REVIEW: ‘Golem Gates’ is a Dark Fantasy Tour-de-Force (Switch)

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Golem Gates

In the end, there was death. From the darkness and ashes comes a deity, destined to bring hope and nourishment to the land, long scarred by ancient warriors. This deity summons you as the Harbinger, an ancient warrior with the ability to manipulate nanites from the mysterious substance “Ash” and summon armies to defeat the great evils festering upon the land. This is Golem Gates, from Laser-Guided games LLC, Hollow Earth Inc, and Digerati Marketing.

Golem Gates is a new type of dark fantasy game for PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and Xbox One. It features an entirely original world and gameplay that sets itself apart from other games in the genre. Featuring a world that combines the technological and fantasy, as well as coupled with a distinct combat system, Golem Gates is a strong and staunchly unique gameplay experience, though there are a few stumbles within its initial experience.

Playing as the Harbinger in Golem Gates, you are a warrior with tremendous power and is the key to saving the land, ravaged by war and death. Throughout the game, players fight several different lords of great evil and destruction in their quest to repair the land. To do so, you must descend upon the land, and use your wits and tactics to destroy the various obstacles that have laid before you. These lords will come at the player with all the powers of darkness and it is up to the player to decimate the remorseless evil. To do this, players will have to build a glyph deck, employ it wisely, and use real-time tactics to destroy an unpredictable enemy and achieve victory.

Golem Gates’ first impression is its remarkable visual style, both vivid and imaginative that combines sci-fi and fantasy. Elements of steampunk, cyberpunk, and fantasy are spliced into a unique world, where enemy units don organic and mechanical parts, and the Harbinger appears as a transcended humanoid machine of the cosmos. Electricity and circuitry are laced into the land, and the enemies appear to be splicing of cutting edge cybernetic technology and alien creatures.

It’s a unique world that has been crafted. The overall setting feels epic, grand, and biblical, even as the game primarily takes place across various, dark battle zones on the scarred Earth. The gameplay experience is accompanied by a profound synthwave soundtrack that puts players in the mood for fighting the forces of darkness in grand, epic battles. At times, I couldn’t help but feel that the visual style to Golem Gates would be a perfect visual illustration of the newest album by synthwave artists Perturbator or Carpenter Brut.

It’s disappointing that more of this world isn’t more realized as it takes place from the top-down perspective, but the world that has been crafted via the levels and cutscenes is fascinating and would love to see more. Should there be future installments or spinoffs, I can see this becoming a breathtaking world to explore.

Golem Gates’ gameplay combines deck-building and real-time strategy against large battlefields. On the surface, it may sound complicated, and there is a lot of room for error, but fortunately, it combines various elements and the result is a solid gameplay experience.

The first step is for players to build their card deck, known as glyphs. The glyphs contain a variety of offensive, defensive, and special abilities. Offensive glyphs allow for troop deployment, special powers such as fireballs, and deploying hero units. Defensive glyphs allow or the deployment of turrets and traps, while special glyphs allow for augmenting existing units, as well as drawing more glyphs. for deployment. Following this selection of glyphs, players then employ those glyphs for combat.

Glyphs are deployed depending on the nanite gauge. This energy gauge displays how many glyphs can be deployed. Each glyph is different in its usage and capabilities, with some glyphs requiring more nanites than others. The gauge will refill constantly over time, but nanite points, which are small circular checkpoints on the battlefield, can be secured to acquire more nanites at a faster rate. That said, they will need to be defended as the enemy will stop at nothing to securing that for which you claim.

Players have a variety of offensive and defensive units, players are free to engage the enemy in the style of an real time strategy (RTS) game and need to navigate through the fog of war to various locations, engaging in various enemy units and eventually, the golem gate. The gates are massive structures, requiring a plethora of firepower to eliminate. Fortunately, players can deploy as many offensive units as they wish.  Employing the right ones at the right time is quintessential to victory.

Friendly units in Golem Gates will automatically engage the nearest enemy, but only when they appear. The fog of war will disguise the enemies but a glyph in the future will allow for the fog of war to lift temporarily, revealing the locations of roaming enemy units. The objectives of each battlefield vary. Players may need to hold multiple locations simultaneously to engage the golem gate, while other levels may require the assembly of a larger unit to fully succeed.

Each level presents its own challenges and players will need to adapt to the tactics necessary to achieve victory. During the battle, it is possible to run out of glyphs. However, the deck will reload and reshuffle, though this comes at a price. For approximately 15-seconds, the game will play out and commands cannot be distributed. For that time, players are helpless to change anything until that countdown runs down. In the heat of combat, this can feel like an eternity.

Finally, Golem Gates adopts multiplayer online battle (MOBA) mechanics. In some instances, the player will have to charge and eliminate a particular enemy unit or units to win the match. To do so, players will need to traverse the battlefield, deploy and separate units, and track the enemy combatant down. These boss units, which wield the cam power as the Harbinger, are difficult and challenging, requiring patience and exploitation form the player.

In one instance, I attempted to play it safe, stack a large number of units, and secure nanite points. I was crushed as my forces were spread too thin and not aggressive enough. On my repeat play, I built up just enough forces, then charged the enemy unit, trapping him in a corner, choke pointing any means of escape, and sending my two strongest moments to finish him off.

When everything comes together, Golem Gates becomes sharply engrossing dark-fantasy RTS experience. The immersive atmosphere invites the player deep into its world of deadly cybernetic darkness and golden lights of justice. Every point taken an enemy down as well as every golem gate decimated is a tremendous reward and the moments where players can get out of a bad situation is a small, victorious measure of wit and skill. Playing Golem Gates is a combination of playing patiently, playing intelligently, and playing aggressively. In one moment, you are defending yourself and trying to build up your forces.

Golem Gates

In another moment, the enemy ambushes you through a wall of fire, and through the odds, you smash, shoot, set the enemy aflame, persevering and continuing onwards to victory. As the cards are distributed at random, there is always the element of chance that a battle can quickly roll in your favor, or against it. It’s a thrilling sensation, and the fact that all of these mechanics work without conflicts or imbalance is a profound testament to the skills and talents of the team, especially the gameplay and combat designers. It’s a stark and fiercely different game from others available today, and it earns respect and praise.

Even the controls and the UI is worthy of praise. While players need to use the right joystick to select points to move troops or airstrikes, it moves visibly and responsively. The interface displays everything that players need to do know, from the nanite gauge to the minimap. Golem Gates is stupendous, and outside the main campaign, players can take their skills in versus mode with other players, or participate in various challenge missions to test their skills.

That being said, there is room for improvement in Golem Gates, and that is in better communication to new players. There is a prologue chapter that shows the player what it is that they need to do and how to do it. However, by level four of chapter one, there is an extremely difficult spike that quickly made Golem Gates frustrating, as well as demonstrates some desires for technical improvements.

Chapter four involves visiting points to assemble a large Golem unit. This unit is required to open a gate to the main boss of that chapter. To do this, players need to traverse the battlefield, destroy generators, and retrieve the parts. This part of the mission was challenging, but it was the second and third acts of the mission that became back-breaking. After the Golem is assembled, players need to defend the unit for five minutes. Hordes of enemy units continuously attack. It is at this stage that I am defeated.

While the game does not contain checkpoints, but it does contain manual saves. Regrettably, several times I played and lost, I had to start from the very beginning of the level. Finally, I figured out the strategy, which was to protect a nanite point, while also protecting the Golem.

Finally, I protect the Golem, but the game didn’t inform me that an ambush was coming. There was a gap of time between the second and third sections of this level. I just so happened to move my forces right by the exit, which wound up being a fatal mistake. My forces were decimated, and I had to start again from the beginning. Additionally, it did not tell me that the Golem was under my control. This isn’t a backbreaker to an otherwise solid game, but something to be aware of and makes for improvement. Between those two sections, there should have been a quicker notice that another wave of forces was approaching and that the Golem was under my control.

Additionally, Golem Gates saw a significantly slower framerate when a tremendous amount of action is going on-screen.  Lighting and contrast could have been better and the framerate could have been made more stable.  Lastly, the game does not openly state that the strike glyphs used, such as fireballs and flame-throwing, have friendly fire turned on. In other words, a well-placed strike on a group of targets can also decimate your own troops. This is a challenge as your forces clash with enemy forces in close-quarters combat.

Overall, Golem Gates, while leaving room for improvement, is a tremendous gameplay experience for those daring enough to play it. The world depicted is excitingly original, and the gameplay works, even with all of its different attributes and mechanics gelling together. Innovation requires risk and a plan to see that idea through, and while Golem Gates is rough around the edges, that plan mostly succeeds and succeeds well.

Command your squad, build your decks, and smite evil, Golem Gates is a dark fantasy tour-de-force.

Golem Gates
  • 8/10
    Rating - 8/10
8/10

TL; DR

Overall, Golem Gates, while leaving room for improvement, is a tremendous gameplay experience for those daring enough to play it. The world depicted is excitingly original, and the gameplay works, even with all of its different attributes and mechanics gelling together.