Golem Gates did something I never thought would happen, something that seemed so foreign to me I couldn’t even comprehend it as a potential outcome, it entertained me with Collectable Card Game (CCG) mechanics. I’m not saying I have an abject hate for the genre or mechanic, but really my only true experience of CCG is in the real world during my handful of dalliances with Magic: The Gathering. Thankfully Golem Gates also brings the Real Time Strategy (RTS) to the mix with CCG. This leads to a really interesting juxtaposition between the strategy and forward planning nature of RTS and the pure random chaos of CCG. You may think your plan is solid but if you don’t have the right hand of cards in front of you then you’re likely crap out of luck.
I’d love to explain the story behind Golem Gates at this point but everything in the world built by Laser Guided Games is so abstract and drip fed I honestly struggle to explain anything beyond this; You’re the Harbinger, a pseudo-angelic being who is tasked with making their way through the world with the sole goal of destroying any Golem Gates they find. Golem Gates are machines that produce evil demonic robot beasts. Throughout the game you’re targeting these Golem Gates on each map and tasked with taking out an enemy.
If that sounds simple, it’s because really it is. You’re given cut-scenes and dialogue between missions but with no real lore building intro it’s hard to get context to any of the information you’re gaining. Cool, this guy that has been watching me fight for a while now wants a crack and taking out the Harbinger…awesome.
Thankfully the lack of coherent story doesn’t effect the gameplay which is on the most part a really solid experience. The main story mode will see you take on various objectives around a core principle, keep your Harbinger alive and destroy the enemy Golem Gate. To reach this end goal of destruction you may have to survive waves of enemies, destroy generators, raise a bridge or other such menial tasks. Aiding you in this goal your Harbinger generates Nano’s that are your currency to purchase Glyphs, which are the cards in your deck. Purchasing a Glyph allows you to place units, turrets or cast spells on the battle field. Once placed you can then command the units to move or attack as you see fit.
Using the Switch as opposed to mouse and keyboard does add a certain level of difficulty to the game where moving quickly around the field of play becomes a bit cumbersome. The shoulder buttons are there to help quick scroll between locations but with everything looking really quite similar this ends up being more disorientating rather than helpful.
The design of the world is interesting, a H.R.Giger style heaven and hell motif with industrial mechanical trappings. It really is fascinating to look at and gives a real interesting style to everything, it’s just not something that evolves enough throughout the game. I’m not looking for Mario style ‘Ice-World’ and then ‘Fire-World’, but some stronger variants would really have made the progression feel a bit more appealing. Something that’s worth really calling out though is the truly wonderful soundtrack. Epic is a word that is thrown around a lot in this day and age and it’s lost a lot of meaning but in it’s original meaning epic is the perfect adjective for the swelling soundtrack. The Mission Complete screen especially really hammers home the ‘I won a battle’ feelings and just nails the emotive intentions.
Moment to moment gameplay sees you trying your best to capture Nano Generators from around the map to increase your resources to buy units quicker. All of this works quite well in terms of a gameplay loop and by the end of each map you’ve built a decent sized army to push on the final Golem Gate. The early game is a lot of quick decisions as to whether you’re going to save up for a large unit that costs more or just spam a few small units to get the Nano Generators from the enemy early. It leads to a quite fascinating risk reward aspect to the game, something that you don’t get that much of, to such a visceral effect, in other RTS games.
Golem Gates is a really interesting mix of genres that pays off. The game does have it’s somewhat plodding moments in the story campaign but the unlocking of new Glyphs will justify it in the long run. It’s an odd situation but I’m not sure that it’s a must purchase on the Switch over the PC however. Full disclosure I haven’t played the PC version but I can’t help but imagine that the controls and map moving is a lot easier with a mouse and keyboard. The portability of the Switch is a real selling point however as this would be a great commute filler, as long as you’re not driving.