Have You Played… Skyward Collapse?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Nick Cave once murmur-sang about his lack of belief in an interventionist god. Not a Populous man, then, Mr Cave. All those pillars of flame and the constant terraforming are sure signs of direct interference by celestial pests. Perhaps he’d be more comfortable with Skyward Collapse [official site], a God game in which you must maintain balance by nudging. You do intervene, but quietly. Nick wouldn’t even notice you.

I love Skyward Collapse but the first time I played it, I thought it was utterly tedious. It’s tiny isometric worlds just didn’t seem busy enough – I’d expected hives of activity that required my attention. Instead, Skyward Collapse gives you barren land and asks you to make a garden. Instead of flowers, there are civilisations and as their borders expand, they will fight.

Your task is to ensure that equilibrium is maintained, boosting the strength of one culture while ensuring that its rivals aren’t overwhelmed. To achieve that, you have access to a host of powers, many of which introduce mythological units into the world.

The trick is to think ahead so that you’re always ready to prune the growth from whatever seeds you’ve planted when they become too dangerous. The longer a game runs, the more complicated the world becomes. You prune, you plant and you pick away, and try to avert catastrophe.

I love Skyward Collapse because, like so many Arcen games, it runs with an idea and doesn’t stop until it finds the extremes of that idea. It has flaws, namely a slow and sometimes repetitive early game, but there’s nothing else quite like it.

22 Comments

  1. Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

    One of the few games where you can truly say that you are your own worst enemy. Every single one of your problems is caused by you. And every solution becomes next turn’s problem.

    • RedViv says:

      Arcen make games for very niche player groups. In this case, god game players who also like turnbased playstyles and who have throughout the years of mistreatment through the God of God Games developed a strong and thorough sense of masochistic glee. Just give us anything. We will suffer, sure. But you’ll probably still be better to us than Old Moleypetes.

  2. The_Player says:

    You’ll have to do better than this to sale a game with 42% positive reviews.

  3. cpt_freakout says:

    It’s the kind of game I thought I’d thoroughly enjoy (I like all the ideas behind Arcen stuff), but unfortunately didn’t. The idea is great, and even the silly presentation was a plus for me, but man did it drag for me.

    You know, the garden analogy you used clicked instantly for me because I’m awful at gardens. Only had one in my independent life, and I preferred for it to go wild, like a good romantic. Anyway, I don’t like that kind of work, which might explain why I thought Skyward Collapse went on for too long, and I didn’t enjoy my ‘position’ in the world as much as I thought I would.

    • Sin Vega says:

      I found pacing an issue, too. It’s not quite a game that you can really complete in one session, when it really ought to be. Also I was confused when I topped the scored several times over and reached the listed turn limit, but then the game kept going anyway, leaving me stuck repeating things for a while, unsure if it was safe to let it all go to ruin or whether it’d keep going for another 20 turns.

    • Yglorba says:

      > It’s the kind of game I thought I’d thoroughly enjoy, but unfortunately didn’t.

      Arcen games in a nutshell, sadly. I kind of disagree with the end of this review, where it says that “like so many Arcen games, it runs with an idea and doesn’t stop until it finds the extremes of that idea” — I feel the exact opposite; Arcen often has good ideas, but doesn’t stick with them and polish them enough, and often seems to fail at teasing out what would make them really click.

  4. blamstokel says:

    I’m pretty sure the quote “It has flaws, namely a slow and sometimes repetitive early game, but there’s nothing else quite like it.” can describe every single game Arcen makes.

  5. RedViv says:

    “There’s nothing else quite like it” should be the official Arcen motto.

  6. Sin Vega says:

    I didn’t enjoy it at first, but then I realised what I was doing wrong: I was being far too cautious. I was gaming it, trying to be as safe as possible, when the whole point, and the real fun of the game, is to be reckless and capricious and unleash as much chaos as you can, then desperately scrabble to counterbalance the overwhelming forces you’ve set loose.

    It’s refreshing for a strategy game to do that, once you get into the swing of it.

    • RedViv says:

      Strategy games usually are about whispers and stern voices in the back of a command tent. This one is about mad people yelling to the gods, and the gods yelling back. Then everything is on fire, and everyone gets a malaria attack, and all factions go mad. It’s kinda like FarCry 2 in that.

  7. Arathain says:

    It’s well worth a try. There are some lovely pieces of design in there. One of my favourite ones is the way powerful god powers are scored- ones that solve problems for you actually cost you points. But if you’re willing to potentially create problems for yourself (by, say, overpowering a single unit so it starts tearing though the other civs) you can earn a ton of points.

    If you’re in a desperate situation you can use these to save yourself and kick the can down the line for later. You can also use them just to make things harder for yourself, and get rewarded into the bargain.

  8. Joshua Northey says:

    I thought I would like this, but I just couldn’t get into it. Arcen has tremendous ideas fro games, but for whatever reason they never quite are enjoyable enough for me to be worth sinking much time to. I don’t know if they need more polishing or balancing, or just a second pass through with someone more concerned with fun.

    The remind me of the board games I used to design which while all technically masterpieces and having compact and clear and consistent rule-sets compared to a lot of similar games, always seemed to lack the je nais se qua that leads to fun.

    Anyway, I will keep buying there games likely, because I always love the idea of them, and then bounce off them.

  9. mouton says:

    Hah, I liked it a lot. Kind of like Khorne simulation, where you optimize how the mortals are murdering each other.

    A good example for why aggregate scores are bullshit. Sure, it might not be for everyone, but it is a perfectly playable game and who knows, maybe really fun for some.

  10. Bobtree says:

    I like Skyward Collapse, but it has so many issues that I barely played it (8h according to Steam). The tutorial is ridiculously long and dull (it should end quickly, or change to an actual difficulty level after the start), it has tedious UI usability issues (the tooltip-hunt for resource buildings to support unit production), the derived on-demand resource mechanic is badly presented (it should just require the conversion building and base resources, don’t make the player do extra math to juggle resources that don’t exist), achievements are given for placing tokens without regard for the outcome (spamming tokens and losing the game is not achievement worthy), and a major balance bug ( link to arcengames.com ) ruined my last play.

    It’s sad that that Arcen have not given SC their usual level of support. This is a neat game, and I still want to play more of it, just not in the shape they left it in.

    One tip for new players: making lots of basic units is easier than trying to scrape by with the minimum because they will soak up more of the risky elements and protect your towns.

    • malkav11 says:

      TBH, it -has- gotten their usual level of support, or even a bit more (since there’s a DLC for it). When AI War got a hojillion free major patches and 5+ paid expansions that gave the impression that that would be their modus operandi for every subsequent game, but the fact is, the only other game they’ve supported even half as much as AI War has been The Last Federation. The majority of their catalog comes out and gets a few patches and that’s about it.

      And I don’t blame them, necessarily. They’ve released a bunch of very different games, and then the ones that have stuck (in terms of sales and consumer enthusiasm), they continue to put money and resources behind. But it can be a touch frustrating to see games that -could- be great with some more TLC not receive it. I’m pretty sure AI War would not be as well regarded as it is if they’d left it at, say, 1.02.

  11. wu wei says:

    Are there any decent guides to getting into this? I’ve bounced off the in-game tutorial a couple of times now.

  12. jonfitt says:

    I didn’t play this despite my predisposition to like Arcen games because of bad reviews (I think this site included).

    So “have I played it?” No, because RPS said it wasn’t good.