Review: Shattered Plane13 May 2019 0
Review: Shattered Plane
Released 23 Mar 2019
Co-opting a board game motif is small-budget strategy video game design 101. What’s Chess but a strategy game, right? But Chess makes the most of the few pieces, and limited spaces it has. Every piece has a unique movement pattern, and when mixed together, the tactical possibilities are truly enormous. Shattered Plane, the fantasy war game by Eremite Games, is more like Checkers. Units are effectively homogeneous, all playing by similar rules, putting more weight on the player’s every move.
If it wanted to just be Checkers, it may have succeeded.
It’s in its noble attempts to spice up the formula that Shattered Plane loses me. Which is ironic, because my first handful of missions had me wishing there was more to it than what was in front of me. Nodes that represent towns or temples or monuments spawn troops for your team. These troops can be combined together in a single space to up their hitting power, to a max of 99. Everyone moves at the same two space pace, so each turn tends to be a slow trek towards an objective node, or a special unit that must be eliminated. You only have a limited amount of moves per turn, though. So even if you have seven units on the board, you might not be able to move all of them before you pass to the next player.
Together, these simple rules actually make for an easy to grasp game that can be a soft challenge at times. The move limit per turn really makes you think about grander strategy just as often as you might ponder the moment-to-moment tactics. When it’s at its best, I’m struggling to make decisive advances on important targets on one side of the map, while trying to keep important landmarks under control on the opposite side. Great war games can get you thinking on all fronts, and this has flashes of that.
The flash is temporary, of course. Many of Shattered Plane’s other features get in its way. For example, the second state per unit besides troop number it morale. Morale goes up as that unit wins battles or is nearby when an ally attacks someone. They lose it when they lose battles or when their numbers grow. It’s supposed to act like a sort of luck modifier, where higher morale might find your unit doing better in combat then you thought. If unit size is close, morale becomes a difference maker.
The problem arises when morale seems to be doing way more heaving lifting in a combat exchange than you’d think. There were several occasions where my troop totals were significantly higher than an enemy’s, who had higher morale than mine. When my guys got crushed in battle, I was left scratching my head. If there was some sort of transparency surrounding the relationship between morale and battle, that would be one thing. If you’re going to add visible numbers to a game where numbers matter, you have to spell out how they matter more explicitly
Each army is part of a faction that worships a patron that gives them a special ability. These abilities add a little spice to your arsenal, and can change the state of play drastically. Playing through the campaign will get you acquainted with them, and it will also teach you that some are just absolutely more useful than others. This unbalance is also felt pretty heavily in the campaign. The difference between struggling and dominance on two maps with similar objectives is having a ability that lowers the morale of all the enemies, or having the one that adds troops to all your bases. The former is shrug worthy, while the latter is clearly powerful. The AI will introduce some, like one that can obliterate a unit outright, no matter the size or morale. That never feels like anything more than cheating.
There is a Ranked and a Quick Play mode, but these are more score attack leaderboards than multiplayer modes. It’s also where Shattered Plane feels most like a puzzle game. You must select a board, and take control of it from AI opponents in a few moves as you can. It lacks the environmental elements from the campaign mode (the very few that existed), so the boards themselves can feel pretty bland and basic, but it’s a more intense way to play the game.
Shattered Plane doesn’t do anything wrong, necessarily. It’s art is passable and sometimes really cool. It’s story is forgettable but not terribly offensive. The combat gets in its own way by doing too much, yet at the same time, not enough. There’s some enjoyment to be had with this simple strategy game, but it’s inconsistent and won’t last very long.