The gist of it
Tempest Citadel is an ambitious entry into the indie strategy scene. It promises epic battles that require thorough preparation, which are then to be executed either by you or the game’s AI. It’s the second strategy entry from its small, London-based developer, Aartform Games.
If the plot were cheese, it wouldn’t be Swiss, but it would be funky
Tempest Citadel centers around you, the captain of the spaceship Cedar, sent to colonize another planet. However, you will quickly find yourself battling various alien factions on a mysterious government-sanctioned mission to a dangerous, ancient world. That world is Indra, notable for its storms (hence, Tempest), and its tiny, repetitive snapshots of the playable map areas. The basic idea for the plot is interesting, but many important details are hidden behind walls of text attached to items randomly acquired from missions. Unfortunately, unless you’re willing to pore over hundreds of paragraphs of filler information, you’ll remain ignorant of much of the story being told. Furthermore, plot lines border on unbelievable in many cases, as character decisions are often poorly paced or seemingly erratic. At the end of the day, you are given missions and objectives to complete, so even if the plot isn’t exactly Pulitzer-worthy, it is easily forgettable and does not affect gameplay.
Nice base, clunky UI
One of the first missions you complete rewards you with a fully-operational floating city, your Citadel (roll credits). This citadel thereon functions as your base of operations, where you will research various technologies, manufacture items, and upgrade the base itself. While this has potential to be an engaging management aspect of the title, it would benefit greatly from more easily navigable menus and actual rewarding progression. Most of the research is picked automatically, leaving you feeling very removed from the day-to-day operations of your own base in large part. You acquire all of your different building materials from the same post-mission scavenging mini-game, which is so incredibly simplistic that you’ll find yourself using the auto-complete option for it as soon as you spot it.
Didn’t someone say something about epic battles?
The missions themselves each consist of a squad of six crewmembers versus whatever creatures from the forgettable and poorly fleshed out factions that oppose them. Aside from a few distracting visual glitches, these battles play out smoothly. Of course, it doesn’t matter whether you’re attacking or defending, you’ll start from the same side of the map every time, regardless of context. These maps are cramped and all of the ground-based AIs are confined to narrow paths. As for the action itself, it quickly becomes apparent that the largest contributing factor to any battle is the arbitrary “threat” score each side has. If you have the larger threat number, you are more likely to win… but it really comes down to a roll of the figurative dice. You increase your threat by completing side missions and by building better items to equip your crew.
You can control your squad, but that control is extremely limited and almost entirely unimpactful. This highlights where this title suffers the most: automation. You often feel like an afterthought to this game, like it would rather play itself, but it has to include you. Aside from a few main story this-or-that decisions, your largest contribution as this unnamed captain is clicking through it to advance from one event to the next. This title plays very much like XCOM in nearly all regards, but fails to draw the player into the fold.
The Verdict: Flawed
Ultimately, Tempest Citadel makes large promises and misses the mark on them all. While it’s certainly playable, it’s a frustrating experience that lacks player engagement. The most redeeming part of this title is the original artwork, which may entice the unsuspecting consumer into purchasing a lackluster entry into the already crowded strategy genre. While there is not yet a price announced for this title, I cannot in good faith recommend this game to anyone at any price. The only exception would be if you’re a super fan of XCOM and need a squad-based strategy fix before the next entry in that franchise and you’re willing to work through this game’s myriad flaws.