Posted on 15 Feb 2020 by Jay Shaw

Necronator: Dead Wrong

The Defence

Developer: Toge Productions
Publisher: Modern Wolf
Genre: Indie, Strategy
Platform: PC
Review copy: Yes
Release date: 13 Feb 2020

The Prosecution

OS: Windows
CPU: Intel 2.4 GHz
AMD equivalent
VGA: Nvidia 512 MB VRAM, Pixel Shader 2.x
AMD equivalent
DirectX: 10
Controller: None
Mod Support: No
VR: No
FOV Slider: No
FPS Lock: 120+

Necronator is a deck-building micro-RTS from Toge Productions, but what is a micro-RTS? This genre encompasses games like Minion Masters and Infectonator (also from Toge Productions, abbreviated to TogePro by fans) and is a style of RTS that does away with large maps and base building in favour of simple mechanics like automatic resource procurement, automated pathing, and quickly spawning units. Necronator takes this to the next level by introducing a deck building mechanic ripped right out of Slay The Spire. Your deck will determine your tactics throughout a mission and the luck of the draw can influence victory or defeat so keeping your deck small and in synergy is very important to success.

The structure of the game also borrows from Slay The Spire as the world map is a series of nodes that contain several types of encounter: battles, difficult battles, shops, resting spots, and random events. Choosing your route ahead of time is a good idea, as bumping into too many of one type of event can leave you too damaged or underpowered by the time you reach the boss node. Much like Slay The Spire you can also upgrade units at rest spots in Necronator; you choose between two upgrades that provide different bonuses like cheaper cost, adding stun to attacks, or giving the unit stealth amongst many others. Duplicate units in your deck can be differentiated into more unique units with new or improved synergies.

Even weak units can tear an enemy base down when you buff a horde of them to have faster attacks.

During battle you’re mostly constrained by your regenerating mana pool. It fills up from 0-100 over time and can be sped up with buffs and capturing buildings scattered across the maps, these also act like guard towers that shoot at passing enemies. Battles are limited also by a 5 minute timer which will summon an endless stream of enemies and crush your base if it hits zero. We don’t particularly like this mechanic as an instant loss of a whole run just because you were a little slow in a tough battle doesn’t sit well with us; perhaps a forced retreat and small amount of damage applied to your base would be a more appropriate punishment. As battle proceeds you’ll summon hordes of undead monsters in various combinations that typically involve some melee fighters up front backed up by ranged units that deal more damage over time. Or, with unit upgrades, you might end up focusing entirely on super fast melee units, or buffing cards in your hand to unleash small amounts of super powerful units that you’ll then heal to keep in the battle longer. There isn’t a great deal of tactical depth and you can’t manually control your units except on two-route maps in which you can toggle a signpost to direct your units up one or the other. It’s a more accessible set-up for players who may not excel at other strategy games and one we found very refreshing.

Graphically the game has an almost late-PlayStation aesthetic. Maps are small chunks of land floating in the void and have a Final Fantasy Tactics blocky style to their layout. Coupled with a mix of sprites and texture work it’s easy to distinguish between terrain and units. We’d like some more feedback though; on one dual lane map in particular units seem to move far faster towards your base than normal and if that’s intentional it would be nice to have some indication of what’s causing it so strategies can be adjusted accordingly. Buildings have an almost Warcraft 3 feel to their designs and help push the fun nature of the setting to the forefront even when you’re watching a sprite of an orc smash a cutesy elf in the face with a giant sword.

Relics provide semi-permanent buffs that persist for a whole run.

We’d also appreciate a little more fluff to the cards; they have a detailed stats sheet but there’s no text to give the units character. For example: “Skeleton is a fast but fragile melee fighter but hates the rattling of his own bones.” would be far more charming than a block of numbers. As the game’s in a beta state we have to forgive missing content and incomplete features but we hope the additional two characters and levelling system provide more reasons to keep playing once you complete scenarios. We also hope Necronator will borrow a little more from Slay The Spire and include a custom game mode where players can mess about with all the variables and fun modifiers or long term appeal may be hard to achieve. Additionally, a game speed option (preferably accessible in real-time during battles) would be a great improvement and minimise the amount of time players spend waiting on mana. On the opposite side, a slower game could benefit many players and give everyone more time to think of strategies.

Overall Necronator is a bit of a shell of a game at the moment, a demo. What’s on offer is very enticing and once TogePro have fleshed out the scenarios, events, and systems it’s easy to imagine it sitting atop the pile as a favourite of indie gamers for a long time to come. In it’s current state it’s a hard recommendation to make if you’re just looking for a new game to play; it’s an easier recommendation if you’re familiar with the developers and want to support them though. We’ve had a lot of fun with Necronator and will be keeping a close eye on it as it continues to grow but until it receives a major content patch we can’t see ourselves booting it up for any length of time.

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