Playing Skyward Collapse requires more than just skill; it’s an art form. Tough strategy games are by no means new to me, and although Skyward Collapse isn’t necessarily hard per se, it is beyond frustrating. The intense hatred I felt towards my poor subjects cannot be understated, I want them all to die because of their gift of free will. Why did they have to have free will?
It’s soon after that you find out that being god is very hard work.
So, what is Skyward Collapse? Well, it’s a turn based strategy god game where you have to guide two civilisations to glory. Yep, not one but two, and they hate each other’s guts for absolutely no reason other than one is blue and one is red. Racist pixels that they are, they regularly go to war against each other and it’s your job to keep it all in balance. On the face of it there’s a very interesting concept - maintaining balance in a world of absolute chaos - which makes this game a very good strategic exercise for the passionate war gamer. Keeping these two nations in perfect harmony takes a lot of work. The nations in question are the Greeks and the Norse, who can either be blue or red. Evidently nobody told the developers that the age of mythology isn’t real history, but it’s a good backdrop nonetheless.
What makes this even more interesting is that the two nations have very different tech trees and you needs to train troops, and what works for one may not necessarily work for the other. At the start of the game you get five turns for each nation where you are allowed unlimited resources to place whatever you like. After that though, you’re on your own. Wait, what? I thought I was god? After the initial set-up each faction has its own resource pool and you have to build buildings that generate resources to get troops to cause mayhem. That’s fine but it doesn’t really ring true with what is supposed to be a god game. You can conjure up resources for that faction, but come on, I’m god, why have I now been demoted to mayor of two nations that hate each other? That’s exactly what Skyward Collapse feels like once the turns start rolling on.
So it turns out that god is terribly underpowered. Your abilities consist of conjuring up some of the basic resources, which doesn’t help when you need the refined versions, smashing empty land tiles, which has no benefit other than to block things off, and also the ability to summon mythological units. There’s a good variety of myth units to choose from, such as the Norse Valkyrie and the Greek Minotaur. These units are quite often invaluable, but you need to build the tiles to generate the resources to summon them, and these are valuable resources that could be spent on a faction’s military, which is quite often more reliable. The myth units are fun but hit and miss, only appropriate if you’ve accidently messed up very badly.
Which brings me to the main problem with Skyward Collapse, free will. Yep, everyone in Skyward Collapse has free will, which is quite possibly one of the most annoying things I’ve ever experienced. You’re powerless to stop the two factions killing each other, which makes sense in a way. If you did have power over everyone then you could easily win this game, so free will makes sense, unfortunately everyone in Skyward Collapse has the tactical sense of a lemon. A stupid lemon at that. Numerous times troops have barrelled towards each other only to completely ignore each other, bypass defenders and attack enemy buildings. Meanwhile the so-called defenders clearly think that a good defence is a good offence, ignoring the sieging troops and attacking the enemy town instead. This means that no real defending is done, each faction simply strangles each other while completely ignoring any kind of battle tactics.
This situation is made all the worse when you introduce the other aspects of the game that are designed to trip you up. After a few turns, bandits and monstrous creature's lairs will start to spawn randomly on the map, their only purpose to destroy things. Troops often completely ignore these bandits and focus on each other instead. Because bandits aren’t tied down to resources, an infinite number can spawn until you are able destroy their fortress. If the AI can recognise that a bandit stronghold has spawned right next to their town, and if the AI can prioritise that threat, the AI may decide to act on it, if they can be bothered with the wellbeing of their town. There’s just too much stuff that doesn’t make sense with the AI. The most annoying thing to happen was when one of my Norse Marauders was facing several Greek units single handed, for once actually defending the town from invasion.
Clearly he thought it was a good idea to attack an enemy unit, walk off in a random direction then come back to that same square and attack that same unit. What did that little manoeuvre achieve other than wasting my time? Nothing.
The scales start to tip
So far I’ve pretty much described how annoying Skyward Collapse can be, yet I haven’t delved into the great detail with which things can go wrong because of this annoyance. An entire blue town was wiped out by bandits which was entirely preventable by my very large blue military, who thought it was a better idea to destroy a red town. The reds thought it was a good idea to ignore the large blue military destroying their town and instead attack another blue town. Only when the two towns were destroyed did the reds and blues decide to fight it out man to man on the battlefield. The blue army is winning and in a prime position to destroy yet more of the red’s towns, can’t have that, let’s put down some Valkyries for the reds. The Valkyries then proceeded to kill the entire blue military, letting the reds re-arm and swarm south, deep into blue territory. Great, now the blues are in trouble. Meanwhile the bandits have succeeded in growing their forces and nearly destroying another two blue towns and a red town before the combined might of two nations utterly destroyed them. The costs were great, but I can’t say they don’t do it in the end.
Other features continue to bemuse me, like gods. Each nation gets a god to worship, who has several powers at his/her disposal, however none of the ones I saw can I count as being useful. Woes are random events in the game which help or hinder one faction or both, yet they were very underwhelming. A miner's strike was shrugged off as a minor annoyance and a great flood was averted by simply taking out all the water tiles since there weren’t many of them in the first place. Inhabited villages add an interesting twist where a unit can spawn at any time and ally itself with any faction, but when one faction gets an archer and the other gets a siege tower things get a little unbalanced. The one that really gets me is the ruins. They act similar to Civilisation’s ruins, in which the first unit to reach it gets a random bonus, yet what annoys me is the frequency with which they occur and their ability to stack. A Greek horseman I once owned collected so many bonuses that he had 24 attacks by himself. He managed to take out an entire red town and a monster lair by himself before getting skewered with an arrow; for the time he was on the board he was just plain overpowered. Ruins appear way too often and every building that gets destroyed turns into ruins, which have a small chance of containing a random bonus.
This seems fine at first but you can’t actually build on ruins and you can’t get rid of them without using the bless power. The bless power requires soul imprints, which can only be obtained by killing things. Yep, dead people are a resource. It means to repair a war torn settlement you need to go on the offensive, which will inevitably result in more ruined buildings.
Overall, being god really does suck. There are so many things to annoy you and trip you up that it takes a real effort to play, while you could be playing something fun instead. Skyward Collapse is an interesting tactical exercise and is a rather pretty game for what it is, yet I can’t justify buying it unless the concept really interests you. It’s more a game about balance than being a god because there really isn’t enough power for you to be considered a god, more a slave to the wars of man.