Access Granted - Atlas Reactor

By Alex Connolly 02 Jun 2016 0

For a world in turmoil, there's certainly no shortage of heroes. From Overwatch to Battleborn, the Paragon pool to Lawbreakers; Joe Shmoe of Section Everyman simply can't compete for colour and verve. And that's just the shooter genre receiving its long-overdue shot in the arm. MMO warhorse Trion are tapping into the en vogue team-based champion clash with Atlas Reactor, and it's a peachy thing. Moreover, Atlas Reactor moves with such vigor, it just might be the eSport breakout contender turn-based strategy fans have been jonesing for. If not, it fits the bill as merely a damn successful multiplayer strategy beat-down.

The four-on-four WEGO rumble emphasises short, snappy decision-making across PvP, co-op and solo bot-stomping. No agonising analysis, no real downtime. In anything less than forty-five seconds, your team will have plotted buff and trap deployment, dodge and dash movesets, busted out traditional attacks and repositioned for the next round of orders. Atlas Reactor is refreshingly fast, hence the grandiose proclamation to eSport propensity in the opener. There's just enough pressure to keep it from cloying, yet gives enough time for players to parse both the moves of teammates and anticipate those of their opponents.

A turn in Atlas Reactor is segmented into four parts. Prep has players select buffs and shields or laying down traps. The following Dash phase allows plotting for charge attacks or movement-based attacks like a dodge-roll with a combat finisher, as well as teleportation if equipped and selected. Blast is the traditional combat phase, allowing for positional, drone, barrage and LoS attacks. Finally, the Move phase is used to shore up positioning for the next round.

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Abilities are paid for by energy, which is accrued primarily by landing attacks and maximising hits. Players will generally find themselves unloading two phase-distinct actions per turn, with a catalyst - a free, single-use and phase-specific enhancement or action - tacked on where necessary. 

Once abilities, attacks and movement have been plotted, resolution kicks in and as WEGO implies, all characters simultaneously begin breaking out their string of orders. It sounds like a mess, but Atlas Reactor is a damn elegant beast. The thing to remember is that, despite the blast phase rotating through attacks individually, everyone is largely prepping, dashing, blasting and moving at the same time, with a few small exceptions to the rule.

Prepping is the temporal band of the support classes, heaving their shielding modules over teammates or leashing opponents to avoid them slipping from sight. Dashing is very much a Frontline class celebration, coupling lunges or leaps with far-reaching HP gouges. Short-range teleportation is anyone's game, and clutch-jumping in the Dash phase negates the chance to make longer, more defined Movement plots. As mentioned, Blast cycles through the characters' attacks without need of initiative, merely being a tilt for clarity. And then, of course, that Movement phase to punctuate the end of a turn.

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No tougher time than the present to make the case for another payload of heroes, but it's a little easier to illustrate why Atlas Reactor's cast appeal. They're a colourful bunch, and while that's hardly a unique selling point against myriad competition, this turn-based team features a tactically-varied and visually-exciting selection of frontliners, firepower specialists and support.  

A few favourites stick out; namely the plasma shotgun-toting femme fatale Elle, and pincer clone, Oz. Elle, for the fact she's got an upgradeable overcharge ability that favours biding one's time, then unleashing a neat commando roll with a double-barrel chaser in the Dash phase. It's effectively an offensive teleport, and has saved my bacon under the impeding Blast phase blade of an enemy swordsman. Oz leaves a copy of himself at each last-known position, its invulnerable form an ornate turret with the ability to triangulate fire from both itself and its relocated corporeal host. In short, two simultaneous attacks for the mere price of moving. 

There are drones. Whirlpools. Electrified traps. Invisibility plates. Cutesy Aibo with unfolding mandibles the size of industrial trash compactors. Combat with nitty-gritty stats like Haste and Unstoppable and and Might. Customisable ability loadouts and a refreshingly simple item crafting system. Slick interface, fine visuals and a relatively low system footprint. The only thing missing is a larger pool of players, which is a current but impermanent shame. 

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For those who've been playing along at home, you'd know that Atlas Reactor was originally a free-to-play game. Since then, Trion have switched up the mandate with an admittedly roundabout 'buy-to-play' campaign, making the game available on a tiered pricing campaign. I bought in for the basic twenty-smacker model, but there are founder packs that go for sixty and a hundred bones respectively. 

Now, you may be wondering what F2P barbs are left in the game. Beyond a glacial leveling system, both per player and individual character, Atlas Reactor is a fair beast. Higher tier founder packs do come with extra skins, a number of single-use XP boosters and mod tokens to unlock different abilities, but it's nothing that upsets the playing field. Everything you could conceivably unlock with a fast-track buy-in is available to snag with in-game currency. 

Moreover, everything feels relatively balanced. No upsets by overpowered weaponry, no niggles by queue-jumping whales. The game design is predicated on team-work, throttled by the early-game energy drive and it's only a few turns in where the big hitters are unleashed. In the conservative twenty-odd hours fervently wrung from my late-night log-ins, every match result has hinged on deft play over largess.

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Atlas Reactor is the kind of tactical team tilt I've wanted for a while. I've played my share of Clairvoyance, my quota of Frozen Synapse, my dabble of Pox Nora and whatever other turn-based online beat-down I've had the chance to put through its paces. The aforementioned are good, and despite asynchronous multiplayer offsetting the tedium of waiting for team-mates, Atlas Reactor is the energetic boot up the fundament the genre has needed.

Bright, boisterous and magnificently paced, Atlas Reactor is to multiplayer strategy games what Overwatch is to online shooters. A condensed, hyper-focused experience that, with a little more in the way of maps and a few more characters, is set to be an easy recommendation for the go-to turn-based battler. 

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