Desert Ashes – What We Think:
Desert Ashes, based on Luc Bernard’s “Mecho Tales” feels like a toddler’s version of Starcraft laid out like an JRPG with the narrative removed. What I love though, are the character designs – so completely unusual that they lit up my imagination. With Muppet-like bobbly eyes, and a hybrid of something out of Dr. Snuggles as drawn by Ralph Bakshi.
There are various troop types, terrestrial, aquatic and aerial. Only soldier types and Mages can Capture towers. Each type has inherent advantages and disadvantages, of course. The game also features a Day and Night cycle that changes the Environment. Nightfall, for example, causes the water to freeze over, affording access to units that may have otherwise had to use a bridge. It also prevents aquatic units from moving, as they are stuck in the ice.
One of the things I found a little tedious, is that after every move command you have to tell the unit to Stay. This extra click adds up. I would rather the unit simply moved and, if I didn’t like my choice, I could undo it. It would also be nice if I could stack units. Considering the combat is basically a numbers game, having to go in with a few stragglers versus putting them all into one brigade seems unnecessarily limiting.
The game after a while becomes very same-y – in other words, a grind – for lack of agency or variety in attack and defense options. There were no special attacks to my knowledge, and combat consists of watching what happens when two units collide.
I would have liked if they made some sort of noise; the only sound effects from any given unit is their guns firing. The game is otherwise, with the exception of the score, quite mute. There are no clicks when you interact with the UI, no sounds of movement when troops traverse the map. These little touches could help the game feel more polished.
I also found that the UI could actually get in the way of units, and because the viewport has an elastic actions that has it always defaults back to center when letting go, I had to just blindly click where I thought my unit was to activate it. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it could be cleaner.
How Do You Work…This…Damn…Thing
The product’s operation is where it is most head-scratching. I think I played the game more than I might have at first because I couldn’t figure out how to exit from the bloody thing gracefully and the musical score which is a standout – at turns epic and mysterious, and just as well suited to a AAA title like Morrowind or Everquest).
That alluring music kept playing in the background (no it didn’t mute itself when it wasn’t the focused software program running),
because there are no options that you can set. That’s right – no music or sound FX levels, no windowed mode, no screen resolutions, not even an exit button.
UPDATE (11-12-2014): Developer Luc Bernard wrote to us on Twitter to explain that you actually swipe the screen right to get to the options menu, where you further swipe down to get to the exit button. Apologies for this oversight, but it is completely unintuitive to see a right-facing arrow and then swipe the screen with your mouse. Another demonstration of how lazy this port to PC is. /
One of the features the devs boast is the ability to switch between multiple concurrent games in near realtime. From the menu screen, mini versions of your various ongoing games move about. When I tried toggling over to one of these games in my campaign list and deleting it, however, the whole game crashed. At least I found one way to exit.
Free As In Not Freemium
There is also a “Free” multiplayer mode. I put this inside quotes because developer Luc Bernard seems to think that this feature being free as opposed to a paid addon (obviously a hangover from the game’s Free-To-Play origins) is a major selling point. Granted, it does likely offer the game’s more viable argument for replayability, but it seems like it is the real product on offer here as the campaign mode is a little thin.
When I attempted to login to it though, the game told me there was a login failure.
Going to the Mecho.net site listed, the web page says “Coming Soon.”
Again, on Twitter, Bernard showed a picture of people online playing to prove that the multiplayer is there. I would love to try it out someday…as of now, attempting to do so on two different gaming PCs, there is no feasible way to access the servers.
It’s frustrating, because there are some fun things here, but ultimately Desert Ashes feels like a Game Maker prototype for mobile devices that had an uninspired port to PC. The real standouts are the artwork and music, and I must commend the artists for their contribution to this otherwise flawed turn-based strategy title.
Watch the Steam trailer for Desert Ashes below: