Confrontation Review

26 Apr 2012

Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:Focus Home Interactive
Developer:Cyanide Studio
Release Date:2012-04-05
  • Strategy,Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Third-Person
Buy this Game: Amazon ebay
Confrontation is an RPG / tactical strategy hybrid from French developer Cyanide Studios, which is also set to release the RPG Game of Thrones in the upcoming weeks.  Confrontation is based on a miniatures and dice war game, where small groups of soldiers battle each other.  I've never played the war game (I'd never even heard of it until recently; apparently it's more popular in Europe), but I'll try to give you an idea if the computer version of the game is worth your time and money.

Confrontation takes place in the land of Aarklash, where factions of people seem to be perpetually at war.  As the game opens up, you take control of four Griffin soldiers, and you learn that the Scorpion faction has figured out how to clone a giant war beast called the Mecasyatis.  You then spend the rest of the campaign trying to thwart the Scorpion threat, and this effort takes you through the lands of the Jackal and the Wolfen, the other two factions in the game, which means you get to fight everybody.

As you play through the campaign, you eventually unlock a dozen soldiers for the Griffin faction.  These soldiers get a variety of skills to damage and debuff their enemies, and heal and buff their allies, and they generally fall into four classes: tank, healer, dps, and crowd control.  During each mission, you get to work with four of these soldiers, and some of the fun in the game is trying out different combinations to see how they work together.

Each time you kill an enemy or reach a sanctuary during a mission, your soldiers earn experience (the soldiers you're not controlling also earn some experience, just not as much).  Then when your soldiers gain levels, they earn points to spend on their attributes, including strength, constitution, agility, vivacity (think dexterity), intelligence and wisdom.  All of the attributes are useful to all of the soldiers -- for example, intelligence makes damaging skills work better, but it also improves defense against damaging skills -- and since attributes get more expensive the more your upgrade them, Confrontation isn't really a min/max game.  You're better off taking a more moderate approach.  Every other level, your soldiers also get a point to spend on their skills.  Each soldier gets five or six skills, and each skill has five ranks.

As an example, one of the soldiers in the game is named Darius.  He's the leader of your band of soldiers (as far as the story is concerned), and he's a tank.  He gets six skills: Avenging Arm (to damage enemies), Divine Command (to dispel "control" debuffs), Divine Protection (to increase the physical armor of nearby allies), Exaltation of Soldiers (to increase the hit chance of nearby allies), Frontal Assault (to charge at and provoke enemies), and Holy Prayer (for self-healing).  Since Darius is a tank, each of his skills costs 50 stamina out of 100 stamina total, which means you can't just spam his skills during a battle.  You have to pick just the right moment to use them.

The best part of Confrontation is the battle engine.  The game is good at creating opposing groups of enemies to challenge your party, and you have to pay attention to who you're fighting so you can eliminate the most potent threat first.  Most of the challenge in the game comes from avoiding debuffs.  Things like provoking, charming, silencing, fearing, and immobilizing prevent your soldiers from using their skills, which is where most of their power comes from, and so if you just attack enemies randomly, or allow your soldiers to pick their targets, then you're going to get into trouble.  You always have to knock out the annoying spellcasters in the back first (such as the Neuromancer for the Scorpion faction), or your entire party might get disabled and slaughtered, no matter how powerful it is.
Unfortunately, Confrontation has several problems that prevent it from being fun to play.  The first of these is the interface.  Because you're controlling four soldiers, the game uses an overhead view, where you left click to select your soldiers, you right click to make them move or attack, and you press the space bar so you can pause the game and issue orders.  So far so good, but everything else is a mess.  There isn't an auto-follow mode for the camera, and the camera is currently hardcoded to the arrow keys, which is awkward at best.  The game wastes the 1-9 keys by hardcoding them to select soldier groups, even though the F1-F4 keys already select individual soldiers.  The game includes a codex of information about your enemies, but you're not allowed to access it during missions.  There's an option to queue up or replace commands, but the game forgets your choice every time you start a mission or load a game.  And the interface has numerous clarity issues.  For example, your soldiers have a chance to dodge attacks and score critical hits, but this information isn't shown anywhere.  And for a long time I couldn't figure out why the game wasn't allowing me to learn the final rank of skills, only to eventually discover that the final rank costs two skill points instead of one.  Pointing this out somewhere in the interface would have helped.

Really, Confrontation is just sloppy all over the place.  Soldiers can get knocked out during battles, and during this time they're only supposed to receive partial experience for kills, but sometimes the game fails to notice that they've been revived, and they earn partial experience for the rest of the mission.  Soldiers can upgrade their equipment by inserting glyphs, but sometimes the game fails to give them the glyph bonuses.  Sometimes the audio cuts out, and you have to restart the game to get it going again.  Sometimes doors are shown as closed and locked, but they're really open.  And finally, the pathfinding is atrocious, and not just sometimes, but always.  Even though battles typically feature a small number of units, your soldiers get hung up on each other all over the place, or for some reason start running around in circles, or don't move at all.  About 90% of the time when I struggled in a battle, it was because something in the game was broken.

A lot of the sloppiness I've listed above can be fixed with patches, but I don't think there's any such hope for the campaign, which is about as dull and repetitive as a campaign can get.  First off, despite controlling a dozen named soldiers, none of them talk or have personalities.  Some aren't even mentioned in the story.  Instead, from time to time (such as during the mission briefings) a narrator drones on about what's going on.  Secondly, the storyline itself about disrupting Scorpion plans to mass produce Mecasyatis clones might make a fine chapter in a larger story, but there isn't nearly enough there to support a 30-hour campaign.  You're basically dropped into a world without explanation, and then nothing happens, which isn't too exciting.

And then there's the gameplay of the campaign, which isn't any better.  I mentioned earlier that the battle mechanics are fine.  The problem is that you just fight one battle after another, without any motivating force behind your actions.  The campaign is just a linked sequence of about 500 battles, with the occasional boss fight thrown in for good measure.  A boring campaign can still work if character development or equipment hunting is fun, but they're not.  Confrontation uses a level 40 cap, which means soldiers get to learn just about everything, and the equipment of your soldiers is fixed.  All you find during the campaign are weapon / armor points and glyphs, which are used to upgrade equipment, and bandages, which one soldier can use to heal another.  Enemies never drop anything.

And so, clearly, I did not like Confrontation at all, and I don't think it'll be any fun to play even if it eventually gets patched up.  About the only silver lining I can think of is that it might work well enough for multiplayer skirmish matches -- assuming you can reasonably control your party without pausing the game, which seems iffy -- if that's the sort of thing that interests you.  But there's little to recommend about Confrontation for RPG enthusiasts, especially at its $40 price point.  Sometimes I recommend waiting for prices to drop before making a purchase, but in this case you should just look elsewhere.