Every so often, a game comes about that reminds us how much has changed in RPGs in a very short time period. While Confrontation may not have originally set out to reintroduce RPG elements long forgotten by modern games, it manages to pull the gamer back a decade in history to a time where storytelling and tactics took precedence over the glitz and glam found in many modern games. However, when setting out to restore a game from the “golden ages”, developers run the risk of alienating fans who weren’t present during that time. Is Confrontation the gateway to bringing new fans to the table of classic RPG gaming? Or, has it accidentally set itself out of reach for all but the most hardcore fans of the genre?
Many gamers will recognize that Confrontation is based on a table-top game of the same name; however Cyanide Studio has done a fantastic job of bringing those of us who have been missing out up to speed. The fantasy takes place in the world of Aarklash as a bitter war has been devastating the land. Foretold by many prophecies, the Rag’narok is the war of the age of darkness, the time when the gods have chosen their champions to put Aarklash to fire and steel. The Rag’narok started in the deserts of Syharhalna when the Scorpion clan allowed the god Arh-Tolth to return and set out on a crusade to conquer the continent. You play as members of the Griffin clan who are determined to end the war before the world is destroyed. An elite squad of Griffin’s best warriors has been sent behind enemy lines into the heart of Syharhalna, in order to find the Scorpion clan and stop them at any cost.
The story is progressed by an omnipresent narrator who chimes in during and in-between missions. I’m a sucker for good storytelling, and Cyanide managed to hit my personal sweet spot by having an almost perfect narration. The narrator manages to come off as your grandfather telling you riveting tales right before bed, leaving out just enough for your imagination to go wild with possibilities. This easily became the highlight of the game for me, and I felt myself compelled to push just a bit further to find out what other secrets he was going to expose to me next.
Confrontation plays out as a strange hybrid of an RPG and RTS game, while incorporating elements from strategy titles. It also uses certain things from the MMO genre’s playbook. While this certainly sounds daunting, Cyanide has toed the line expertly. You control a party of four adventures that fit your standard RPG classes (mage, support, tank and DPS) and you’re going to have to use their skills to the fullest extent to survive. Even on the lower difficulties, strategy is paramount to survival as you need to approach each battle strategically. Luckily, the ability to pause the game and issue commands is present; otherwise some of the battles would simply be overwhelming. It’s easy to draw comparisons to Dragon Age or playing all four characters during a Diablo II LAN game based on the combat system and fans of old school RPG games will feel right at home.
Character management isn’t quite as fleshed out as I hoped it would be with a title like this. There’s no real loot per say, however you can find glyphs and weapon/armor parts to upgrade your equipment. This lack of customization does streamline the game a bit; however I found it a bit too easy to paint myself into a corner if I chose the “wrong” upgrade or used the wrong glyph for a weapon. Simply making a few decisions differently could have drastically impacted the game; however that in itself isn’t a negative. Confrontation will force you to play to your strengths and will utterly punish you if you try to play a style you’re not comfortable with.
The first thing most gamers will notice will be the limited graphical prowess that Confrontation offers. The engine certainly isn’t powerful as what we’re accustomed to with most modern releases. In fact, it looks like something from the late 90s or early 2000s. The game’s character models are a bit dull and it’s not uncommon to find instances where objects intersect each other. Sadly, there are also instances of major screen tearing when combat heats up, however it never had a significant impact on gameplay. The color palate is fairly varied, and the environments offer enough variety to keep the user entertained. Normally I would be concerned that the lower quality graphics would run off a few clients however the overall aesthetics of the game aren’t that bad (outside of a few graphical glitches) and I have to think that the type of gamer attracted to a title like Confrontation would be more concerned with gameplay and storytelling than its graphical elements.
The mini map deserves special recognition here. Cyanide managed to offer one of the best mini map displays I have ever encountered, and it really should be held as a new standard bearer. While the standard aspects of level layout, party members and nearby enemies are all present, this mini map design also tracks your progress through the stage with non-intrusive path markings. Gone are the days of worrying that you missed something by forgetting to clear a room. Through the use of a quick downward glance, you can become certain of the fact that you made your way through the area completely. This is a godsend with some of the stage layouts having a vague labyrinthine appeal to them and it kept me from getting lost more than a few times.
As much as I enjoyed the attention to detail Cyanide put into their mini map, I found the control scheme to be absolutely horrendous. The default layout requires some major finger gymnastics to be even remotely useful. The camera keys are the arrow keys by default, while WASD and the function keys are set to handle individual characters and abilities. Thankfully, the entire configuration is completely customizable, but I never quite managed to find something that was fully comfortable for me. With enough time, I’m sure I could have found something that was a bit more comfortable, however there would be a sizeable time investment needed.
The path finding can also leave something to be desired at times. Squad mates will often attempt to shoulder past each other in corridors, causing a Three Stooges-esque pileup where no one can get through. This sadly can also occur during combat, trapping enemies or squad mates behind objects in the environment, prohibiting them from taking a clean shot. This could potentially be addressed in a patch, because it is an annoying problem. However, it is not game breaking by any means.
Even with these complaints in mind, Confrontation offers very balanced gameplay difficulty wise. Every time I died, I was able to take solace in the fact that it was my fault. If you blindly run into battle and hope for the best, you’re going to get demolished. Every facet of the battle has to be taken into account. Accidentally leading with your rogue or support will ensure a quick and painful death. The checkpoints can be a bit unforgiving at times with them being spaced out as far as they are, so be sure to save often unless you’re willing to replay that massive fight you spent 15 minutes planning for because you managed to walk into a trap while you were celebrating.
While there is multiplayer in Confrontation, it’s not what you would expect. Sadly, there is no option to team up with your buddies to tear through the hordes in Rag’narok together. Instead, multiplayer is a competitive match where you pit your squad against another. Games usually only last a few minutes, but the lack of options seem to indicate that it was an afterthought for Cyanide as opposed to a real focus for the team. While some players may find some enjoyment, I can’t help but wish they had scrapped the idea and put the time and energy into polishing the single player campaign a bit more if they weren’t interested in co-op.
One thing you MUST be aware of before purchasing is the draconian DRM Cyanide has imposed. The Steam version of the game (and let’s not forget that Steam in and of itself is DRM) has a 5 machine activation limit. This is inexcusable and is punishing the legitimate customer. For shame, Cyanide.
Confrontation is by no means a bad game; however it’s not something I can easily recommend to everyone, especially when taking into account the DRM. This release is going to draw more similarities to older games such as Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War 2 and Baldur’s Gate than some of the more modern RPG games on the market, and players who aren’t used to that type of gameplay may be turned off before they have enough time to become engrossed in the product. However, anyone looking to rehash some of the old-school-cool of the role-playing games of yore should find that Confrontation offers a taste of something we had almost forgotten. If you’ve been waiting for an excuse to get back to the glorious days of the RPG golden days, you may have found your next obsession. With that being said, casual fans of the genre may be better suited to wait for a price drop and for Cyanide to remove the imposing DRM.
This review is based on a copy of the game that we were provided for review purposes.