Strategy games. The reason I first fell in love with gaming. It began with the likes of Command & Conquer and Populous The Beginning, and the love just grew from there. One of my absolute favourites is Firaxis Games‘ X-COM series. And Julian Gollop, the designer of the original X-COM series has released a new strategy game. Phoenix Point.
In a world on the brink of collapse, you are the only salvation. Those who remain are divided. Each person not already consumed by the Pandoravirus have aligned to a faction. Each faction is at war with one another, as well as the threat that would consume Earth. It is your duty to plan operations and research technologies to not just survive but to reclaim your home. To do so you’ll have to; Think. Adapt. Overcome.
Phoenix Point isn’t your typical turn-based strategy. It’s a whole new breed. And the story itself plays a huge part in the reasons why. It’s not a simple case of building an army, taking on the enemy and basking in the glory you receive. You have choices to make, and each choice has consequences. Choose to build alliances to unite the planet or destroy your rivals. You create your own path.
And whilst you can explore the planet as you wish, you’ll more often than not find yourself being drawn back into the plot. Whether it be that you’ve stumbled across some ancient ruins sacred to a faction, or that another faction approaches you to discuss how they believe they have the answer to all the problems. It’s an effective way of keeping you on course whilst also giving you the freedom to do things your way.
The majority of the story is played out in a text-based format. An image will pop up of an NPC, with their speech written below. The majority of the time you’ll then be left to reply, again, with each response having its own impact. Strengthening your bonds with one faction, and potentially weakening another. It’s a simple and effective system that allows the story to progress well.
However, besides the opening of Phoenix Point which plays out like a news report to inform you of what’s going on. For me, it lacks some cinematic sequences that I think would’ve fit in really nicely. Especially after certain key missions. Something that the X-COM series did rather well. Still, as I say, the plot is strong and it’s an enjoyable one to follow.
Once the opening cinematic is over, you’re introduced to the game with a tutorial that takes you through the basics of everything; research, manufacturing equipment, navigation of the map and of course, combat. What I like about the combat tutorial though is you’re not forced to lose a soldier in the first mission like in X-COM. Meaning from the off I was still given the chance of completing the game without losing a soul.
It may sound like a small thing. But being a bit of a perfectionist, it was important to me. Because you can often get some valuable stuff from tutorials even if you don’t really want to do them. And I didn’t want to have to skip it to miss out on something I may get that could be useful. In this instance it was experience points for my soldiers, meaning I could level them up a little quicker, allowing me to equip them with new skills.
It also comes in handy to help get to grips with the controls. Which I did pretty quickly as the developers of Phoenix Point use a very similar system to that of X-COM. Each soldier you control has a class, with each class having its own abilities. Some move further than others, whilst a different class can attack from further away. What they have in common is that all their actions are limited to what Action Points they have to spend.
However, this is where the free experience points come in handy from the tutorial, because as mentioned, levelling up unlocks new skills. Skills that can reduce the number of Action Points a shot will take for example. Or, you could give a soldier the ability to give their brothers in arms additional Action Points with a rallying cry. But don’t waste these abilities as they consume another type of Action Point called Will Points.
The Will Points as mentioned are like a second form of Action Points, to help you use your abilities. However, unlike the AP which refresh each turn, you have a limited number of WP to spend, and when they’re gone, certain abilities will be blocked off. And this is why you have to be careful in combat too because attacks from enemies can also reduce a soldier’s Will.
Taking damage is never going to be fully avoidable in Phoenix Point, so there will be times where you’ll lose Will and Health, or a soldier may just panic and run. But careful planning, being equipped with med packs and upgrading armour can often be a big help.
As you progress through the game, you’ll discover more items that will come in handy, as well as improved armour as mentioned above and also weapons. At first, you’ll need to research these items, but once complete you should be able to manufacture them yourselves to give your soldiers the best chance at survival.
In the early missions, one ship should suffice, with each ship being able to carry six soldiers. However, you can actually use up to 8 soldiers in a mission. So it’s wise to invest in a few aircraft and have soldiers on call at all times. Then, send two ships, select the recruits you want to use and away you go. Ass-kicking time.
You don’t actually need to use all eight soldiers. But it will make life a whole lot easier if you do. You can strategically move them around, spreading out across the map. Snipers up high, assault troops shielded behind vehicles and walls. It really is quite a beautiful sight. But I digress.
The benefits of additional troops beside the obviously increased numbers meaning more attacks each turn is that, as some soldiers advance, you can set them into an overwatch mode. Keeping an eye out for enemy movement that they will react to with gunfire. Getting in free damage without using up your turns and potentially taking out the enemy before they reach you.
Unlike in X-COM though, Phoenix Point forces you to pick an area that soldiers will watch. So you don’t get a 360-degree view, it is literally funnelled vision. But it does mean you can see exactly which areas are covered, making for better planning when moving other troops.
Combat sounds easy enough right? However, I did have a few issues. Normally I’d blame my itchy trigger finger, but there are times where I’d scroll or be cycling through actions and it would act as if I’d selected it when I hadn’t. Meaning a soldier would run off to open places, like a sitting duck. It happened a few times through the game. Luckily, I’m a pro so I handled it and my troops had my back. But it was very annoying.
Sadly that wasn’t the only bug I found. There was one particular issue that really ground my gears. And I didn’t even realise one PlayThrough, meaning I wasted a good 20 minutes or so. I’d done a couple of missions and went exploring. I was scanning areas, exploring locations and even picking up new recruits. Then attacks began of some settlements.
For some reason, it wouldn’t let me help. But then the settlement would fight back and win, so I thought, maybe it’s a warning of some sort and they didn’t need my help. So I’d go explore some more. Complete all my research, scan most of Africa and still, I can’t do any missions. I can’t scavenge for supplies, help settlements defend, hell, I couldn’t actually go and do a key mission. I just had to restart the game.
This happened a couple of times, so I do suggest saving constantly throughout. Because if you end up exploring for half an hour to realise all that time was wasted. You’ll only kick yourself and potentially faceplant your desk like me. Not a clever idea I admit.
Besides all that though I loved the game when it was working as it should. Everything looked brilliant, the environments themselves were destructible, and quite often I had ruins to thank for getting in the way of grenades being launched at me. You can tell an awful lot of pride has been put into this with a tonne of detail. But I do wish there were a few more cinematic sequences because the artwork was exquisite and I wanted to see it all come to life.
Overall, it’s not quite as polished as X-COM was, but Phoenix Point was still a very enjoyable experience that I’ll happily replay over and over again. The story was strong, although more cinematic sequences would be nice, and I loved how in-depth you could go tactically, with enemies posing a real challenge rather than simply being sitting targets. That said, there were a few bugs, but I think if these were ironed out and the game was polished up a little, it would seriously compete as one of my favourite strategy titles.
Phoenix Point TL;DR:
- Whilst the story is interesting, I’d have liked to see more cinematics.
- High replayability factor with the number of choices available in-game to develop the story along different paths;
- Heavily tactics based, with an intelligent enemy that adapts to you, just as you will need to adapt to beat it;
- The gameplay is great for the most part, but some bugs do mean you can miss some gameplay as actions are taken;
- Overall, a solid game that is still a little rough around the edges but that could be easily polished.
Phoenix Point is developed by Bulgarian based, Snapshot Games. The game was released on December 3rd and is available to play on PC via the Epic Games Store, as well as being available on Xbox One. You can check out the official site HERE, and catch more of our game reviews by clicking HERE.