If there was one word that could adequately describe our overall feeling towards Siegecraft Commander it would be 'frustration'. Sometimes that’s not an inherently bad thing as it can come from the challenge of trying to beat the game. Other times it comes from how the game works, its mechanics, which while looking good and fun on paper collide in such a way that over time you become so disheartened that you start losing the will to carry on your campaign. There’s also a third way a game can be frustrating and that’s due to it have potential that it doesn’t quite fully realise. Siegecraft Commander from Australian developer Blowfish Studios manages to do all three which, if we’re honest, is quite a feat.
There are two single-player campaigns to choose from as well as four-player local and online multiplayer. In the single-player mode you can either choose to be the human knights of Freemoi on a mission against the Lizard Men or you can be the Lizard Men in a campaign against their not-so-friendly tribal neighbours. Both are eight missions long and are of varying difficulty and map size. Each mission starts with your keep; this is the single most important structure for if your keep is destroyed it’s game over. Siegecraft Commander is a mix, part real-time strategy and part tower defense. From your keep you can build an array of different towers by launching the tower you wish to build from what we can only imagine as being a rather large catapult. All buildings are linked via walls with arrows depicting the direction of its hub. The purpose of which, in battle, is to indicate a strike-point which if destroyed all attached towers are destroyed in a domino effect. It’s an interesting twist but, when you can lose half or more of your towers in one go it can be rather annoying.
What’s even more annoying, though, is linked to the way the towers are built. As mentioned you launch your chosen tower and behind it follows a wall. Walls cannot intersect and, depending on the terrain, are unable to be planted full stop. There’s a finite number of towers to build with some requiring others to be built first in a limited tech tree sort of way. However the one you’ll build most frequently will be the outpost which is essentially a derivative of your keep. It is from here the other main towers are built but be warned it’s very easy to pen yourself in due to wall factor. It’s tempting to go tower crazy but only outposts can build outposts and if there’s no path for a wall to be built then you can’t expand. With no ability to self destruct buildings either you can decide to start over or hope your enemy destroys something so you can move on. It’s clunky but certainly makes you think before placing that tower. Especially when the building of something has a cooldown which can be as long as nearly a minute for some towers. Place something incorrectly and you can build anything from that tower until the timer reaches zero. Generally we found it best to plant your outpost first and plan a route across the map placing other towers in the free space around the outpost.
Strangely there’s practically no resource management, an RTS staple, with the exception of having an outpost placed either next to gold or diamond deposit for the ability to build certain towers. It removes one of the core limitations in traditional RTS games as normally your ability to build new things are linked directly to the resources under you control. Not so here. You can build towers with impunity and while garrisons are limited to 5 men you can build as many of them as you like. The exception being the tesla and fire-related towers which need crystal and gold respectively. However even here there’s no value attached. Once you have a tower next to one of these resources you can just build, no strings attached. It’s bizarre and sadly, we feel, removes too much from the RTS side of the game to really appeal to those players looking for a new game to tinker with. It removes any need to really think as, spam a map hard enough and for long enough you can overcome any of the single-player missions.
Control-wise things are okay with the XBox One controller. Your left stick controls your tower’s aim and direction, with your right stick controlling the camera. Select your highlighted tower with A and from there choose what that tower is going to do next, whether building another tower or in the case of some towers firing explosives at the enemy. It takes a while to get used to, especially gauging just how much power to use when launching your next tower. A minor miscalculation can cost you dearly in a close match and could be easily improved with a targeting reticule or similar. Still the more you play the more used you get to everything and after a while you get a decent idea of how much power to use. However, when you consider that online this is a cross-platform title between XBox and PC, we suspect those with a keyboard and mouse will have the upperhand against their console counterparts. It becomes very apparent in later levels where the difficulty ramps up and, unlike the early tutorial levels, the ability to launch new towers quickly and accurately are key. Visually things are pretty cartoony and suit the easy-going and newcomer-friendly feel Siegecraft Commander is going for. The story for each of the single-player campaigns is told through a book and whilst there’s humour it’s not quite as funny written down as it would perhaps be otherwise.
Online there’s a choice between a traditional RTS offering or a turn-based version. Each are for up to four other players and there’s even an local, offline version. Unfortunately we were unable to get any matches for online play during our review period which when you consider this is cross-platform is a cause for concern. Hopefully things will pick up as we feel that it could be a great way for newcomers to be introduced to the genre without having the heavy overheads stalwarts like Starcraft come with. There’s less to learn here and would likely make online games rather streamlined and fun. Strangely there’s no skirmish mode to play locally against the AI outside of the campaign mode. Given that the AI in the story missions seemed rather one-dimensional, rarely building towers outside of a set pattern, it suggests the AI isn’t overly strong. Sure, in the later missions they’re harder to beat but we found that was mostly down to the sheer number of pre-placed towers and their type. Often with a heavy focus on garrisons for ground troops.
Unfortunately, given the limited number of towers and the style of gameplay things get repetitive and fast. Losing towers due to the linking feature the game has builds the frustration factor, especially if it happens more than once which is likely during later levels. With the lack of any real sort of resource management you are essentially just encouraged to build, build, build until you overwhelm your opponent. It really is a rinse-and-repeat style of game with no real unique hooks to maps to make them standout and require you to change your tactics. Which is a shame when you consider that there’s the potential here. Then there are some real odd decisions and omissions. Why, for example, can we not upgrade towers? Also why can the AI have non-linked buildings whereas all human-based towers must be linked, why can’t we do this too? Why can we not set rally points for our knights? It’s these little things that slowly start to gnaw away to you and eventually start to sap away at the enjoyment factor.
Siegecraft Commander is an interesting attempt at creating something different and new and for that Blowfish Studios should be commended. It’s unfortunate that, in the end, they’ve created something which doesn’t quite hit the mark. This brings us back round neatly to that word 'frustration'. Siegecraft Commander isn’t an easy game to beat and genuinely requires you to plan your attack and can occasionally be frustrating because of this. It is also one that, on console at least, can be frustrating to control especially when aiming your towers. Finally Siegecraft Commander really does have the potential to do something fun in the RTS space. In future versions, if some of the little niggles and frustrations can be fixed, we have a game that strips away a lot of the seriousness of its brethren on its implementation yet still retains a serious RTS core. As things stands Siegecraft Commander is a decidedly mediocre game which whilst trying something new doesn’t quite excel enough to really stand out.