A Paladin’s Steam Review: Rise: Battle Lines. There’s Something Lacking About These Battle Lines.

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Does Rise: Battle Lines rise to the occasion? Let’s find out.

This was a review that was too long for Steam so this is the complete version of it. This was supposed to be a short review too but I missed that goal, again. Oh well, here it is. Enjoy and thanks for reading.

Read & rate the review on Steam.

A Paladin’s Steam Review: Rise: Battle Lines. There’s Something Lacking About These Battle Lines.

  • Genre: Simultaneous Fantasy Turn Based Strategy Multiplayer Only.
  • Developed & Published by: The Secret Games Company & Digital Tribe.
  • Platform: Windows, Mac & Linux.
  • Business Model: Base Game.
  • Press key provided free of charge by developer

Overall Gameplay Thoughts
Rise: Battle Lines is a streamlined simultaneous turn based strategy title. It’s gimmick is about providing quick 15 minute strategy battles between you and other human opponents. Each player sets out the moves their collection of units will take in a turn and then the game plays them out at the same time. The resulting carnage will be decided on the actions taken. There is only a single mode to play in this game. It’s a mode that takes place on a large hexagon board where two armies battle it out for supremacy. The last unit standing, doesn’t matter which, wins the game. Compared to most turn based strategy games, Rise goes for a lighter, more focused experience. Every unit only has a couple of flat stats which create their specialty. You can fight against the AI or another friend in real time or “by email”. Winning or losing affects your your heraldry points regardless of who your opponent which grants you unlocks for your shield and allows the game to match you against more appropriate opponents, in theory. So, let’s talk about the strategy component of Rise.

Strategy Exploration
So, I’m going to set the stage. There’s a board of 61 hexagon cells with players being given a pool of nineteen randomly chosen units. These nineteen units can be one of five classes. Knights, archers, crossbowmen, swordsmen and axemen. There are 10 turns for players to pick their 10 units and place it where they wish to on 10 open spots to the farthest left or right of the board. The 10th unit is always a General, so you’ll want to pick him last. These classes’ differences are based on four stats: attack, defense, hitpoints and moves. They stay the same in every match and dictate their specialty. Attack and hitpoints are self explanatory in that they indicate how much the unit hits for and how many hits they can take. Defense is how much damage a unit dishes back when attacked and moves is how many hexes a unit can move in a single turn. Archers and crossbowmen are the ranged units with archers being able to move and fire in one turn while crossbowmen have more health. It’s arguable which of these two units are better because of how similar they are. Knights have higher mobility, allowing them to move quickly across the field and flank battle lines at the cost of defense. They are arguably the strongest units in the game due to how far they can move in a single turn. Axemen and swordsmen are the melee classes with axemen having higher damage at a cost of fewer hitpoints with soldiers having overall balanced stats. I found that axemen are too risky to make use of their high amount of attack as their low amount of hitpoints make them easy pickings for archers or a single hit from a swordsman’s defense. Their high amount of attack means they can one shot archers and horsemen but it’s a really high risk to pull them off for limited gain. Generals are the most important unit and have the highest stats in the game. While a turn is being played out, an ever growing radius of units around the general will do their move first. This means their placement and positioning is important to get the right units to move first. However, if the general dies all units lose one point of health unless they’re at the lowest health point possible. As such, risking generals is generally not a good idea because of how strong that health loss is.

Rise is about positioning and attacking units at the right time. If you move on an enemy and do a significant amount of damage or kill some units before losing your own, you may very well end up winning the game. This game can be distilled down to two armies bashing each other until one side or the other eventually hits a tipping point. Once this tipping point is past, the game is basically over because the losing team can’t do enough damage to finish the remaining units off. The tipping point is going to be different because there’s a variation on what units you can choose from but it’s always there and I almost want to say losing even a couple of units early on is enough to secure your defeat. It’s hard to say for certain just how devastating losing units is because I wasn’t able to play against a variety of opponents to see how things would work out. But the time I did spend seemed to indicate that this is the case. It’s not helped by the AI.

The AI is functional but braindead. It was far too easy to defeat even on the hardest difficulty. I came up with a few strategies that the AI seemed completely unable to deal with and I won all of the games I had against it. One such strategy was to just pick lots of soldier and archer units to slowly make my way across the battlefield, engaging in a brutal battle of attrition. It’s too bad that it doesn’t vary it up because the AI could arguably be used as a sounding board for strategies. But as is, it’s simply ok.

See, this is my main issue with Rise: Battle Lines. There’s a lack of variety to really change things up. Units do the same thing every time and there are very few to choose from. So, while the game attempts to change things up by randomly generating how many of each class will be available, the limited amount of said classes generally guarantee that both sides will get at least one of the units they desire. This isn’t always the case, I did have a couple of battles where an entire class didn’t get any generated. But it doesn’t happen that often and I found it didn’t really change the pace of the battle. Said pace is ultimately having two armies mashing and grinding into each other until one falls. The battlefield is too small to really add any real flexibility in how armies move around. There aren’t any randomly generated obstacles or AOE abilities to change things up. Once a battle is decided, there are few ways to truly recover from it.

As such, it leads to a very repetitive experience with each battle. We could talk about how there’s some nuance with the simultaneous turns or the classes but it doesn’t really matter when we have a map like Rise: Battle Lines has. It’s a straightforward board that basically encourages the two armies to smash into each other until one side falls over. Doing anything else isn’t encouraged unless you fight against different opponents and even then the differences are very minor.

The Multiplayer Experience
Before I start, Rise: Battle Lines has a small character limitation for the player’s name. (I could only fit KingLinksr). I really wish games would quit having that limitation. Functionally, the multiplayer of Rise seems to work well without any problems. I was able to get into random ladder matches fine and setup games with other players without trouble. Though the loading times to get into these matches was on the long side.But, there’s the elephant in the room. The game doesn’t have a multiplayer community. I was able to get some random player matches while it was in early access and then fully released. However, those players quickly quit playing, myself included. The average playing stats on Steam doesn’t paint a rosey picture either. The only reason to get Rise: Battle Lines now is to fight against the AI or friends. And really, the game is only worth getting against human opponents due to the aforementioned problems with the AI. The only time I lost was against a particularly experienced player. For the time being, I don’t see the multiplayer experiencing changing any time soon.

There is a Heraldry system that rewards the player for winning battles by giving them more impressive titles and more objects for your coat of arms with which to customize it. This shield is visible to other players and only offers fairly basic customization. This customization is one featured symbol and two background pattern designs that I’ve seen in games a long time before. It’s not very visually interesting and doesn’t give the game a lot of character. Worse, it’s not much of a reward to winning these battles. This lack of incentive really hurts for a multiplayer-only game where you need to give as many reasons as possible to bring a player back. This Heraldry system is not it.

Play by email via Steam Notifications is also included but I wouldn’t get the game for it. The main reason why is that it will quickly inflate 15 minute games into much longer affairs due to how picking units is done in this game. For a game that’s all about these short battles, this feature seems completely unnecessary. Furthermore, Steam does a pretty poor job of notifying the player that there’s a turn available. It’s probably in the mess of notifications that are at the bottom right. You know, those little rectangles that tell you X is playing Y game and/or just came online. At least, that’s what I’m assuming as I never saw the notification. Considering those notifications are brief, temporary and have no history to check, it’s very easy to miss them. Especially when I keep Steam open a lot during the day. That would be something I’d like to see Steam improve in the future but that’s on a whole pile of features that Valve needs to improve yet never does.

PC Settings and Audio/Visual
Rise has a very simple settings screen for a Unity-engine title. Resolution settings only include native resolution and a couple of other resolutions. I don’t know why it limits them. On my 16:9 monitor I only get 1920×1080 and 1600×900. On my 16:10 monitor, I only got three resolutions including 1680×1050. It’s a curious and unnecessary limitation. There’s a graphic quality slider that goes from very low to very high. This isn’t a performance demanding game though so very high is what you’ll likely use. It also has a Tilt Shift slider. I guess it’s so you won’t be distracted by the area outside the battlefield? It’s inclusion is a little baffling. All other graphical options aren’t included as it doesn’t seem to use them. Yes, this means no AA included and there are jagged lines everywhere. Fullscreen and custom cursor can be turned on or off. Audio settings include SFX and Music volume which is nice. The game does run well and I never ran into crashes. Though I noticed that alt-tabbing out of the game caused the GPU to start running hard. The UI is functional but doesn’t really take advantage of the screen like it should with its small windows and tons of scrolling in the help menus.

The overall presentation of Rise: BL is lacking. The graphics look aged for how new the game is, the units don’t look visually interesting and the animations are very time consuming for how basic they are. Furthermore, the game has no impact in its combat. Nothing to really set itself apart. Unit deaths use the same animation every single time, swords slap each other the same every time and arrows shoot and thunk the same every time. Rise doesn’t draw me into the battle in its audio or video design. It’s functional at best. The music is a decent attempt to sell a bombastic orchestral theme but falls short and gets repetitive and boring to listen to.

Final Thoughts
I can confirm that the features listed on the store page are here in the game. I can confirm that it’s a fifteen minute streamlined strategy experience with some minutiae that might make things interesting for a short while. But this game isn’t fun to play because there’s just not much content or interesting strategies to experience. I got the sense pretty quickly that I’ve seen everything that’s possible. Outside of the minutiae in stats and turn-by-turn tactics, each battle is largely going to be the same. Send units forward, to the sides, wait for the “right time” and strike until one side is decided the victor. It’s a title that simply needs more variety in maps, units or something to keep players coming back to it. Games like these generally have some hook and I don’t feel it. I was really surprised it left Early Access as quickly as it did but the result of which shows. The multiplayer community is extremely small, the Heraldry system is a lacking reward for winning battles and a few strategies can be used to easily win against the AI. It’s a concept that remains woefully underdeveloped. As such, Rise doesn’t get a recommendation from me.

Thanks for reading this review of Rise: Battle Lines. If you’re interested in more, take a look around at my other posts. Share/Like if you enjoyed it.

-KingIsaacLinksr

2 Comments:

  1. Reminds me of a very watered down version of Laser Squad Nemesis, or its spiritual successor: Frozen Synapse.

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