Ancient Frontier (PC) Review

By Eric 20.09.2017

Review for Ancient Frontier on PC

Sci-fi games on PC stand in a weird position. On one hand, they seem to be a dime a dozen and every time you turn around there is a new one out but, on the other, no one can accuse them of being derivative like the FPS genre. Furthermore, they tend to have, in general, a special fan base that is more forgiving of flaws and more 'hardcore' into numbers and playing 'Microsoft Excel with pictures,' as many games might be described. Ancient Frontier falls heavily into the latter group, with a story about two clashing sides of humans, marred by a simplistic battle system.

From the get go, it is obvious that Ancient Frontier is operating with a smaller budget but tries to get around this with heart. Despite what the images may look like, at its core the gameplay is simple: story, then battle, and then repeat. It works, but leaves a lot to be desired.

Taking place far in the future, where the main government of humanity is based out of Mars, the story follows one of two different sides. There is the Human Federation, which is the main government, and the Colonial Alliance, which is a ragtag outer system government. The game features two campaigns and is fully voiced. Set up initially with a group of friends going through a military academy, they go their separate ways only to find themselves on opposing sides of an opening war.

The story works, and is its best strength. While some of the character's voice actors come off as cheesy, some are actually decent. The angle of 'former friends turned enemies' works, as well, and keeps the action going, despite the battle system. Depending on some choices made in dialogue this could result in slightly different missions occurring.

Screenshot for Ancient Frontier on PC

If there is a glaring weakness, it is some choices in the battle system. The player will be spending a lot of time in it, and at times it can be incredibly frustrating due to multiple reasons. At its simplest, it bears the most resemblance to strategy turn-based titles like Final Fantasy Tactics. Each turn, each ship gets a chance to move and/or fire, depending on action points. Ships, like scouts, will have multiple move actions on a single turn, but may only be able to fire once, whereas a heavy ship can only move once, but fire multiple times.

The root of the combat system is actually interesting, and the idea the team was going for shows potential. Each ship has various skills it can use on its turn, beyond the normal attack. This could be a shield recharge, an AOE attack, or move bonuses. It is very important to stress the ideas of the battle system are well done, but some specific issues drag the system down heavily.

The problems first start with a tremendous random number generator (RNG) problem. This then feeds into the fact that combat rapidly spirals one way or another, death is permanent, and the game is a forced iron-man save style, and what this means is that a single wave of bad luck can literally ruin an entire game. The battle system is not 'bad' so much as the spectre of luck is so pervasive, with so much potential swing in what is occurring that it truly drags the system down. To give an example, imagine playing something like Final Fantasy Tactics or Fire Emblem, and when a guy gets killed (which is almost inevitable), instead of just loading up a save, the entire campaign is done.

Screenshot for Ancient Frontier on PC

To start at the beginning, even the missions assigned can vary widely. Based on choices in story, it's possible to have an easy mission picking up supplies, or be facing massive numbers of ships that will wreck you. On paper, combat seems interesting, but the wild damage range and feedback problems really multiply the issue of randomness determining your fate. Ships are expensive to buy, and when one dies, it is gone forever. As will be talked about later, a bad string of luck can easily lose multiple ships in a battle, which then leads to less ships being available next time, meaning those still alive get killed even easier than before. In this fashion, it becomes very easy to find yourself in a situation where you truly cannot progress in the story.

As a way to illustrate, a small ship usually can take about 20 damage, and a medium ship can take about 50. One of the worst offenders is the heavy fighter; it can only take 20 damage but can shoot three times. Turn order is randomised each time (with an edge towards ship speed, but this never actually seems to matter). With these facts in mind, a typical scenario that can easily happen is moving one ship forward, into range of the fighter. Your medium ship shoots and damages. Bringing in another ship to finish it off, the enemy actually lives with 1 HP left. Now, on its turn, it gets three full attacks, maybe hits a critical or two and blows away your first ship. Next turn, it happens to go first now, and now again shoots three more times, which can easily kill another ship. In the space of having an enemy left with 1 HP, then, it is entirely possible to lose two or more ships - which for all intents is a game over based on how the campaign is.

This, unfortunately, encourages this very slow slog style of combat, but still never gets away from the potential of a huge and drastic luck swing against the player. Instead of cool small-scale battles, which would have been fun, it simply is more effective to 'ball up' and move forward, all the while hoping the turn order doesn't break bad against you.

Screenshot for Ancient Frontier on PC

When things are going right, the battles can be fun. The ship models look good but they are rarely seen as the most effective approach is to simply stay zoomed out to see the whole battle. Casting skills, bringing ships in for support, and so on, is likely what the developer was going for. However, the issues brought up of how much luck swings widely, losses, and permanent and continued stacking, and a forced iron-man, all contribute to a feeling of aggravation when something doesn't go right in battle. Not a feeling of 'well that was unfortunate' but 'the stupid little ship just critical hit two of my cruisers…my whole campaign is done!'

The things at play here are almost a 'runaway loser' type problem of when things go bad, they only get worse until its game over. Conversely, with the correct mission choices (no way to know), and some luck on your side, it can become one-sider in your favour where ships start to be untouchable.

Overall, despite the tremendous problems with the battle system, Ancient Frontier still manages to be interesting. Upgrading ships, putting on new items, and watching the story develop are definitely the highlights. Deciding on fleet composition, what skills to use, and the small scale tactics, are all fun aspects. Some simple changes could go a long way, as the things really holding this back are a too wide luck range and the battle dragging to a standstill. If the pace was faster, and bad breaks not debilitating, the rest of the game would be an easy recommendation. As is it is now, the issues brought up get in the way of a fun fleet simulator and sci-fi war story.

Screenshot for Ancient Frontier on PC

Cubed3 Rating

6/10
Rated 6 out of 10

Good

Ancient Frontier never fires on all cylinders, which is unfortunate as clearly there was a lot that went into the game. Some aspects, such as the story, and ships/equipment had a lot of time put into them, whereas the battle system suffers from an incredible drag in pacing, rampant RNG problems, and a feedback loop potentially leading to a campaign being unwinnable. Small changes, such as removing the forced ironman, or toning down the luck, would go a long way to fixing these matters. Despite the wreck that the battle system is, the game itself is still redeemed by its other qualities. Simply know you will need a high tolerance for the way battle plays out to enjoy the game properly.

Developer

Fair Weather Studios

Publisher

Fair Weather Studios

Genre

Strategy

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  6/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date None   Australian release date Out now   

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