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Chaos Reborn – Early Access First Impressions

By on January 6th, 2015 10:41 am

Chaos Reborn | A turn-based fantasy strategy game by Julian Gollop

Chaos Reborn is a turn-based fantasy strategy game by legendary designer Julian Gollop. Julian designed other games you may know or have heard of, like the Rebelstar series, Chaos: The Battle of Wizards and the Laser Squad series. But, the title for he is most know for is the classic turn-based sci-fi strategy game UFO: Enemy Unknown (aka X-COM: UFO Defense).

A defining characteristic of Julian’s design is the use of turn-based tactical gameplay, which is again central to Chaos Reborn. In Chaos Reborn, like in its predecessor Chaos: The Battle of Wizards, you’re a wizard challenging other wizards for a battle to the death. You can cast a series of spells, including summoning creatures, forging equipment or casting direct spells like lightning and fire against your opponents. Some of these spells will be real, others will not. This uncertainty, on if your opponent is trying to deceive you is one of the game’s most appealing concepts.

Julian succeeded on Kickstarter in April of 2014, securing $210,000 from a $180,000 goal. Last month (eight months later) the game was made available on Steam under the Early Access Program. Here’s my first impressions after playing the early access version for the past month.

Early Access Impressions

Now, I’m not a multiplayer kind of guy. However, I’m really enjoying playing this game with other players online. There may be a nostalgia element at work here, as I was a big fan of the original Chaos game from the 80’s as well. But, that’s hardly the single reason why I like this game.

So, but what’s in already? Currently, the game supports online multiplayer against 1, 2 or 3 opponents. It’s also possible to play co-op in games of 2 vs 2. You can play against random players via a match maker mechanism or you can setup your own private games. On top of the online live play you can also play asynchronously where each player plays their turn at their own pacing. So, it’s possible to create games that last up to 30 days where players (up to 4) can play the game in a very leisure pace. This is a good mode for people who like to play at their own pace with friends, perhaps playing one turn after lunch, and another later in the night. I had the privilege to play against Julian Gollop himself via this asynchronous mode in a tournament held at the end of last year: “The Gollop Wallop 5” (I’m the greenpower guy there). I lost  to Julian :)

On top of the online multiplayer mode there’s also a single-player offline battle system, which was added just a couple of weeks ago. In this offline mode it’s possible to play with a combination of human and AI players (so, playing hotseat is supported). When playing offline against the AI the game provides a disclaimer that “the AI is very rudimentary at the moment”. And, I can confirm that it is still very weak indeed. Just for this impressions I played 5 games in a row against 2 and 3 AI opponents and I managed to win all of them, and quite easily I would add.

Chaos Reborn | Offline mode

During my sessions against the AIs I’ve seen very bizarre stuff, like enemy wizards reluctant to move even when at the face of danger, and other times deciding to do suicide moves; AIs casting too many illusion spells (you can cast a real creature or an illusion, an illusion has always a 100% chance); AIs also make use of the dispel spell too much (to challenge if a creature is real). I’ve seen Giants using their special weapon (a giant rock) on very questionable targets, and AI wizards casting offensive spells on the least threatening creatures, and many other random and odd behavior of this type.

The experience is night and day compared to playing with human players online though. There, matches are very challenging and can be very intense if not even nerve-wracking at times. The community seems to be somewhat large and quite friendly and I account only one unpleasant experience while chatting with a player, but in general everybody is very supportive and fun to play with. While I win almost every time against the AI, my online ranking statistics state that I only win 43% of the times online vs human players, as you can see below.

Chaos Reborn | Your wizards' online ranking statistics

It wouldn’t shock me if this was all the game had to offer for its asking price. But, Julian has more plans in the pipeline. There’s an equipment design feature planned, called “Forge Master” where it will be possible to create equipment for your wizard. The equipment can then be chosen before battle, leveled up and traded with other players. Then there’s a “Social Ranks” feature also planned which will act like a progression system where your wizard may level up and unlock new game modes at certain stages. These new game modes are: “Wizard Lord”, “Wizard King”, “Demigod” and “God” and after you reach “Wizard King” you should be allowed to design and populate your own Realms. The last mode: “God”, states that it will be possible to “influence the development of the game lore and future game features”. So, Julian seems to have long plans for Chaos Reborn.

On top of the equipment design and the social ranks system there’s also a single-player RPG mode planned called “Realms of Chaos” where “you can enter a realm and travel the land, encountering all kinds of creatures and enemy wizards”. The objective in this RPG mode is “to defeat the Wizard King before he casts a banishing spell”. Co-op is also planned for this exploration mode. More on this single-player RPG mode on the official website.

Closing Thoughts

This game is quite solid and enjoyable already, especially if you consider that it is still in Early Access. But, I do have a few minor issues with it at its current state. Like for instance, sometimes it’s not clear when there’s line of sight, or when a terrain is or not passable; other times it’s somewhat easy to make a control mistake leading you to a different hex tile than you previously planned due to how the attack system works. Your wizard also tends to dismount from creatures easily in order to attack sometimes, leading it to become vulnerable, so if you’re not careful these little mistakes may cause major frustration sometimes, especially at defining moments. However, I think these are minor flaws that the devs can still fix while the game isn’t officially released, which should happen around May of this year.

Chaos Reborn | Take that Thranduil! :)

Balance-wise the game is also quite good already. I feel that the different creatures, spell types (Chaos, Neutral and Law) and staffs (one favoring weapons, others offensive spells, neutral spells, chaos spells, law and growth spells) are interesting and it will be even more interesting when it’s possible to equip the staff of your choice, as of now the staff type is attributed to each player randomly.

There’s a mana system, where it’s possible for the wizards to increase their spell casting odds or unlock a super spell when a certain mana level is reached. Map elevation is also a factor, with high elevation giving you attack and defense bonuses. Certain creatures have special attack types like web attack (from Spiders) which immobilizes creatures, one-time super shots (the Giant), charge bonuses (if creatures move before attacking), among others. So, there’s plenty of tactical depth at work here.

The game is also very stable at the moment (v0.23) and it’s usually fairly easy to find people to play online, taking no more than 5 to 10 minutes to arrange for a 4 player game, which is definitely a good sign.

Now, this all sounds wonderful but I should warn you that there’s a game element that may cause some problems to some people. Creatures in this game don’t have hit points, so they either die or survive upon each attack. So, even if you have multiple good odds to strike a creature that’s no guarantee that you’ll strike it down, even if it’s surrounded, in lower ground and suffering from overwhelming odds from all sides (there’s no flanking modifier for example). The opposite is also true. Sometimes it can be frustrating to watch your Giant or other strong creature like a Hydra die at first blow to a low offense creature like an Elf or a Dwarf. This is either something you learn to accept or not as the RNG (random number generator) is what it is. So, if you have issues with this sort of system (like the one you find in games like XCOM: Enemy Unknown, for example), you may have a problem with this game, as well. Personally, I don’t have a problem with the RNG but I admit that sometimes it can be frustrating to watch some of these unlikely events turn up, especially when they don’t favor you! :)

Chaos Reborn is not finished yet, it is currently in Early Access, but already provides a very entertaining experience. This is the perfect game to play with friends in short play sessions from 10 to 30 minutes or even asynchronously over the course of several days. And while it’s still incomplete, this is a game I find very easy to recommend already at this stage.

Chaos Reborn is currently in Alpha/Beta under Steam’s Early Access program and is available on Steam and on the Chaos Reborn official website for $19.99/€19.99. The official release is targeted for May 2015.

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  1. Sean Johnson says:

    I purchased this about a week ago as a future “investment.” Although I am not a huge fan of early access, I decided that a Julian Gollop game was worth the risk. I didn’t really think the game would be much fun as feature incomplete as it was…I have never been so delighted to be wrong in my life.

    Inexplicably, armed with a gluttonous mountain of great and complete holiday sale games, I had trouble regulating the time I spent with this game. It was always “Just one more match…” What I have seen thus far has me salivating for the full release of the game and all its glorious features. Highly recommended…granted by a guy you don’t know, but I assure you my taste is impeccable. ;)

  2. Frank Skunicki says:

    This game has single-handedly renewed my faith in early-access games. Julian Gollop and crew already have a brilliantly polished, totally playable hit on their hands. Even simple additions like the sole ‘Rat Pack’ card from a recent update really added to the game’s strategy. Can’t wait to see what’s next!

  3. SQW says:

    Hmm, Chaos and Sorcerer King?

    Did we become TB-Sector over the new year break? =)

    On a separate tangent, has anyone had a stab at Cosmonautica yet?

  4. Nicholas Lee says:

    Even at these early stages it’s worth picking up. I think the one shot kill on success hit works well, and does force the pace.

    As long as the multi-player population stays strong and quick to find matches it should be a consistent title.

  5. t1it says:

    Knew the existence of this game I did not thanks Adam =D
    Looks like a fun game. Perhaps something that belongs to my laptop for the lunch brake.

  6. JohnR says:

    SQW mentioned Space Sector becoming TB-Sector, but as I’ve been saying for a while now, Sword and Sorcery Sector would be closer to the mark. ;)

    But seriously, I’m encouraged by what Mr. Solo wrote, and especially the people who commented that they are enjoying this game despite not being big fans of early access. Also, I love the art style.

    Speaking of PvP, I’ve never been a big PvP fan, but am very much enjoying SWTOR: Galactic Starfighters. Tremendous fun, although the missile lock beeping is going to give me nightmares! lol Anyway, some have noted that it is a ripoff of Star Conflicts, and although that may be true to a point, at least Galactic Starfighters is part of a big huge game with other things to do in it.

  7. Adam Solo says:

    @SQW @JohnR
    Fantasy strategy has its place here, as you know. And so far the community seems to be happy with our Sword and Sorcery coverage :)

    Science fiction and fantasy are cousins, so I’m not shy to cover fantasy if I see it fits our audience. There’s also been a strong resurgence of fantasy strategy titles as of lately, even 4X, so that’s another reason why you may see more fantasy games being covered.

    So, yeah, Space Sector is also a bit TB-Sector and Sword and Sorcery Sector from time to time :)

    • SQW says:

      haha, I’m fine with that.

      Personally I prefer space; It just seems to invoke a wider set of imagination in devs.

      Western fantasy setting has been stuck in this dwarf/elf/dragon/castle mindset for so long I really wish devs would travel around Asia (not just Japan) or Middle East (not just Egypt) and get a taste of the rich imaginings of millennium-old culture.

    • Mark says:

      I’m more than happy with the fantasy coverage. I love any sort of game where you make progress and solve problems by using your head rather than your twitch reaction speed.

  8. NoldorElf says:

    How is the pure AI for people that are not interested in a multiplayer standpoint?

    One thing that would kill this game quickly for me would be a bad AI. It’s gotta be smart, able to use spells, terrain, and other capabilities very well.

    • Mark says:

      lol, are there *any* recently released games with an AI that good? Seems like devs in general have forgotten how to program AI.

      • JD says:

        Unity of Command. One of the best turn based strategy games made in the last 10 years easily. Received critical acclaim from Julian Gollop, Soren Johnson and Jon Shafer to name a few names.

        • Mark says:

          Thanks for the tip, I normally don’t play pure war games, but I’ll check this one out for the AI.

          Its good to know that decent AI design is at least possible, even though we hardly ever see it.

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Post category: Early Access, Game First Impressions, Game Previews