Prismata review impressions
Prismata cannot be understood without first understanding that its structure, while it resembles a traditional deckbuilder, is much closer to a skirmish-style real-time-strategy game like Starcraft than it is to Hearthstone or Magic: The Gathering. That mechanical underpinning is what defines it as a game, and what will surely excite or turn off players within a few short plays.
Currently in Early Access, and with no defined launch date as of yet, Prismata is the first game from Canadian developer Lunarch Studios. According to its website, it’s been in active development for about eight years now, and the progress definitely shows.
While it’s still rough around the edges, and a complete campaign is not currently available, the tactical thought put into the mechanics of the game is as complex as any finished game. At times, even moreso—Prismata, as mentioned, uses the trappings of a deckbuilder to adapt the game-flow of an RTS game.
Players are given two small ‘decks,’ one generic to every match and one comprised of random cards from each player’s pool of unlocked special cards. Both decks are identical to both players, meaning that any possible strategies and counters are seen by everyone in the match. It creates a tense atmosphere, knowing that the counterplay to your current strategy is staring you right in the face as the game goes on—you can only hope your opponent doesn’t see it before you do. The resource economy for each player is similarly transparent. The board is always visible to both players, and there is nothing in the way of a ‘hand’ that only shows cards to the player holding them.
There are five different resource types in the game, each gathered by a different resource unit. Drones and Engineers (supplied to each player at the beginning of the game) gather gold and energy, respectively. Conduits supply green Gaussite, Blastforges supply blue Behemium, and Animuses supply red Replicase. While gold is used to buy almost every unit, specialized units require green, blue, or red energy on top of the base gold price.
Like most turn-based games, players’ turns are divided into phases. Each turn begins with units on the field supplying resources to the current player, followed by a buying and gathering phase. During the bulk of your turn, you will be choosing which units to be placed in defense mode for your opponent’s attack as well as buying new units and buildings to bolster your economy and field defense.
Each turn concludes with damage being dealt from the current player to the defending player, who then has a moment to decide where the damage will fall on their current defenders. If there are no defenders available, or if the defending player exhausts their defenders, the attacking player then chooses the targets of spillover damage.
Every part of Prismata feels tuned to a specific game-feel. The trading of blows between armies on a battlefield will feel familiar to anyone who’s watched or played a skirmish-style RTS. Games start slow, with each side focusing on building economy before armies, but as soon as one combat unit is on the field, games quickly snowball into heated back-and-forth tactical decisions made under limited resources. Once one player has achieved a significant resource or damage advantage over the other player, defeats are swift, and generally conciliatory.
This imbalance frustrated me at first, and I imagine it will do the same to many other players. But once I had a handle on the ebb and flow of the gameplay, it made sense. Just like in an RTS, a significant tactical and/or resource advantage on one side leads to a quick end for the other. Prismata just accelerates the final phase of a game, and concentrates the bulk of tactical decisions to the middle phase of a traditional RTS—when both sides are simultaneously building armies and upgrading their internal economies.
The current build of the game also includes the first chapter of the single-player campaign, which is clearly meant to act as a tutorial of sorts for new players. Built around a sparse, visual novel-style narrative, the character writing and dialogue impressed me with how genuinely likeable it made the small cast. There’s not too much to say about the campaign in its current state, but it’s enjoyable, if only a bite-size bit for now.
The multiplayer is, or appears to be, as fully functional as it ever will be, sporting some nice features like live game-watching in the program itself, and easy hooks for Twitch livestreamers or those looking for streams to watch. There are microtransactions, via package bundles and lootboxes, but in my experience they were far from necessary to enjoy the full game, and generally only included cosmetic items.
For a newcomer to the strategy game genre, Prismata is laser-focused and remarkably complex, managing to adapt two disparate ideas of strategy game into a single, tense one-on-one. It’s both a testament and a detriment to the game that the systems are so deep, as they are a little hard to get a grasp on if you’re familiar with a simpler resource model like the ones seen in most popular online CCGs or deckbuilders. But if you’re willing to put the time in, Prismata is a game with a dense tactical sense that already has a number of well-deserved diehards in the scene.