Review: Militia20 Apr 2017 0
Released 23 Mar 2017
Anyone encountering Militia for the first time will be struck by the game’s spartan presentation. Sticking with the ancient Greek references, the next thing to spring to mind is likely to be the game’s similarity to the classic Hoplite. Both are turn based tactical games with a puzzle game vibe. Both hide a solid challenge under a simplistic surface. Both have seven letters and the word “lit” in their title. I’m struggling a bit now so let’s quickly move on. What is different about Militia is that you do not just control a single soldier but lead a small troop of up to three warriors, mages and cavalry units.
If you thought that Hoplite was pared down presentation-wise then Militia will surprise you by taking the idea of minimalism to a whole new level of nothingness. When you enter the Light World for the first time you could easily suffer a spell of snow-blindness as your eyes adjust to the barren, wintery landscape. Start making your way through the training levels and you could be fooled into thinking that the gameplay is going to be as simple as the presentation. However, with the gradual introduction of new units, each with their own increasingly complicated special powers, any fears of a game lacking in scope are quickly laid to rest.
Militia uses a simple turn based structure; each of your units moves and attacks and then the enemy units do likewise. There are no terrain modifiers and no combat statistics. Put simply, if a unit is attacked it will be destroyed. The key to success is to learn the most effective ways of using the skills of your small band of troops and to be aware of your enemies’ movement and attack patterns. To give a clearer idea of how Militia actually works let’s look at a few of the units in a little more detail. Things start off straightforward enough with the warrior who will wipe out enemies in the three tiles directly in front of him. Cavalry units can destroy an enemy by moving into the same tile and skewer a further two kebab-style. The mage can move up to one tile and cast a ranged spell or move two spaces and attack an adjacent enemy. The paladin rejuvenates units around him when he attacks, providing them with a second action. Then there is the teleporting mage, he may not be able to attack, but if he teleports an enemy to a tile occupied by another unit then things get messy and both are destroyed.
Of course whilst all of this manoeuvering is going on your adversaries aren’t just sitting around sipping tea. The bog-standard orc can only move one tile horizontally or vertically, imps move diagonally, archers will destroy a unit if they have a clear line of sight in a vertical or horizontal direction, slimes do what slimes do best by multiplying themselves and barbarians give immunity to units next to them. There are also the tiles that generate new enemies to consider. Mercifully, you don’t have to defeat every enemy to win a battle, just the captains who are denoted by a star. Still, you only have a limited number of turns in which to wipeout the leaders so you cannot afford to sit back.
Victory in a battle is only the first step to winning a game. In Militia you need to be successful in three consecutive battles to claim a win. Every time you achieve this you head towards a higher rank and a stiffer test, with the randomly generated levels offering ever-greater challenges. If you are defeated then you lose ranking points. This can frustrating, especially when you have reached the third and final battle. After the first few easy levels you find yourself in a constant tug-of-war as you try to keep your win ratio high enough to improve your ranking. There are no equipment upgrades or character level progressions; you are simply pitting yourself against greater challenges.
That is just the Light World, a whole new Dark World campaign also awaits. This introduces new heroes and enemies for a much more demanding challenge. Key features include units with the ability to warp from one edge of the board to the other and a new mage who has the ability to push units back. There are also explosive totems that can wreak havoc on your enemies but also endanger any nearby friendly units. I found that some of the training levels in the Dark World were a challenge in themselves. Soon my brain just wanted to crawl into its own dark corner and be left alone.
When a game opts for such an austere design even the smallest issue is going to stand out like your Nan’s old sofa and crocheted cushions in a minimalist’s apartment. It is here that Militia falls a little short. The presentation feels a bit rough (the glitchy screen reorientation for instance) and the unit icons do not really have a consistent style. In general, although the rules are easy to understand, some units could do with a little more explanation. Finding out the more complex capabilities can often be a matter of trial and error. The teleporting mage is a case in point; this guy bamboozled me for a fair while. Finally, I discovered that he teleports a unit to the symmetrically opposite tile on the other half of the board.
Militia isn’t a game that you are going to sit down with and spend hours playing. It is at its best when experienced in short sharp blasts when you have a spare 10 minutes and want to give your brain a quick workout. The controls are responsive, and although the enemies aren’t the brightest they make up for this in sheer numbers. In some ways, with its constantly respawning baddies, Militia feels like a turn-based version of the old arcade classic Gauntlet - "The Wizard Needs Food Badly."
Militia does feel rather harsh at times. Defeat is all too often followed by frustration that carries over into the next battle. Then you make the inevitable annoyance-fueled stupid mistakes and before you know it your ranking is plummeting. It doesn’t help matters that although you can undo movement orders you cannot take back any accidental attacks. Consequently, it can feel like you are taking one step forwards and two steps back. This lack of a sense of steady progression may put off some players. Yet, Militia's chilled music, graphical sparseness and absorbing puzzles help you to forgive and embrace the game’s trance-like quality.