Skyward Collapse review

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A god game with a twist, but a lack of execution.

Skyward Collapse is a god game with a twist. Instead of leading your people to victory over non-believers, you lead two sets of people to a state of geopolitical equilibrium. In doing this, you must ensure that both sides are powerful enough to survive and flourish in a dangerous, mythological world, but that neither gains enough of an advantage to wipe the other out. It's an interesting idea, but it leaves something to be desired in execution.

At its core, Skyward Collapse is a fairly simple proposition: create, nurture and maintain balance between two ancient peoples, the Greeks and the Norse, as they expand their holdings in a world populated by creatures both real and mythological. In practice, it's somewhat more complicated. Their shared realm is wracked by "woes," natural (and supernatural) disasters that can turn things upside-down in an instant, and beset by endless hordes of wicked, murderous bandits. They're also unrelentingly warlike and antagonistic toward one another; you might think that as an all-seeing god, you could convince them to knock it off, but no – they are determined to fight. Since you can't stop it, you're left with Plan B: keep it going forever.

You begin by selecting from more than a half dozen maps, each with its own unique features and challenges, and a difficulty from the beginner's tutorial all the way up to expert mode. There's also a "sandbox" option that allows for limitless moves and no endgame, so you can experiment with various strategies. You can adjust the number of turns per round from 30 to 50 – there are always three rounds in every game – and tinker with things like "woe frequency" and scoring requirements.

Once you've set your desired game conditions, you're presented with an isometric view of a grid-based map, with a settlement for each race located more or less in opposing corners. Beginning settlements consist of nothing but a town center, to which you will add a fairly conventional stable of strategy game facilities like rock quarries, pig farms, carpenters, smithies and smelters. There's also a small selection of military buildings that produce units for combat; aside from the special mythological units, these are the only mobile units in the game.

But you're not just a commander-in-chief: you're a god, and that means you can do more than just order the erection of structures and recruitment of men. You can place terrain tiles – forests, marshes, mountains and so forth – replacing the existing landscape or adding it onto the floating map and expanding its borders. Other settlements may (and almost must) be raised elsewhere, allowing both cultures to push out beyond their very limited initial borders. And when things get out of hand, you can unleash unique mythological units – elves and minotaurs, giants and centaurs – which can give one side an immediate and vast advantage over the other, and serves as a handy (but sometimes risky) way to restore a tilting balance.

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