It has been a while since I’ve really dug into the RTS genre; there are so many systems to learn, and it’s such a hefty time investment that it can feel a bit intimidating. It’s this sentiment that the New Zealand based developers over at Flightless are trying to get ahead of, in their new game, Element. In fact, their whole design philosophy is to create “a realtime strategy space game for people that don’t have time to play realtime strategy space games”, and I think it works.
I can be pretty impatient sometimes, so tutorials aren’t really my thing. This is a pretty big character flaw, as it means I miss out on getting into a lot of great RTS games that require a bit of time to learn. Luckily, the tutorial being shown off at PAX was quick and simple enough, that it didn’t take long for me to grasp the game’s fundamentals.
Players compete against the AI for a particular element (the name of the planets, and coincidently, the game!), which you then expend to build repair drones, mining centres, missiles, and defence and attack units. From there, the game just becomes a task of managing all five categories effectively, and using them in unique ways to either destroy the opposing enemy’s city, or take-over the planet’s resource.
Even by just playing the tutorial, I got a sense for how fast each individual game would progress. The more resources you control, the more energy you gain to build different units; It starts off quiet, but very quickly transforms into a fast-paced macro-management game, where you attempt to protect your resources, entrap your AI foe, and defend your base and attacking units. Even satellites that rotate around the planet’s axis, can be cleverly synced up to overlook your units at just the right time.
The game’s art-style follows the current ‘low-poly’ trend, though, its design is rooted in gameplay simplicity. The planet is divided into oddly shaped grids, which are highlighted as you move your cursor over them and clearly identify the placement of your units. The un-precise grids may look a bit odd, but they allow for a lot of more interesting unit positions and advancements.
I was pretty blown away by my reaction to Element. The simple and quick-to-learn design makes it a very accessible entry into the genre, without abandoning the level of strategic depth and multitasking skills that players love to grow.
Currently, Element is in Early Access for feedback and testing, but the full product will release on all platforms including iOS and Android next year, and ways to play the game in VR are already in the works.