Platform: Nintendo Switch (eShop)
Category: Strategy, Arcade & Action
Release Date: July 27, 2018 (EU & NA)
Element is a minimal real-time strategy title that developer Flightless describe as an RTS game for people that don’t have time to play in-depth RTS games. Now, we can see if Element has found the perfect home on the Nintendo Switch.
The premise of Element uses the classic tale of the earth (or in this case the solar system) having exhausted all of its resources necessitating the need to leave in search of new planets and new resources. The developer claims that the future lies beyond, and venturing off to other neighboring solar systems and planets. What this translates to is visiting each of the planets in order to mine them of their valuable resources, but things are never as simple as they seem. An enemy faction wants the resources too and this is where the RTS comes in.
The aim of each level is to mine more of the resources than the enemy and then destroy their base. To do this, you lay resource units to build energy and this energy can then be used to build units for attacking and defending against the enemy, whilst also attempting to take the mines on each planet. This may seem like standard RTS mechanics, but Element is designed to make the gameplay a much more basic experience.
With regards to both attacking and defending, you do not have a wealth of different infantry units to pick from, and you cannot pour resources into researching and upgrading your starter units. You have three types of units: air, land, and water, and you choose which of these three you want to build by clicking to build the unit either on the land for earth units, in the sky for air units, or in the water for aqua units.
There are no drop-down menus to navigate, all you do is choose where you want to deploy a level one, two, or three unit, with each number increasing in competence that naturally costs more energy. To add a further layer strategy though, there is a rock-paper-scissors mechanic to the units where the earth-based units beat water-based units, water beats air, and air beats earth units. This means that you have to find a balance between the three to stop yourself from being overpowered and give yourself a good chance of claiming victory.
You can also send drones out which serve a few purposes. Firstly, they will repair your buildings should you come under enemy fire, provided they are not intercepted and destroyed on the way to their destination. Secondly, they will pick up any supplies that are found by your resource scout units. Lastly, you have missiles that you can send out and fire at any enemy targets and they also come in three levels.
When building units, you can only build on a certain percentage of the planet, so it is important that you find the balance between building defensive and attacking units. However, even if you’ve reached this percentage you can still use drones and missiles as much as you want, provided you have the adequate energy. You most likely will never encounter a terrible situation that you can’t get out of if you did make a strategic error, and this is a strength of Element’s gameplay loop.
It’s also important to make sure you have more resources than the enemy before destroying their bases, otherwise, you will fail the mission automatically. This is especially annoying because in some of the harder levels the enemy could already be in control of a few mines at the start of the map. Meaning that not only are you already stuck in a rut where you can’t strike fast and catch them off-guard, but you will already fail the mission. I eventually just randomly put resource towers down everywhere I could, just so my energy would be built up quicker and then aggressively taken a few mines before using all of my resources to destroy the enemy base.
There were no changes to tactics from mission to mission and this eventually felt like the only way to win. Unfortunately, that removes a good chunk of strategic thinking from the equation. Another gripe is that there is not a quick way to return to your base. I had instances where warnings were flashing up stating that my base was under attack, and because the map is spherical as opposed to a top-down view, I had a hard time finding my main base no matter how much I kept spinning around the globe. The fact that the buildings all look similar does not help in this regard either. A “return to base” command or button would have been extremely useful.
Element does not shy away from admitting it’s an RTS-lite title, but streamlining the number of units, menus and statistics doesn’t mean that the strategy has to be watered down too. It almost seems sometimes like you are backed into a corner by stacking the odds so far against you in later levels that only one strategy seems to work, other than presenting you with different types of problems to overcome from planet to planet.
Graphics in Element are certainly interesting with a 3D polygon-based style used to represent the planet with a simple color palette being used for each level. I found the user interface to be simple, intuitive, and easy to understand, which gives Element a good overall presentation. In terms of the vehicles and units however, the visuals become almost too simple. Most of the buildings look the same with color used to differentiate between your resources and those of the enemy. The music consists of a light ambient soundtrack that wouldn’t feel out of place in 2001: a Space Odyssey and gets the job done of conveying the setting and tranquility of how simple the presentation is.
Overall, Element is an interesting concept to play an RTS on spherical maps, but it works quite well in execution. The RTS components are streamlined, removing much of what might be intimidating to newcomers of the genre. The biggest problem I could see was the simplicity also brings about using the same strategies on practically every stage leading to repetitiveness. Not just because I could, but I felt I had to in order to advance and make any type of progress in the later levels. Veteran fans of RTS titles may feel somewhat underwhelmed by the lack of strategy involved, but anyone who is looking for a different and unique RTS should check Element out.
The Verdict: 7/10
*Review Key Provided by Flightless
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