PREVIEW: Acaratus

A mech-based game throws its hat into the strategy ring. Is it a work of art, or a heap or junk?

Steam: Early Access
Type: Single and Multiplayer
Genre: Turn-Based Strategy
Developer: Nodbrim Interactive
Publisher: Nodbrim Interactive
Release date: February 25th, 2016

A Thinking Man’s Take on Mechanical Mayhem

I like giant robots. They’re a bit of a niche thing perhaps, but if you’re into them there are quite a lot of different genres and types to enjoy. Gamers, in particular, have a lot of ways to feel like they’ve stepped behind the wheel of one, and Steam has a decent amount of titles for that. Obviously, most are action or shooting games. Acaratus, on the other hand, attempts to take these massive machines and make them the focus of a turn-based strategy affair.

A Nation in Turmoil

Acaratus takes place in a medieval steampunk setting, in the creator’s own words, ruled over by its Emperor, Hellios. He rose to power using Battle Suits, the game’s word for its mechs, and afterward set out a ban on anyone but his army wielding them, punishable by death. You play as Adina, a slave-trader who ran afoul of that law, and Bolt, the slave who ratted her out but had to save her life after the royal guard attempted to kill them both. Definitely an interesting premise, and you definitely don’t see many lead characters in such a reprehensible profession.

Gameplaywise, you should be familiar with Acaratus if you’ve played just about any SRPG, which is a good thing. You move your Battle Suits around grid-based maps and have them slash or shoot opposing machines into scrap. Depending on what arm parts you have equipped, your suits can have a gun and a sword, or swap one of them out for a shield or some non-damaging tool, like a hook that pulls enemy units closer. Some stages have you destroying everything, some a different victory condition like getting to a goal. You also have cards, one-use items that grant some kind of bonus to a unit, like increased movement in one direction or restoring their health.

Outside of battle, you navigate the world similarly to the world maps in some Fire Emblem games. There are towns you can purchase items at or upgrade your units, camps that serve as rest stops, and optional battles guarding chests and such. You gain experience from every battle, but Adina levels up rather than your units, allowing you to select one of a couple perks, like getting more gold from chests. Some spots of the map are obviously locked until you do story missions, and there’s also a timer at the top during these segments; every week Helios’ forces grow stronger, so you can’t dawdle too much.

I have some complaints with the game, however. I feel like it could be more clear when it comes to health, since that’s determined by each unit having multiple stacks of suits, each with a certain amount of health. Doesn’t seem like there’s any point to that, and it actually goes against the story a bit, since your first unit is meant to just be Bolt in one suit on his own. It also could be more clear about what encounters you can feasibly win, since even some at the beginning of the map beat me pretty handily. The difficulty, in general, appears pretty overtuned, actually, as just a few investments that were unwise lead me to have to restart the campaign simply because I couldn’t progress through battles, and there’s a lack of tutorials or hints. The re-use of maps for battles is also pretty apparent since they’re small and don’t have much to them when it comes to terrain and such.

There’s certainly some nice framework here, the animations are nice and it’s gratifying to destroy opposing robots, and I have to respect an ambitious idea, since this isn’t something you see terribly often. The developers have said they’re going to work on balancing the difficulty before release, and going by their Steam page the price after release will be a bit lower. If you think Acaratus sounds interesting and want to support them with a little extra money before release, I think it could shape up to be a good game. But if you do, you might run into some early access annoyances, so waiting could be a worthwhile option too.

Written by
Justin Brett
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