Their own likes and dislikes will always influence their review of any game. I just want you to remember that while you are reading this article.
When you first load Fair Weather Studios’ - Ancient Frontier you will be impressed. From the second the main screen appeared in front of me I could tell three things about this game.
1. Visuals were going to be something else.
2. The game was deeper than I expected.
3. Someone had spent a lot of time thinking about the user interface.
Built off the story from their first game ‘Bladestar’ Ancient Frontier’s main menu appears in front of you with a beautiful depiction of the three main characters and an easy to use menu bar down the left side of the screen. Here you will find all the main options including in-game lore which can be easily accessed via the ‘Lore’ button. This allows you to find out a brief history of the three main factions and how they interact. You know…if you want to.
Then we are off to the tutorial which is fully voice acted and allows us to be introduced to the main focus of the story in the shape of three friends going through training. Now the controls, whilst looking complicated, are surprisingly simple to follow. Bolstered as they are by the broad single word buttons that are used on each side and submenu, making it easy to set up a mission or side op and quickly get into the action. Likewise, the voice acting is extremely good with only a rare line feeling out of tone or at worst cringe-worthy.
The Campaign mode gives you more than a ‘go here, do this’ feel. With reasoning and story development happening in the voiceover delivery and then a choice between two differing missions. Add to this the beautifully detailed ship models and a plethora of upgrades and modifications you can make to each, and you have an almost bespoke fleet all of your own. You can even change their names if you want.
So now we are off onto the tactical screen where the majority of the game is played…and here is where I found my issue.
With regards to the gameplay, this is where I feel some players may struggle with the game. I’m willing to overlook the 2D plane of the game, even though the battles are in space. I’m also ignoring the XCOM 2'esque cover system, where your units use asteroid fields as cover. It just feels odd to me, again, in a game set in space.
My main issue with this game is the Initiative system. Unlike most turn-based games, where you play your units in any order you wish, then your opponent plays, the Initiative system looks at all units on the game board and takes note of ‘Initiative’ stat for each unit, both yours and your enemies. It then randomises the order that each unit will be allowed to move, with those with a high 'Initiative' stat given a greater chance to move first. Notice I said greater chance and not guaranteed. This mixes up the rounds between both sets of ships.
This causes two issues for me. The first of these is that it makes it almost impossible to play strategically, as you cannot pick which unit you want to use first. You cannot switch between one unit and another and you have decided to use all or only some of that units move or attacks. This means you may move a unit into what looked like a strategically sound position in one round, only for it to be surrounded by enemies and killed before you get control back, whereas, in other games, you may have seen the danger coming, and been able to move the unit back with minimal or no injury or at least launched a counter attack.
The second is that the AI is making some of the important decisions for you, and it feels like you are not playing the game at certain points. The game is picking when you move, which unit you are moving and all of your opponent’s actions, making you feel the deck seem increasingly stacked against you, and you are not able to do anything about it.
Remember what I told you at the beginning of this article?
This game is an excellent example of what game developers are capable of when they are given a chance to create something they truly care passionately about. I applaud the Fair Weather Studios team for trying something new with their gameplay and not settling with the norm. It's not their fault that my tastes could not gel with something they have obviously built for the betterment of their creation. It is my hope that others will find the ‘Initiative’ system easier to work with because of the strength of the artwork, UI, story and voice work, all of which are excellent, this game deserves to succeed.