Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Jon Shafer’s At the Gates Gameplay Review

I'm playing Jon Shafer’s At the Gates, a turn-based 4X strategy game by Conifer Games.

In this single-player game, the goal is to build a thriving kingdom that can succeed the Roman Empire. The random map generator is fantastic, offering up realistic terrain (mountain ranges, rain shadow, coastal areas) and granting a limited selection of surrounding resources. The resources that are immediately available will drive early production, and the remainder must be traded for. The art style is striking, and while the tool-tips are fantastic, the interface lacks several features, such as a list of all buildings and clans, plus easy switching between the settlement and research views. The first difference between At the Gates and traditional 4X games is the use of towns and citizens. First, there is only one settlement that can train workers in new jobs and research new professions. This significantly reduces tedious city micromanagement (especially late-game) while making decisions more important. A single clan of workers can undertake one job, which either takes place on the map or in the settlement itself. Professions fall under several categories: honor (military and hunters), agriculture (farmers and gatherers), livestock (ranchers), metalworking (miners and smiths), crafting (wood cutters and stone carvers), or discovery (explorers and traders). Clans can have preferred jobs and personality traits that can make them clash with others.

Resource locations on the map deplete over time, until permanent stone structures to collect food, wood, or minerals are built. Because of this, the settlement location can be moved until it is established as a kingdom in a lasting location. Areas outside the borders can only be foraged, but borders can be expanded with watchtowers. A caravan arrives three times a year so that goods can be swapped for others. Seasons significantly impact resource income; makes sure all the foragers and explorers are inside the settlement once winter strikes! Research involves unlocking and improving jobs for your clans. Some are better than others (crafting stone blocks is a must, for example), but the research choices are largely determined by what resources are available nearby (no reason to research beekeeping if there are no bees). Diplomatic options are extremely basic: only alliances and wars are available, with limited gifting options to adjust relationship levels. The environment provides the strongest foe, as the AI is very passive and easy to defeat with a strong economy. At the Gates is a truly unique 4X game that is a couple of minor improvements (interface, diplomacy, AI) away from being phenomenal.