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Developer: Laser Guided Games, LLC
Publisher: Laser Guided Games, LLC
Format: PC
Released: March 29, 2018
Copy purchased

One thing I regret about the sheer number of games available on Steam is that all too often I miss those small indie games that really deserve a lot more attention than they usually get. But luckily, through one of my weekly new release hunts I stumbled across Golem Gates, a fresh new strategy game with a bit of pedigree behind its development, but plenty of that indie game heart that separates them from production-line AAA titles.

Golem Gates is developed by Laser Guided Games LLC in partnership with Hollow Earth, whose designers’ previous works include titles such as Gears of War, Unreal Tournament, and even a dash of Firaxis’ Civilisation series.  Ironically, the game itself is a drastic departure from any of those games but does retain some of the dark art style that Unreal and Gears of War employed to great effect.

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Like many popular indie games, Golem Gates is a melding of a few distinct genres into something just a little different.  In this case, a real-time strategy game is merged with a CCG (Collectible Card Game) to provide an exciting spin on your standard strategy fare. Building your deck of cards, known in-game as “glyphs”, is a big part of the game and balancing out the various offensive, defensive and utility cards is just as important as having some skill in strategy games.

The game at its most basic revolves around defending your slow-moving “Harbinger” unit while using your deck of glyphs to summon minions you can use to capture resource points. These points let you cast glyphs more often, while also accelerating you towards your ultimate goal of finding and destroying the opposing Harbinger.

As with all good strategy games it’s far more exciting in practice though.  Since all players can summon and cast Glyphs anywhere the Fog of War has been cleared by your minions, any fight can rapidly escalate into a huge brawl. Using your speedy scout-wolf-bots to try and take a resource point could result in your opponent summoning defences right on top of them to force you to retreat or lose your minions. If, however you’ve saved your energy and glyphs you could retaliate by summoning your own army to counter their trap, or perhaps launch a well-placed fireball to incinerate their new forces.

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Having played some of the aforementioned games these devs worked on, I didn’t hold any hope that the campaign would be anything to write home about.  On top of this, you could be forgiven for dismissing a strategy game’s campaign, as often they function as little more than an introduction to mechanics in preparation for multiplayer matches.

However, Golem Gates shirks this trend at least a little, with a short but rewarding journey across 3 chapters of surprisingly varied levels. Your in-game avatar, the silent and mysterious Harbinger, is being guided through the world by a whispering giant ball of energy that’s pushing you to destroy an opposing force referred to as the “Unbound”, starting by destroying the titular Golem Gates.  The whole world is dripping in strange technology, merging advanced machines and mechanical constructs with strangely mystical fantasy designs. Unlike what I’d expected, the story does actually develop into a surprisingly gripping, if rather short, tale of vengeance and general grimdark sci-fi nonsense. There’s even one plot element revealed a little over halfway into the story that came as a genuine surprise.

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Despite greatly enjoying this little adventure, I clocked in slightly under 6 hours to finish it, and ultimately only hit missions I couldn’t beat first try a few times.  Sure, I could claim that my epic skills factored into this, but I’ve been brutally beaten in enough games to know better.  Thankfully, Golem Gates has heaps more to offer that will keep you playing even though it’s only just left Early Access.

I’ve yet to dip into much more than a few of the optional Challenge maps, but have appreciated the inventive situations it placed me in.  Trying desperately to keep the painfully slow-moving Harbinger alive (but man, his cape billows nicely while he trudges around though!) while the opponent controls all of the map was an unexpected and quite troubling problem to solve.  It required constantly summoning defences while also scouting ahead so that I could teleport the Harbinger out of danger as the Harbinger slowly plodded away from foes, until a timer reached zero. Other challenges were less difficult overall but no less inventive, like finding a way to summon your units in behind an enormous wall of defences or duelling across two completely separate platforms while your Harbingers grumble ineffectually at each other over the chasm.

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As mentioned earlier, much of the game’s difficulty can come down to how well you build up your deck of glyphs before you start playing.  From stalwart soldiers and speedy little scout wolves all the way up to towering golems and huge teleporting turrets, there’s a huge variety of glyphs to play around with.  Since the order you draw Glyphs is randomised, some thought needs to go into making sure you’ve got Glyphs for a few different situations at least.  As powerful units cost more to summon you need to decide whether you’re willing to risk drawing expensive Glyphs when you need some cheap minions to throw in the way.  On the other hand, many powerful units can chew through cheaper minions with ease, so having no heavy-hitters to summon can result in losing a good chunk of your forces. The mechanic could definitely use some balancing, however, as several units feel absolutely necessary no matter the strategy you want to use. But ultimately there’s plenty of fun to be had trying to come up with new and exciting decks to play with.

Amusingly, this card collecting aspect also means Golem Gates includes several mechanics that AAA companies love shoving down our throat, but here they’re done intuitively and in a way that supports the game rather than feeling like a tacked on “games as a service” afterthought.

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To encourage you to play more, the game uses an in-game currency to let you purchase some special glyphs that are regularly replaced with a new batch.  The most expensive glyph I’ve seen so far would cost 300, but after my time with the campaign I had nearly 1000.  Other challenges also award this resource quite generously on top of the new glyphs you’ll periodically receive out of “loot crate” lookalikes.  Unlike some AAA games that shall remain nameless, Golem Gates uses these devices to elicit a constant sense of reward with almost every action you do, rather than squeeze your wallet dry.

Golem Gates is incredibly fun to play and absolutely gorgeous to look at, even if it feels like it needs a little more work to balance out the usefulness of some of the glyphs you can collect.  Ultimately, my time spent obliterating my foes with the techno-mystical powers of my Harbinger was one of the more satisfying strategy game experiences I’ve had in some time.  I can’t wait to collect some of the glyphs I’ve seen used against me and try to build better and more powerful decks as I expand my collection.

Overall, I’d totally recommend looking into this game even if being so recently freed from Early Access freaks you out a little.  There’s more than enough fun to be had here that the lack of polish is easily ignored.  For a fun new strategy game experience Golem Gates is undeniably worth picking up, especially if you like a hefty sprinkling of grimdark mystical technology in your games!

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Writer: Jack Soric
Editor: Tristan Venables
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