The layman might pitch Atlas Reactor as XCOM meets DOTA, but if anything, it’s more like XCOM meets Frozen Synapse meets Overwatch. It’s a turn-based competitive multiplayer game, but how it essentially works is that each player has a certain amount of time to take their turn, and then once actions are placed, everyone moves at the same time.
That is the most basic explanation of the action, but each turn actually has four phases tied to certain types of skill. The “Prep” phase allows players to lay out traps or sentries for unsuspecting foes, or to activate special buffs on oneself. The “Dash” phase is for evasive actions, while the “Action” phase initiates attacks. Once everyone has attacked, the final “Move” phase resolves with everyone heading to their pre-selected new location, provided they didn’t die from being attacked.
If you’ve played Frozen Synapse, the idea of everyone acting at the same time should be familiar to you, and especially the idea of precisely plotting your movements and trying to predict where your opponents might be moving to. You can also coordinate attacks, as you’ll see other team members moves. It’s certainly an addictive formula.
With only a certain window of time, Atlas Reactor is certainly more basic in its options, more akin to XCOM in regards to cover and skills. Also unlike Frozen Synapse, the game is far more colourful with quips from the characters adding to the experience. There’s even a bit of a flourish when players decide to taunt before auctioning their move.
But why do I say it’s more like Overwatch than DOTA? Well firstly there are no minions wandering around the arena, and each match is more akin to Deathamatch than the MOBA format. Characters are also somewhat memorable with the likes of Pup, the robotic dog with a nuclear surprise, or the dual cannon wielding Juno. Yet it seems the balancing at the moment seems not favour melee classes, despite them being more durable.
Arenas have cover that one can hide behind, as well as spaces designed to make your character invisible. However despite the somewhat varied locales in the game, each map is somewhat light on features and very similar to one another in design. It means that while the game is always fair, there isn’t much that differs from one map to another. Even though there’s practice, cooperative or PVP options, for a tactical game with just one core game mode, this is a major drawback.
At launch there are a total of 21 characters, each of which have a plethora of skins, taunts, and other customisations available. Most are cosmetic in nature, but the Mod Tokens slightly change how characters play by altering little bits of their moves. All of these are unlocked via ranking up and obtaining Season ranks.
While not adhering to the Free to Play game model, the game’s cost is something worth considering. Firstly, there are four versions available of the game to buy into. The free to try version has a regularly rotated selection of 6 characters to use in all game modes, but the scope to play the game is limited beyond that. “All Freelancers Edition” unlocks every single character in the game off the bat, as well as giving players the ability to play Custom games and Ranked mode.
As for the more premium buy-ins, “All Freelanders Pro Edition” comes with everything in “All Freelancers Edition” plus emojis, skins, and banner packs; while Ultimate Reactor Edition – the version we were sent code for – gives even more skins, including the exclusive Golden Age skins, Mod Tokens, experience boosts and loot for other Trion Worlds games. Given the pricing strategy of the paid editions varying wildly from £22.99 to £79.99, the inclusion of Mod Tokens in the most expensive version feels a bit exploitative.
The in-game micro-transactions are for booster packs, which like the Mod Tokens are normally accrued upon ranking up. As boosters contain purely cosmetic items or currency to purchase more, this is certainly akin to how Overwatch handles things. Most other skins can potentially be unlocked through play or purchasing boosters. As these are cosmetic in nature, I’ve got no problem with the majority of the unlockable content – except the Golden Age skins.
It’s a shame that the business model is a bit off putting, as Atlas Reactor’s core gameplay is a fun variation on the games that people try to draw parallels with. It’s wonderfully presented with more charm than some of its contemporaries, but the maps feel perhaps a little too sparse and there aren’t enough game modes to satisfy for long. Hopefully with a bit of tweaking in key areas, this could be one to satisfy that tactical itch.