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Confrontation - A Preview

Christopher Beck, 16 March 2012

Developer: Cyanide Studios, Publisher: Focus Home Interactive

For fans of squad-based RPG RTS hybrids, such as Spellforce and Dawn of War, the future holds another dark and bloody battle in Confrontation

Inhabited by grinning alchemical horrors, shamanistic orcs, and a race of crossbow-wielding werewolves, the world of Aarklash is clearly a dangerous place. Even the "good guys," the Griffin faction, are a hard-line and zealous worshippers of the god of fire more likely to send opposition to the Inquisitors than parlay. Yes, Aarklash is a dark and desperate place. It is also the setting of Focus Home Interactive and Cyanide Studios' new role-playing real time strategy game, Confrontation.

Confrontation is based on a tactical minis game of the same name, set during a period of apocalyptic war known as the Age of Rag'Narok. The factions fight over control of this special world, the sole place in all the myriad planes that is equally balanced between all six of the elements, earth, air, fire, water, darkness, and light. While the minis game has several different armies set across the main factions, this upcoming PC port chose to include four of those: the twisted and evil clone army of the Scorpion, the zealous and faithful Griffin, the wild orcs of the Jackal, and the ferocious yet sophisticated werewolves of Wolfen. The human army of the Griffin is the focus of the single-player campaign, and players will have control of an elite squad on a mission deep within Scorpion territory. I was allowed to play a few levels of the single-player campaign as a preview, and experience the atrocities of Scorpion's mad-scientists first hand.

Fans of the Warhammer genre of games will feel immediately comfortable with Confrontation. The small squad size (in the preview missions, I was limited to four units) is reminiscent of the real-time tactical game, Dawn of War II. As base-building is absent, Confrontation focuses on unit tactics in conflicts with enemies as your squad explores the maps for treasure or clues to the location of enemy encampments. What set Confrontation apart from its predecessors in the genre is the addition of several role-playing mechanics that are integral to customizing your fighting force to match your particular strategy. Scattered around the maps are weapons "caches" that award armor and weapon points to be used to upgrade, via a skill line, one of the two weapons or the armor of a single unit. As these caches are rare and you can only upgrade one unit per point, the player is forced to make some hard decisions on which squad mate they want to improve and what particular aspect to improve. Do you upgrade the long range fire rune of your mage or the sword and shield attack of you tank? Similarly, units will level up during missions and be awarded both attribute points and skill points. Attributes, which are categorized by the normal fare of strength, agility, constitution, intelligence, and wisdom, offer passive bonuses. Skills are more active and extremely important in battle. These include massive strikes, rooting cages of flame, or enchanting buffs that set an ally’s sword on fire. These skills can be improved but like weapon and armor points, skill points must be allocated carefully and use to improve the skills that fit your tactical goals.

Matching skill improvement with proper skill deployment in battle is essential because the fights in Confrontation are tough! This elite Griffin squad is constantly outnumbered, fighting against alchemically enhanced monstrosities that are keen to rip out your entrails (and have the claws and swords to do so). The squad members conform to general MMORPG-style classes, the tanks absorb damage and misdirect the enemy, high damage characters are "glass cannons" able hit hard but with low armor, Inquisitors offer enhancing buffs and can do damage but should be protected, and long-range "artillery" like mages offer distance and crowd control. While not available in the preview, it looked as if future missions would allow the player to choose specific squad members before battle, further expanding upon the tactical choices available to the player. Skills and character abilities all need to come together well and be effectively managed "under fire" for players to succeed in their mission.

Thankfully, although the game is an RTS, the developers have included the ability to pause the combat and issue orders. Players can even queue up a total of thirteen orders per unit, meaning that you can coordinate your attacks, movements, and skill use in all four of your squad members with very little fuss. The tension then, comes less from "twitchy" timing in skill use and more in the management of resources like mana or faith and the proper use of skills against key enemy forces. Battles are neither overly frenetic nor ponderous, and the ability to pause was a welcome addition.

Overall, Confrontation looks to be an interesting entry in the field of the squad-based RPG RTS. The Confrontation developers have used familiar fantasy elements in interesting way and have stayed fairly faithful to the source material of the minis game. I am interested to see how future levels open up in the full game and meet additional squad members with exciting new powers. The preview copy was only a limited section of the game and the introductory levels were a little sparse, but I expect to see more variety of enemies and treasure in the later levels of the finished product. I did not get a chance to play the multiplayer game in the preview, but Cyanide has stated that there will be a robust multiplayer mode where players can take control of all four of the game's factions."

For fans of squad-based RPG RTS hybrids, such as Spellforce and Dawn of War, the future holds another dark and bloody battle in Confrontation. So gird your sword, hoist the standard of the fire god Merin, and prepare to fight in desolate deserts, unholy underground alchemical labs, werewolf haunted forests, and orc infested canyons. Keep your eyes out for their arrival, for the Age of Rag'Norak is at hand!

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