Steampunk battles, Alchemy, shrines, Dreadbeasts, and mystical lands. If that doesn’t catch your eye, try funneling all of that into a single MOBA-like RTS where you can control your own little army of mechanized or alchemical minions. This is what indie developer Systence Games offers in their upcoming title: The Maestros; and from what I experienced in the beta, they are well on their way to delivering. This is our The Maestros closed beta review.
That’s a lot to take in, let’s unwrap it a bit slower. The Maestros is a wonderfully rendered RTS that comes across as a unique blend between the traditional RTS and a kind of MOBA. Rather than having specific bases/spawn points your champion must traverse the map hunting for creatures that, once dealt with, somehow give you minions, called doughboys (not sure on how that would work, but it does. That’s all you need to know). Like a MOBA, you command a single hero who will lead your forces to victory or ruin and is responsible for “harvesting” more troops. In other words, you are your base. Unlike many resource points in your average RTS, these resources respawn over time; however, be careful that you don’t end up alienating or inhibiting your teammates by claiming all the minion-making-monsters in the area as it may leave you to fend for yourself against a united opposing team.
While the doughboys are the base unit, and cute to boot, they are not defenseless, though their individual firepower may leave something to be desired. But gather enough of them and you’ll have yourself a formidable pintsize force. As you collect minions, you will come across various transformation panels which can be used to transform multiple base minions into more powerful minions with different ability focuses, such as ranged attacks, melee, point-to-point power attacks, and electrical each costing 3-4 basic minions to create (Doughboy 1, Euler 3, Juggernaut 4, Aimbot 4, Skybreaker 3, Conductors 4). That doesn’t mean you can have twenty Skybreakers or Juggernauts running around on your coattails, the cost of advanced units makes up that many unit spots on the counter. The minion limit is only 20 so the player will have to be discerning in what tactics they intend to use. Assuming you have time to develop your forces before encountering the enemy.
The Maestros offers several unique commanders to choose from that will definitely affect your tactics and play style and must be earned with experience, a few of which are: RoboMeister (the default commander), BlastMeister (unlocked at level two), and the TinkerMeister (unlocked at level four) are all similar in that their minions and units are the same, and are only different as individual commanders. The differences come in each commanders fighting style, (the TinkerMeister is melee while the Robo and BlastMeisters each have a different brand of ranged) and in their specific super abilities such as the RoboMeister’s rocket that does large amounts of damage to a group of opponents (but strangely doesn’t work on neutral units).
Beyond level six, the commanders that are unlocked begin to take on different aspects altogether, such as the Alchemist and the Hive Queen, and are part of a different faction called the Regalis. Only the Alchemist was available to play even just the tutorial of but I would imagine that the Hive Queen and any other commanders that might follow would be similar. These commanders play very differently from the others; powerfully, but much more involved. For one, units are organic, rather than the steampunk units you have with the other three, and rather than sending units to be transformed at pads, the Alchemist collects potions at pads that it can then use at any time to transform its base minions (Rambambs) into more advanced creatures. To add to the complexity of this new breed of commander, they can only support ten units as compared to the 20 unit cap for the others.
In the map are two items of particular interest: A shrine, its only purpose seeming to be to grant a team a point or the match for its destruction, and a Dreadbeast, a powerful creature which, if found and defeated before another player, will join your team for a set amount of time determined by its health bar which will slowly drain away over time, as well as when it takes damage. The shrine offers an interesting dynamic with a health bar that is, to begin with, half red and half blue. As one team (red or blue) does damage to it the bar begins to fill with that team’s color and will require that much more damage from the opposing team to cause its destruction. The Dreadbeast, as mentioned above, doesn’t last forever, but is very powerful, so be sure to use it effectively while you’ve got it… if it doesn’t get you instead.
My personal experience with the beta was exceptionally clean; while the gameplay was limited to the three steampunk commanders for the beta, everything functioned well and as it seemed it should. The battles were fun and challenging and often times comedic as one commander would run from a fight with a half dozen opposing doughboys chasing them down (okay, so that was me). The maps open for testing varied between 2v2 and 3v3, each well crafted and aesthetically impressive. The short tutorial level that showcased the Alchemist was too quick and left me hungering for more, along with unlocking further commanders such as the Hive Queen. Systence appears to have a winning game in the making and is something I look forward to experiencing in its fullness.
Note: Our copy was Previewed on a Windows 10 PC with a code provided by PR.