To build. To scavenge. To hunt. To gather. To defend. When it comes to real-time strategy games, these are the core ideals that hold the linchpin of your virtual society in place. And Clockwork Empires is no exception.
“Build a prosperous colony,” the official website reads.“Fill it with magnificent factories worked by oppressed labourers, and harness the awesome power of steam through fearsome machines invented by determined men and women of Science!”
Having left the Empire in order to seek pastures new, you begin the game on a new settlement — hungry for independence, fame and…food, I guess. In typical RTS fashion, you must strip the land of resources in order to survive. Anybody who’s played a god-style game will know intuitively what needs to be done at this point. Fortunately, since version 31, developer Gaslamp Games have implemented an in-game tutorial to get the ball rolling for people not familiar with these types of games. It proved to be a useful tool in the end as up until the update, I had been largely going off my instincts based off previous franchises.
While it’s still in early access stages, the game is already trying to set itself apart from other fan favourites, such as Age Of Empires. While the titles are similar to one another and the crux of the gameplay is largely the same, there is a slight Sims-esque feel to Clockwork Empires which one hopes will become a crucial part of the game as it develops further.
Each colonist – be they worker or militia – has their own characteristics and personal history. They hold their own memories and talk to one another whilst idly waiting for a job that needs doing. There is even a class divide as the overseers of the community supervise the lower rungs as they set about building and foraging.
What I immediately noticed during play was that the majority of Clockwork Empires focuses on the player choosing which tasks to undergo (chopping down trees, setting foundations for buildings etc), while the game itself automatically decides which colonists do which chores. As your workers gather resources, the more middle class individuals keep a tight watch on their workers, while military personnel keep enemies from terrorizing your settlement. At this current stage of development, there is no way for you to interact with your colonists outside of seeing their stats and history. It’s hard to say whether this will be changed in future updates, but I sure hope it is.
Fish-people were the game’s first antagonists I encountered, and were quickly dealt with by patrolling red-coats, leaving me to expand my colony; workshops for chopping logs, a brewery for whiskey, crappy wood houses for the workers, nice brick ones for the middle class supervisors (I admit I’m guilty of perpetuating social divides).
Occasionally, play was interrupted by in-game tasks. Here is where you get to decide what kind of a bureaucrat you are going to be. At one stage I was asked if I wanted to allow new immigrants into my growing community. Hell yes, said I and welcomed my new settlers. Sadly, this turned out to be quite a gamble. With more workers there were more mouths to feed and subsequently, I had notifications telling me various people were beginning to go hungry.
Fortunately, the Empire was there to lend a hand. Another prompt asked if I needed help feeding my colonists. Pride should have got the better of me and forced me to decline the offer, but I was weak and hey, free food and supplies!
At this stage, Clockwork Empires is understandably rough around the edges. However, the premise, mechanics and overall feel of the game seem to have been set and it plays pretty well. In the short time I had with it, it already went through a major update, so we can expect a lot more life from the development team in the near future.
Overall, is the game worth it? At $29.99 (£22.99) on Steam, it’s quite a hefty price to pay for an early access title. Still, I guess it just depends on how much of a fan you are of RTS games. If you really dig them, you may want to play Clockwork Empires in its infancy.