Not So Massively: Godsworn made me break my ‘no early access’ rule

Meness and Ausrine, sittin' in a tree...

I’m pretty blasé about most monetization in games, but there are a few things that I don’t like, and charging for early access is near the top of the list. I don’t like the idea of paying for an unfinished product, and far too many early access games never launch or limp across the finish line in a still-broken state.

And yet, here I am, having bought an early access game for the first time ever. That game is Godsworn, the RTS from a team of just two “core” developers that combines elements of Warcraft III and Age of Mythology with modern quality-of-life improvements.

I previously played demo versions of Godsworn in Steam Next Fest demos, and it was the strength of those demos that led me to roll the dice on its early access version. Check out my previous coverage if you want to know the basics about the game.

The early access version is still a long way from finished, but it does include some major additions compared to the demo, including a sample of the campaign and the second faction, the Christian-themed forces of Order. Order rolls out of the gate with a single playable “god,” the Archangel Michael, who focuses on summoning angelic minions and devastating his enemies with fiery AoE spells.

Order seems to draw even more inspiration from the Age of… games than the Baltics. Your town can be upgraded through three tech tiers instead of two, echoing the advancement through the ages seen in the Age franchise. Your houses even change architectural styles as you “age up.” You can also build a version of Age‘s market, allowing you to buy and sell wood and food for wealth, as well as castles, which function much the same as those of Age of Empires II, being powerful defensive structures that also produce high-tier units.

There are some other mechanical quirks to Order as well. While Baltic economy upgrades always effect all your buildings, Order tends to upgrade its buildings on an individual basis. You’ll need to buy separate upgrades for all your woodcutters if you want to maximize wood income, for instance. And of course, they do get an entirely different roster of units. Some have very similar parallels on the Baltic side, but others are more unique.

It’s not all about the followers of the cross, though. The Baltic side did get a new toy as well, in the form of a third playable god: Ausrine, the goddess of beauty.

Godsworn presents Ausrine as a vain, narcissistic manipulator, and her playstyle reflects this. If you ever wanted to see an old-school MMO controller class converted to the RTS genre, Ausrine is basically that.

She can permanently mind control neutral creeps (and later enemy units as well), and she has a wealth of abilities that manipulate the battlefield in her favour. My favourite involved dropping stars in a line, which deals damage but then also leaves the stars embedded in the earth for a time, creating a temporary path blocker. That one comes in super clutch on defence missions.

Overall, I’ve been very impressed by Ausrine, and she seems like the best example yet of how well Godsworn‘s devs know their stuff. She’s a great execution of a character that’s a bit harder to play but so rewarding once you figure her out, and her gameplay does an amazing job of reflecting her personality as it’s presented in this game. This is the type of game design that just makes me geek out so hard, where theme and mechanics just mesh perfectly.

Now that we’ve got three playable Baltic gods and I’ve played around with all of them, I can say I’m equally impressed by how different each feels, despite the fact they share mostly the same tech tree. The unique god powers of each radically change how each plays in practice. Do you want to use Saule’s stable economy and massive healing to weather any storm? Do you want to abuse Meness’ global teleports to be everywhere and nowhere all at once? Do you want to play your enemies like a fiddle as Ausrine turns their own troops against them?

As if that’s not enough variety, there’s also room for varied strategies even within each god. I noticed that there’s at least two clear paths you can take with Ausrine. In tier two, she can build a structure that periodically produces free units of a random type, and between that and her mind control, she can make a great “zerg” character, flooding the field with free chaff.

However, she also has a power that grants a unit her Recognition, turning them into a mini hero unit with improved stats and the ability to level up by gaining XP. Therefore, you could also go the exact opposite route of the zerg path, focusing on a smaller army of high-value units that you try to keep alive at all costs. Unlike regular heroes, Recognized units don’t respawn when they die. Again, this shows a real mastery of RTS design concepts.

With all that gushing out of the way, though, I do need to acknowledge that this is still an early access game from a very small developer. As I’ve said elsewhere, I think there’s a difference between a game that has bad ideas versus one that has good ideas but is unfinished, and I think Godsworn is very much the latter, but it does need to be said the current build of the game is lacking in many key areas.

Currently only the first of three campaign acts is available, and the campaign seems to be the source of most of the complaints from the community so far.

The campaign is designed with two-player co-op in mind, with each mission featuring two playable gods. If you play solo, as many people surely will, the second god and the associated army are controlled by AI, and right now the AI is very basic, simply following your hero like a lost lamb. Now, personally, I didn’t really have an issue with this, but a lot of people have reported frustration with the AI, and to be fair I played only the first two missions, as I’d rather wait for the campaign to be finished before I delve too deeply into it.

The good news is the devs are planning to improve the AI in future, including the option to give it specific commands, which should help a lot.

Beyond the campaign, you currently have the option of skirmishes versus other players or AI, as well as PvE “challenge maps.” There are currently two challenge maps, both wave defence scenarios, but more are planned in the future, with different formats beyond just defence. These have been my focus so far; they’re very fun, and playing through them on different difficulties and with different gods gives them some replay value, but I would like to see them given a bit more of a random element to really make them something you can keep coming back to in the long term.

Other major missing features include matchmaking for PvP and the ability to save in single-player games. The former may or may not ever arrive (it’s being considered but not confirmed), and the latter has been added to the roadmap thanks to player feedback.

I get the impression that Godsworn is mainly targeting the single-player crowd, so I can somewhat understand not prioritizing matchmaking (though it’s still unquestionably a very big feature to be missing), but lacking a save feature is a pretty big oversight for this kind of game. It’s good the studio has decided to add one, but that it was ever in question is the one thing so far that makes me question the devs’ decision-making.

There’s other early access jank, too. Nothing severe, but a bit of a lack of polish here and there. The UI isn’t ideal; it’s perfectly functional, but it looks very slapped together. It’s not pretty.

The current roadmap has the game releasing “end of 2025,” which is a long time to wait, but allowances must be made for how small the team is, I suppose.

It’s possible I will come to regret making this the exception to my “no early access” rule, but it’s clear the developers have a lot of good ideas, and even unfinished Godsworn has a lot to offer. My purchasing it now is a largely a pre-order and a vote of confidence to the developers on the basis of the great ideas currently on display. It’s a risk, but a calculated one, and despite my great distrust of all things early access and the poor track record of recent RTS games, I am cautiously optimistic for the game’s future.

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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