Not So Massively: Stormgate isn’t delivering a revolution (yet)


Stormgate’s marketing is laser-focused on studio Frost Giant’s plan to deliver an “RTS revolution.” With StarCraft II still popular but slowly waning as it languishes in maintenance mode, the genre needs a new champion, and hot off its massive Kickstarter success, Stormgate is one of the best candidates to become just that.

As a lifelong real-time strategy fanatic, I’d love to see a true leap forward in the genre, something that could return it to mainstream popularity, but now that Stormgate‘s beta has made it to Steam Next Fest and I’ve gotten a chance to try it ahead of its early access release later this year, I’m concerned that its current state isn’t delivering on its lofty ambitions.

My focus on was on the co-op mission (there’s only one in this build), as co-op was my focus in StarCraft II. And it’s pretty much what you’d expect from a SC2 co-op mission. There are three players instead of two, but it’s the same pseudo-campaign gameplay.

Just as in SC2, you choose a commander, who levels up between missions and modifies the core mechanics of their faction. Each commander in Stormgate is also a hero unit you can control on the field; hopefully at some point we’ll get some non-hero commanders for variety’s sake. You’ll also have access to calldown abilities from the top bar, again just as in SC2.

Right now there are two commanders to choose from. Blockade of the human Vanguard faction is a sci-fi paladin, armed with a war hammer and an arsenal of healing and defensive abilities, paired with a tanky army. Maloc is a fire mage of the Infernal faction, all about nuking enemies with powerful spells.

I love co-op in SC2, and this is pretty much more of the same, which is both the best and worst thing about it. The gameplay loop remains strong, but there really isn’t anything too different about Stormgate‘s version of it. I don’t really see a reason that I’d switch from SC2 to Stormgate when I want this kind of gameplay.

That’s the danger to making a spiritual successor for a game that’s still active with a thriving community, I suppose. You’ve got to make it faithful enough to attract fans of the original, but different enough to give them a reason to make the jump.

While the set-up of co-op is pure SC2, I actually found the core gameplay of Stormgate feels much more like Warcraft III. The pace of combat is quite slow, making good use of your hero’s spells is essential, and there are even creep camps to hunt, though they provide only minor perks rather than essential items. Again, I like this kind of gameplay, but Stormgate isn’t doing anything to put its own spin on it. It feels more like a mod for Warcraft III than a new game.

There’s some small nuances that are different. As in Godsworn and the upcoming ZeroSpace and Immortal: Gates of Pyre, buildings and units can be trained from globally available menus, removing the need to select individual structures or workers. It’s a good quality of life boon, and I’m glad it’s looking to be the new normal for the RTS genre.

Co-op actually incentivizes you to destroy enemy bases, as it prevents those bases from sending attack waves. That’s nice, since in SC2 co-op enemy buildings are basically just window dressing, and there’s no value in killing them. And there’s some quirks to the resource mechanics that are new, plus other small differences from the RTS games of yore.

But none of these is the sort of thing you put in a trailer. They’re not sexy. The most hardcore RTS nerds will appreciate these things, but they won’t attract casuals who aren’t ardent followers of the genre.

Stormgate doesn’t currently stand out artistically, either. Going in, I knew my biggest concern was that Stormgate lacked the cool factor of the Blizzard games it seeks to emulate. The world and lore didn’t appeal to me, nor did the aesthetics. Nothing I’ve seen in the game so far changes my view on that.

The graphics try to emulate the colourful style of Blizzard, but without the same personality. Terrain textures are flat and over-saturated, and maps feel empty and sterile.

Visual clarity is an issue, too. The buildings within each faction tend to have very similar colour schemes and silhouettes. Thankfully, the global build menu keeps me from having to remember which is which because it’s hardly clear at a glance.

Sound design is similarly rough. Hopefully this a beta issue and most of the current audio is placeholder, but currently it’s pretty bad. Unit voiceovers all sound like they’re mumbling into a low-quality mic, and the combat sounds aren’t enjoyable at all. The firearms sound like cap guns, not high-powered sci-fi assault weapons.

I certainly hope the dialogue from the current co-op mission’s villain is placeholder because it is by far the worst dialogue I have ever heard in a video game. I would be embarrassed to play this mission in front of any of my friends, lest they hear the gravel-voiced post-apocalyptic warlord deliver such groaners as, “Ha! You are weak and teensy.”

Yes, a lot of these complaints are subjective, and a lot may be fixed between now and launch, but combined with the lack of any fresh ideas in the gameplay, Stormgate just doesn’t deliver any cool factor. The world isn’t compelling. The visuals aren’t appealing. None of the units feel exciting to use.

Yes, the game is in an early state, but I think I’ve been at this long enough to develop some instinct for when the problem with a game is that it’s unfinished versus when the fundamental concepts are flawed. The current beta build for Stormgate seems to suffer from both issues. There’s a lot of technical and balance issues I’m not even mentioning because I’m confident those will be fixed before early access.

I’ve said elsewhere that Diablo IV isn’t a bad game, but it suffers from the fact that Diablo III is better. Stormgate has a similar problem. It’s not bad, but StarCraft II is better, and Stormgate isn’t yet making a compelling case for why you should choose it over its forebear.

Aside from D4, there are a few other games I keep finding myself comparing Stormgate to: Godsworn, WildStar, and Wayfinder.

Like Godsworn, Stormgate is drawing clear aesthetic and mechanical inspiration from classic Blizzard RTS games, but unlike Stormgate, Godsworn still manages to feel like it has its own unique identity. It feels fresh (and also has a demo on the current Next Fest, by the by).

Like WildStar, Stormgate is doubling down on stylized visuals, quirky humour, and eccentric world-building in a way that feels forced. It’s like they’re trying to out-Blizzard Blizzard, and I just don’t think that’s ever going to work. Your game needs to have its own personality.

Like Wayfinder, Stormgate isn’t terrible or unpleasant to play, but it just… isn’t that interesting. It’s not doing enough to set itself apart from the pack. It needs a hook.

I know I’m coming across as very harsh here, but I want to be clear that I really want this game to succeed. I love RTS games, and the genre needs a new standard-bearer. I want the RTS revolution the team promises; I’d be thrilled to see the genre to go mainstream again. With the most funding and name recognition, Stormgate is the best candidate to do that, but I’m worried it isn’t up to the task in its current form.

I don’t expect the devs at Frost Giant Studios to take advice from me, but if they were to ask, I’d say they should delay the release and rethink things a bit. Even with an early access tag, first impressions are lasting impressions, and I don’t think Stormgate is on track to make a good one. The studio is promising a revolution, but the current state of the game is anything but revolutionary.

The world of online gaming is changing. As the gray area between single-player and MMO becomes ever wider, Massively OP’s Tyler Edwards delves into this new and expanding frontier biweekly in Not So Massively, our column on battle royales, OARPGs, looter-shooters, and other multiplayer online titles that aren’t quite MMORPGs.
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