Although collectible card games (CCGs) have been around for decades and a few heavy hitters continue to dominate the genre, new takes on the formula appear with some regularity. Lately it seems like CCGs have been bolted onto, blended with and dropkicked into a wide variety of other game genres. Golem Gates, for example, is a recipe that calls for one part CCG and one part real-time strategy game.
Golem Gates is set in an HR Giger-esque, biomechanical wasteland overrun by evil machines spawning from the titular Golem Gates and controlled by enemy Harbingers. Your goal through each of the campaign's fifteen missions is to destroy them. Although there are energy sources to capture, hold or destroy along the way to victory, this is not a base-building style RTS. A variety of hulking mechs, agile infantry, defensive and offensive artillery and flying units are constructed along the way and within a specific friendly radius. Golem Gates has a narrative, intoned by a disembodied stentorian voice but it takes a while to get going and although it provides some rationale for the action, it never really makes much of an impact. To be fair, there are few RTS games where the story or characters are particularly memorable.
Unlike most RTS games based on a tech tree or resource gathering, the units and modifications, upgrades and buffs are determined by glyphs (i.e. cards), and this is where the CCG elements come into play. Players build decks and swap cards in and out before each match. During the game, players need to manage their reserve of energy, which determines the type and strength of the glyph that can be used, with more powerful units calling on greater reserves of energy. The strategic demands of balancing the need for units in the heat of battle versus holding back energy for more destructive power, bigger buffs or more solid defense, added to randomness of the card draws and make each battle unique. Once all cards have been played, there is a fifteen second cooldown before the deck is reshuffled and glyphs may be used again. Managing this dormant period is critical as well. It's easy to build decks that reflect one's playstyle and although new cards can be forged, there are no microtransactions or anything to buy.
Golem Gates has a robust - if structurally repetitive - campaign but as in most strategy or card games, longevity comes from multiplayer and additional single player modes. The Trials mode is a series of one-off challenges and of course there are a number of ways to skirmish against - or coop with - other players. Decks move with the player through all modes.
Like its gameplay, Golem Gates takes a streamlined approach to its presentation with an easy to navigate interface and spare, simple menus. Graphically, Golem Gates is full of detail and occasional explosive colors and effects while simultaneously being a little drab in its overall palette and up close, units are sometimes hard to distinguish from the environment. I also found Golem Gates' approach to fog of war - a swirling, out of focus layer on the battlefield - visually fatiguing and sometimes not always clearly defined.
Both real-time strategy games and collectible card games have the tendency to be overly complex but Golem Gates seems to find a nice balance between depth and accessibility. Genre mashups don't always work but in the case of Golem Gates the pairing complements both types of games. Despite the always-changing tactical and strategic decisions, there's a bit of disappointing sameness from mission to mission in the campaign but overall, Golem Gates is a strong addition to the ranks of two already well-represented genres.