Underneath the unusual BATALJ name lies a turn-based strategy game that isn’t for the trigger-happy crowd. This is the first game from Swedish studio Fall Damage, comprised of industry veterans having worked in games such as Hazelight’s A Way Out, the Battlefield series and even the classic Pinball Dreams (a wonderful pinball game released way back in 1992).
However, Fall Damage chose a completely different genre for its first game. BATALJ is a tactical beast, one that is aimed at the strategists among you, offering a fierce 1v1 template set in a sci-fi universe where three different factions fight for supremacy. Obviously, BATALJ is Swedish for ‘Battle,’ so you know what you are getting into, right?
Stand in Timeline, Soldier
BATALJ could be described along the same lines of a few other strategy games that employ the interesting simultaneous orders system, namely Atlas Reactor and Insidia. This allows for players to be permanently in charge during the scheduling phase and then, through the click of a button, watch the battle unfold with all the unpredictability that comes with this system. Learning to anticipate your rival’s moves is of utmost importance, as there is only so much that your units can do to react to unexpected actions.
For example, you want your sniper to move closer and shoot a unit that is several hexagons away. If the enemy unit’s turn comes first in line, then it has a huge probability of avoiding that hit. However, you can still make the shot if the enemy remains within range and line of sight.
This is just a small example of the variables at play in BATALJ. You can learn some strategies and eventually surprise your rival, but it isn’t uncommon for blind luck to also come into play.
First things first. The current BATALJ closed beta shows a game that seems to be completely focused on PvP, and it is a little barebones as well. There isn’t much to do besides jumping into the 1v1 Quickmatch mode or learning the ropes by means of a sandbox mode where you can spawn both friendly and enemy units. There is a short tutorial, but you will have to learn the invaluable details through playing experience, as there are a lot of intricacies to BATALJ that are barely hinted at.
So, when it comes to game modes, that is all there is to it for the time being, which seems a bit slim. With no PvE campaign in sight, BATALJ will need some sharp and in-depth mechanics to keep players coming back for more. Our matches were able to convince us that there is some appeal for hardcore strategy buffs but not much for everyone else.
BATALJ is as niche as they come, and this could eventually lead to a diminutive player base. It’s not the game that is at fault, but the genre proper that doesn’t lend itself to large player counts, apart from the odd blockbuster. Even Duelyst, an acclaimed turn-based game, seems to be struggling.
Build Your Squad of Doom
You can start the Quickmatch by choosing one of the three existing factions: Rusters, Re-Linked and Splicers. The Rusters are nomads from space and have a knack for anything robotic – think of them as rusty Transformers without the… well, the vehicular transformation. The Re-Linked is a species that has replaced their bodies with machines, looking like cybernetic ninjas straight out of Warframe, while the Splicers preferred to focus on genetics and the evolution of their biology.
You can create a squad by choosing one of the three factions and spending the available points in different unit tiers, as well as picking one hero from a selection that will surely increase as BATALJ nears release. I would have preferred a more complex system where you could mix and match units from the various factions, but sadly this doesn’t seem to be possible. Let’s believe that it is for “plot reasons,” instead of a design decision.
With your squad ready to go, you and your opponent enter the fiery and desolate battlefield, with the main victory condition being to win five points. You win a point when you stand on a capture area – the metallic hexagons with a turbine. If the round ends with your unit inside one of these areas, you earn a point; however, if both teams have a unit inside this area, the point is contested and no one wins. Finally, if your team has a unit in one capture area and the enemy squad also has a unit in another capture area, it’s another tie and no point is awarded. Of course, you will soon learn some winning tactics, such as having one unit peacefully walking in and out of a capture area for a few rounds, while the bulk of the conflict is taking place on the opposite end of the map.
In BATALJ, and similar games, the turn order is of vital importance. This is where delay points come in, helping to define the timeline that rules the rounds. The delay points of each unit are affected by movement and abilities – for instance, movement costs one delay point while an ability may cost an extra three points, taking the grand total up to four delay points. The lower delay points one unit has, the sooner it will come into play in the next round. Ultimately this means that you must consider if you want to use a specific unit’s abilities in one round, as this will probably turn it into a sitting duck during the following round.
The timeline isn’t immediately intuitive, but soon enough you will learn how to read it for your advantage. It plays out from left to right, with your unit cards displayed in blue and enemy cards showing up in orange. As soon as you give your orders, the unit card turns green and waits for the scheduling phase to end. With the simultaneous orders, both you and your opponent are scheduling tasks at the same time. A ‘done’ button, or the end of the two-minute countdown, will continue to the action phase. Every three rounds, there is a new spawn opportunity, with both teams being able to spend a few points in reinforcements.
When you get the hang of BATALJ’s mechanics, it’s a matter of testing each unit’s abilities and seeing what is best suited to your playstyle. Of course, there are tanks, healers, and an eclectic cast that should provide all the necessary fodder for strategy enthusiasts.
Looking Beneath the Surface
BATALJ seems to have its bio-engineered heart in the right place and is able to provide strategy enthusiasts with some riveting clashes. However, I wasn’t thrilled by the fantasy sci-fi art style chosen for the game. It didn’t strike a chord with me and the unit designs don’t feel particularly exciting or distinctive enough. Each faction has a specific color palette to it, but some of the units themselves aren’t easily distinguishable.
Even if this can be attributed to my personal taste, the fact is that BATALJ needs to grow if it wants to become relevant. It needs additional game modes, maybe a full-fledged story mode to act as a real tutorial, and evidently more maps and factions. As it stands, it’s a competent strategy game that could eventually carve its place in the genre if it manages to find a strong and devoted community. And that will be its biggest challenge – to find a committed player base large enough to help shape its future.Related: BATALJ, Closed Beta, Preview, Strategy, Turn-Based