Having seen and played CSR2 on several occasions in the run up to its launch, NaturalMotion are “those guys with the pretty looking drag racing game” to my mind. Out today on iOS and Android, Dawn of Titans makes for one hell of a change of pace from their short and snappy racer that you can play for 30 seconds at a time.
Mobile games can look pretty damn incredible these days, and while my first glimpse of Dawn of Titans was obviously skewed by viewing it on an iPad Pro, this is an gorgeous looking game, not just in realising a bright fantasy world, but in doing so on a vast scale. The clouds that wrap around the edges of your floating island city make use of particle physics, crepuscular rays cut through the gloom, there’s real time reflections and so on. It’s quite the looker with just a single Titan on screen or when viewing your island from afar, but zoom all the way in and you spot the tiny little people walking the streets, the thick forests swaying in the wind – “It sounds really boring and silly, but we have really good tree technology,” NaturalMotion CEO Torsten Reil chuckled – and battles can feature hundreds of soldiers.
Impressively, it doesn’t feel as though much of this is lost when stepping down to an iPad Mini 2, and the loading times are staggeringly small, taking just five seconds to load a battle and almost instantaneously sweeping from your city to view the grand kingdom map filled with the floating island cities of others, clustered as they are in their alliances.
There’s more than a few hints of Total War to the game’s real time strategic battles, but these are fights that have been dramatically shrunk from the Total War series’ vast scope to feature just a handful of units and last just a couple of minutes. Starting off by setting your initial formation before a battle gets under way, you can quickly tap units to match them up, or even let the game automatically set orders. Alternatively, you can draw a path that you want a unit to take, potentially letting you flank an enemy unit and getting the upper hand. It makes use of the usual rock, paper, scissors style of countering, but however much thought you want to put in, it all rattles off at a rapid pace.
“We used to [have a pause function], and we removed it because it just felt weird when you could interrupt battles,” Torsten said. “It started to have this turn based feeling, and we didn’t want that. We want a little bit of action and the feeling that there is, within reason, some urgency.”
Titans are awesomely powerful, to the point that they might be able to win a battle all by themselves, so long as the other side doesn’t have a Titan of its own. One swing of a club can knock a third or more of an entire unit into the distance. Things will become more difficult when facing off against similarly levelled opponents and having to tersely deal with another Titan. However, while that’s a risk when challenging other players and raiding or trying to capture their lands, there are a huge number of single player quest lines to follow that you can indulge in instead.
“It’s a pretty crazy amount [of single player content],” Torsten said as he swiped through what looked like dozens of single player campaigns. “Each one of these campaigns has its own mini battles, its own story arc, and there’s hours and hours of gameplay. It seems excessive, but it turns out that was what was required. We soft-launched with less content, which was generous but less, and people binge played through pretty much all of it straightaway. So we now have a lot more to it, and you know, we want to give people the ability to get lost in the story of this game, but eventually we expect people to play against each other and almost create their own stories.”
Starting the game is something of a cakewalk, really. As will be familiar to anyone that’s dabbled with this general form of mobile strategy game before, you’re led through the founding of your city by a handful of medieval fantasy advisors, your first few dozen or so buildings can have their build times skipped, and it’s all geared toward getting you up and running as quickly as possible. For the more impatient players out there, it feels like you can happily tap your way through the dialogue in a couple of minutes.
Joining an alliance and entering battles for your combined glory is not far out of reach from the start, but the mutliplayer has a rather interesting structure. “You’re usually in an alliance, and you fight against other alliances, but you do so in a league structure,” Torsten explained. “The leagues run in seasons, which is one week, and at the end of the week the league turns over and the top 10% rise to the next league and the bottom 10 or 20% will be demoted to the lower league.”
Whether you’re following single player quests, joining alliances and battling away with rival alliances, or simply sniping at nearby players and raiding their lands, you’ll be looking to accrue greater resources, claim more lands as your own, earn experience, prizes and more of the titular Titans. Torsten scrolled through dozens of them on his boosted demo account – too many to try and name, but Kobar was the one I started with, a somewhat Celtic looking Titan with a giant hammer – and you do want a veritable army of them backing you up in order to defend your lands. They all have names, different strengths, weaknesses and they can be levelled up over time by using them in battle.
There’s also an interesting mechanic to combine them together in order to strengthen a chosen Titan, so that unlocking a duplicate level 1 Titan still has value. That’s especially true if you unlock a Titan and are presented with one that you think looks very cool. You can’t customise your Titan’s look after getting it, but they are randomised, so that one Kobar might have a plaited beard, another might not.
There’s many more Titans in the works, though. “There’s a whole team here at NaturalMotion just to run events,” Torsten explained, “and these events run on a weekly basis. They’re seperate from the leagues and they’re themed events around a new story arc – a new Titan gets introduced and you have to defeat that Titan in a week as an alliance. You may then win prizes like, for example, new Titans that you can’t otherwise win.”
Of course, this is a game that leans on the now almost obligatory free to play model. It’s certainly rather generous in how many time saving gems, but it leads to an interface that can still feel like it’s bombarding you with options, even if Torsten explained that it had been greatly simplified during the soft launch. There’s four distinct currencies, the busy work of having to harvest resources, daily unlocks, rewards for completing certain objectives, relics, Titans, equipment, and it’s all a bit overwhelming to say the least. At the same time, it’s not all that difficult to figure out what’s where and, thanks to a simple shortcut menu and the game’s ludicrously fast load times, it’s easy to find your way around.
The overarching game structure is something that will certainly feel familiar – there’s really nothing new to see here as a F2P strategy game – but dig a little deeper and I’m actually quite liking what I see of Dawn of Titans. The game’s graphics are a real sign of just how far mobile platforms have come over the last decade and could easily draw people in, but they might stay for the Total War-esque battles towered over by the indomitable Titans.