So it’s a little late to be starting out on this, I’m supposed to be going to bed but I wanted to get it done today in the style of NaNoWriMo (though this is obviously not a novel, just a blogging project).
I’ve been playing Clockwork Empires A LOT recently, however, some of the 52 hours Steam says I’ve logged can definitely be attributed to me getting distracted, wandering off to make a pot of coffee or some other such nonsense. (I’m going to add more of an introduction here in the morning)
- Setting – it’s steampunky: lots of cool costumes, industrial paraphernalia with added monsters and mushroom stew; the landscape has varying degrees of geographical zone sprawl so that every time you launch a new game you end up somewhere different; Wellsian nightmare cultish obelisks prey on your colonists and turn them into despairing cultists and in addition to all this your colonists must find a way to coexist or not with the friendly neighbourhood fishpeoples.
- Gameplay – tutorial provides a good overview of controls and objectives but from the get go you really want to have some kind of strategy. You want to have enough food, and hopefully buildings so that your colonists don’t have to sleep outside. As you build more houses and decorate them your population can increase. You use the overseers to manage unskilled labour and you need at least 1 additional overseer to perform jobs such as hauling and additional assigned tasks such as constructing buildings or clearing the terrain. Micromanagement: getting the AI to do it for you!
- Resource management strategising: Russ’s favourite – the Chaîne opératoire of Clockwork Empires is compelling and requires planning ahead, and conceptualising how many of your resources, crafted items etc you will need to manage, say, an increase in population or a random bandit attack. It’s fairly standard, but is one of those things that as frustrating as the simulation gets you know there’s a way to make it succeed and that is I think where the goal for this colony sim lies : the only thing to do is survive!
- Uniqueness/Addictive – it’s cute and despite all of its problems it’s addicitve and you just want to queue up one more job, get this particular thing crafted or built and it sucks you in. Plus I really like the obelisks from outer space.
- Pathing Issues: this is perhaps the smallest of my niggles, but at least in Banished you could build dirt paths which your colonists would follow. The AI’s pathing strategy seems somewhat random, and this is perhaps influenced a little too much by the colonists’ predisposition to anger and despair which have significantly increased since the latest patch. For example, I spent 20 minutes waiting for an overseer to make his way to the stockpile with nothing doing, so reassigned him and didn’t feel too much regret when he was subsequently gored by one of the super aggressive bulls. I just wished my colonists could move as fast as the damn prey can…
- Balance Issues: the AI seems to prioritise everything but flattening land, and yet at the beginning of the game, and later on this is so vital to colony expansion that it becomes extremely frustrating when you have to cancel all queued interactions just to get the colonists to clear that strip of land you asked them to clear 45 minutes previously. In addition to this, the penalties for despairing and enraged colonists prevent a great deal of work being done, including crafting projects that help to raise their mood. This makes their moodswings feel distinctly over the top and ultimately fruitless – the worst damage being done so far is in making colony expansion even more of a time sink.
- Pacing: This one is linked to instances like the one above and overall gameplay. In the above instance and growth is substantially delayed by one or more of your colonists having a bad day and this makes progression feel super slow. Unlike other colony sims which have a variety of speeds here you get two: slow and reeeeally slow, walking pace slow. This is fine where you’re also distractedly doing the washing up or watching your favourite tv series but I’ve found it so irritating I’ve rage quit at least once. It needs at least 4 speeds, with an option to get the game to pause when an event happens so that you don’t miss them because you’ve wandered away due to boredom.
- CRASHES: I honestly don’t know if anyone else has experienced this but it crashes multiple times during play for me, likely a technical issue, hopefully one that can be resolved by a hotfix but it’s frequent enough to be a downside.
Alec Meer (Reviewing for RockPaperShotgun: https://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2016/10/28/clockwork-empires-review/#more-408507) asks whether the sheer frustration experienced by your colonists is simultaneously meant to be experienced by the player. I would not find this difficult to believe given the overwhelming number of cults of a maddening nature that corrupt my townspeople preventing them from fulfilling their roles as good little worker bees. They are at least as ‘Maddened by Despair’ or as ‘Enraged as I am each time I face one of the minor but irritating issues that arise during play. Meer provides a better overview of the game’s development than I have or at least a starting point for tracing it further back and delving into designers and coders choices and what not. However, I get the feeling that it could have used a good three months more to fix the balance and pathing issues before release. At the moment it feels a little unfinished, not optimised if you will and these issues will not be resolved with a quick patch here and there.
Overall, I get the feeling that Clockwork Empires could have used a good three months more to fix the balance and pathing issues before release. At the moment it feels a little unfinished, not optimised if you will and these issues will not be resolved with a quick patch here and there. However, despite the performance issues, the horrendous pacing and the niggly pathing and or balance issues (which, believe me, get seriously frustrating after 5 straight hours attempting to build your colony) I am really enjoying Clockwork Empires as it requires strategy and creativity in the creation of said colony. I like watching my little minions and their overseers craft all manner of goods, and in true Sims style experimenting with the perfect building layout, and the ideal number of decorations needed to maximise the population. The steampunk feel and the desperate nature of their situation make you feel more for the individual characters than was ever possible with say, Banished which make it ultimately a more satisfying game.
Postscipt: Will update this post if I ever make it beyond a population of 50!