Did You Say PUZZLE MAPS?
Asking a strategy gamer what they think of puzzle maps is like asking a tabletop roleplaying gamer about their opinion on railroading. The responses will vary massively.
For those not familiar with the term, a puzzle map is when the game’s campaign contains a segment in which there is a single planned solution, and while the player can approach the problem however they like, they won’t be able to solve it without finding the one approach the scenario designer had in mind.
On the one hand, puzzle maps are useful for focusing on specific parts of the game’s system to teach the player how to use them, such as different types of unit. They encourage the player to be flexible, rather that sinking into a rut of using the same strategy over and over. They force the player to slow down and consider strategies rather than playing through on autopilot, making the scenarios more memorable due to the time spent thinking about them. Strategy games can benefit from linear map design just as much as any other genre.
On the other hand, puzzle maps are horrible because they mean the campaign has no replayability – once it’s solved, it’s solved. Their tendency to focus on a single solution means the map focuses on gameplay that was created specifically for the puzzle, when it should be focusing on showing off the game’s intrinsic mechanics. Puzzles also exacerbate the habit of campaigns to give a false impression of how to play the game well. Why are you wasting your time on the campaign, anyway? They always teach you bad play habits and the stories are usually terrible and poorly paced. If you’re a solo-only strategy fan, you’ll have to sift through a lot of dreck.
This argument can go round forever, because ultimately there are players that want to experiment and do as they please, and there are those who prefer linear, tightly focused games with scenarios laid out by the designers in a test of your skill, and your opinion will vary depending on your preference on this sliding scale and why you play games in the first place.
Early Perimeter maps aren’t exactly puzzle maps: they’re not impossible if you tackle them in a different way to that indicated. But they’re a lot easier if you do, especially early on when you may not have many viable options.
For example, you can build units on Krugh, but you don’t really have anything good at taking down buildings – you have access to Subterra, but so do they, and they start with the lab and anti-subterra turrets, so that won’t get you far – and the enemy quickly gets a level 3 Bomb Lab for building howitzers.
Howitzers that aren’t taken down quickly are incredibly irritating, because they will pound away at your buildings from long range, and all you can do is suck up the damage, suck up the energy cost of repairs or protection from the Perimeter, and hope you can take them down quickly. Given the objective on Krugh is to keep your energy income high to charge your Frame’s Spiral and pass through the Portal, this map can quickly go horribly wrong.
So, what do you do? You behave like a good little Legate and do what you’re advised to do.
I mentioned back in the post on buildings that Cores could capture each other. This map introduces the concept, and it constitutes a large portion of your activity. You build a few Cores, build some within range of both your own and those of the enemy under cover of your Perimeter, raise their shield once built to capture the ones next to them, repeat a few times, then sit back and wait for your Spiral to charge. The end. You’ll never even see units from the other Frame.
So why does this map cause difficulties? Well, the game might tell you what to do, but it certainly doesn’t tell you how to do it.
I could complain here about how the problem is that nobody reads manuals any more, but while it does state how to capture Cores with the Perimeter, in other cases reading the manual won’t necessarily help.
Where Did All My Energy Go?
The most annoying aspect of playing Perimeter is that it’s very opaque about some parts of the game. Here’s the info panel you get when you hover the mouse over a unit.
That list of viable targets gets the job done, but isn’t great to use, being a great slab of homogenous text. What do those two Damage numbers mean? I’m guessing they’re damage and health. Or maybe they’re to do with how much energy the units need to fire. I have no idea, because neither the game nor the manual feels like telling me. The manual doesn’t mention them at all, in fact. And what does that Armor level actually do?
What the manual does explain is which units are good at what. The game occasionally mentions this when a unit is introduced for the next map’s gimmick, but a lot of units are never mentioned at all when they turn up, and the tooltips aren’t giving anything away. Mention strengths in the info panel? Screw that, people should read the manual.
At least you can get a feel for units’ strengths by using them. The first few times you run out of Energy, you probably won’t know why. Everything is Energy in this game. You use it to build buildings and units. You use it to charge a squad’s Charge Meter so its units can morph into something else. You use it to keep your Perimeter up. You use it to charge your Big Cannon, whatever that happens to do. More crucially, you use it to repair buildings and make your turrets and units fire. Given how often you’ll have enemies within turret range, and how often your buildings will be getting hurt by terrain damage, it can be very easy to find your Energy quickly dropping for no reason you can easily fathom.
At its worst, this means a single-player mission can quickly become an exercise in reloading over and over again. Their Howitzers went up before yours? I hope you have a lot of Energy and a plan to get rid of it quickly, otherwise you’re quickly going to lose all your Energy trying to repair whatever it’s launching shells at. Oh, and that means you have nothing to fire back with, or to raise your Perimeter. One of the first standard tactics you learn in Skirmish is to build a Bomb Lab and upgrade it as quickly as possible to get access to Howitzers. In a game where the emphasis is on aggressively using units to take down the enemy base, Howitzers let you do the same thing by building them and waiting for a while.
Unit Spotlight: Exodus Units
Each faction has their own special Lab, that gives them access to four unique units and a unique Big Cannon. As we go through the game I’ll be looking at each of the factions, and comment on how it contributes to the feel of that faction in the story.
Exodus is the original faction, the ones who keep their faith in the Spirits and the promise of a new Eden. Their logo is shown above, and blatantly contains the Square and Compasses. I’m not sure what they’re implying.
Despite being borderline religious fanatics, the Exodus are fairly forgiving – in early encounters with the Empire they choose to withdraw, and they block the Harkback from going down the Chain instead of destroying them, to give them a chance to repent. Given this and their faith in the existence of Eden, this means that they spend more time than anyone else exploring new worlds, and dealing with the Scourge instead of other humans.
Most of their unique units are introduced as ways to deal with the native aliens – the Scourge – rather than Humans, while the other two factions almost completely focus on Frame-vs-Frame combat. Their attacks are often indirect, damaging the landscape rather than directly attacking units.
The first unit is solely for taking down buildings, by making huge cracks in the ground. How’s that helpful against the Scourge? The Scourge sometimes build large nests, out of which they’ll spit in large numbers until the nest is destroyed. Rather than a constant all-out assault, you can undermine it with a few cracks in the ground, and then leave it to gradually fall apart.
A Level Two Exodus lab gets you two units – one takes out units by firing tornados at them, which is great against air and subterra units, and the other one is a flying units that fires solar beams at the ground, burning up units and heating up the terrain, damaging subterra units while it’s at it. They’re both great at dealing with Scourge in the massive groups they’re beginning to band into at this point in the campaign.
Their use against other Frames is more questionable. the air unit is very vulnerable for such an expensive unit, and despite looking like an offensive weapon, they’re as bad at fighting with support from other units as the rest of the Exodus units. The tornado machine can do good damage to large groups of weak units, and has the advantage that it can fire invulnerable tornadoes through the Perimeter, but the random way in which the tornado moves after its initial firing makes it hard to use optimally, as this requires firing at something deep inside the enemy base, so it will still damage buildings when it starts spiralling.
Finally, the really offensive one, the Scum Thrower.
This is essentially a giant moving catapult that fires huge balls of earth at things, doing a lot of damage at the point it lands and making modest holes. I don’t have much to say about this one, because there isn’t much else to it: it’s a siege weapon that does good damage and can take a good beating, but can be blocked by the Perimeter. It’s useful, but nothing spectacular.
Each faction has a Big Cannon, which needs a lot of Energy to fire and takes a long time to recharge. In the Exodus’s case we have the Scum Disruptor.
I’d never used this before picking the game up for this, so I assumed it just made a huge crack in the ground like the Scum Splitters. It’s way better than that. It makes a volcano.
Those fireballs go through the Perimeter, too.
In summary, the Exodus units are all about making big holes in the ground and destroying buildings by taking out their foundations, an odd speciality for a faction using the same symbol as the Freemasons. I wouldn’t exactly call it passive, but it’s a pretty indirect approach to things, and makes a good demonstration of what Perimeter does with its terrain engine.
Next time, we’ll look at how the Scourge were a wasted idea, and how the Harkback control your nightmares.