At The Gates or as we will lovingly call it AtG from now on is a roguelike, 4X game developed by Jon Shaffer, the lead designer of Civilization V, and two other unpaid guys at Conifer Games, AtG plays more or less like Civilization, but does it have enough elements to set it apart. Let’s find out.
AT THE GATES
As of right now AtG only has a single player mode. There is no sandbox mode, practice mode or even online skirmish mode. You are thrown into the deep end from the start, and you kind of learn on the job.
And since it’s a roguelike game, no two playthroughs of yours will be the same. So expect getting thrown into a tundra with minimal mineral deposits when you restart the game or a wide glade with multiple food sources and unknown animals to herd. Wherever you begin with, you need to develop your settlement in order to outlast the weather.
Gameplay & Mechanics
You’re supposed to manage the clans that arrive at your settlement, study professions, train them in various disciplines, send them out to hunt, gather and collect resources, and all. You need to grow your settlement, feed the hungry mouths, trade in resources, and keep them happy so that they can produce treasure.
Now each clan has certain traits and bonuses associated with them, and it is advised to train them in the profession they ‘like’. Yes, you heard it right, they have likes and dislikes, something which you need to take into account if you don’t want to lose them as their moods and desires have a real impact on the game (though you have the option to satisfy them temporarily by making them drink alcohol, which is costly in the first place).
The game-event progression is quite slow. Clans take months to get trained in a particular profession, and by months I mean quite a number of turns as each turn represents half a month. It’s a 4X game, so don’t expect any instant action and instead go with the flow because for the first few hours, you won’t have any idea what is happening. But the game does a pretty good job at explaining stuff and notifying you what actions are to be completed first. And here I should mention one of the revolutionary aspect of AtG never seen before in any 4X game– the tooltip.
Tooltip & Sticky Notes
Hover your mouse pointer over any yellow text and you get to see its description. Hover mouse over any text within the description and you open a new description window. By using this you can search for any information at the drop of a hat, even information within information! Want to learn about anything on the map? Simply hover your mouse on it and ride through the tooltip links as long as you understand it. No information is hidden in another page, everything is right there before your eyes and at your dispense and hence you’ll not lose attention from the core gameplay.
The game also saves at every turn allowing you to correct whatever mistakes you’ve done in your previous turns, and believe me, you’re gonna make a lot of mistakes. AtG is management at its best! There is also a note-making system that allows you to attach sticky notes to anything you find on the map. You can color code the notes to make them distinct for understanding the aspects of a particular entity on the map better.
Like Civilization, the map is self-generating, but what sets it apart from other 4X games is its susceptibility to change according to seasons.
In summer, it’s easy to grow crops and conduct raids. This is the time when you should send your men to gather as many resources as possible because once the winter arrives, things start going down south. The same river that acted as a barrier for you in summer, gets frozen in winter, allowing passage for both you and your rival clans. Food supply dips to disastrous levels (depending on how you’ve maintained the stock in summer) and it drastically affects the moods of the clans. Your military units will have to rely on whatever supply they have at hand. Although you can encamp them to regain supply for one turn, that leaves them vulnerable to enemy raids. Train, manage and grow – that should be your mantra while playing AtG because unlike Civilization, you won’t be commanding dozens of cities or hordes of armies, you’ll be in charge of one and only settlement.
It all depends on you.
Your settlement is everything but permanent. You’re required to find a better place and relocate lest you want to end up getting hit by famine once you’ve exhausted the resources in your proximity.
Choose whether to train your men in warfare or agriculture, because your tiny little pitiful settlement can be attacked anytime (I’ve ventured into the territories of rival clans and mind you, they’ll slaughter you on sight!) Things can go awry once seasons change – flooding in heavy rains, drought in mid-summer, frigid winters, etc. –and since you’re practically encompassed by rival clans, expect enemy raids when their own food supply depletes.
Every 24 turns (12 months) a complete seasonal cycle takes place, freezing and unfreezing the landscape and changing its properties. The winters will wreck you once you get further north, with minimalistic vegetation in sight and a long endless tundra to explore.
It is what you should actually expect from the North.
But have no fear, because you’ll get to meet and interact with various clan leaders, and it’s completely your choice whether you want to befriend them or declare war on them. Befriending requires you to spend some gold. As for declaring war, I haven’t had the guts to do that yet.
There is also a Caravan that visits thrice a year, allowing you to sell and buy raw materials (including alcohol!), and since in the initial stages of the game you’ll be having only a handful of gold, you need to choose wisely and make those caravan visits count.
You have got the option to change religion too though I still don’t know what are its in-game implications.
Graphics Performance & Sound
AtGbrings forth a huge hexagonal-tiled map with aesthetics straight out of a child’s watercolor painting book, complete with all forms geographical features that were present in 400 AD Europe. You’ve got lush pastures, dense forests, mountain ranges, corn fields, long winding rivers, tundra, and even beehives, all rendered with elegant brush strokes.
AtG will run decently on any type of PC at high framerates because the map has only minimalistic animation coded to it. Animations include character movements, rains during monsoon, tiny raw material icons floating from the edges of the map towards your settlement… and that’s it! Though I did experience a slight lag or delay when I ended my turn (might be because I was skipping half a month in time). Save that, the game runs as smooth as butter with zero bugs and crashes. The Options menu is a no-brainer because this is all there is!
There is only one soundtrack in the game and that is the main menu theme, and it’s damn good! Perfectly fits the theme of the game. The rest are just sound effects and ambient sounds which are quite peaceful per se. Like when you are near a river you can hear the water flowing, crashing on the rocks, the birds chirping etc., and further north, it’s nothing but harsh, frigid winds howling through your speakers.
Although At the Gates is a great game (considering it was made by only three people and spent years in development-hell) but its slow progressing and watercolor art style might be off-putting to those who prefer the 3d textured art style of Civilization games. The tooltip does a great job at explaining stuff, and even if you feel there is nothing much to do per turn, you’ll be surprised at its instant effect will be felt in the succeeding turn. Each profession, discipline, tasks must be carefully chosen and this aspect of the games makes it way better than any 4X games I’ve ever played. And boy, can’t I wait for the in-game summer to hear the birds chirping!
Do you have what it takes to replace the once almighty and all-powerful Roman Empire?
If yes, then At the gates is the game you should look forward to.
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