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It’s nice when a game I’ve wanted for ages finally comes out into the world. I have plenty of games like this, but Cantata is one of the biggest examples recently. I first learned about Cantata last year, during Steam’s Summer Fest event. Every so often, they hold these great events where a ton of upcoming or recently released games get to show off. It’s fantastic to get into, and there are often a lot of cool demos to try out.
After trying the demo, I was hooked. Click on the image down below to go to the Steam page!
What kind of game is Cantata? I dug into the FAQ to answer this.
Cantata is a character-driven tactical strategy game that puts you in the middle of a spiritual, pragmatic war for survival. Play as one of the nine commanding officers from one of the three factions – the Machines, Humans, or Aliens – and leverage your faction’s unique powers and abilities to slowly expand your hold on this alien world.
Cantata is best described as a “character-driven tactical strategy and logistics game”. It’s a synthesis of ideas from smaller-scale tactics games like Advance Wars or Final Fantasy Tactics and larger-scale strategy games like Civilization and SimCity.
I’ve been following Cantata’s development ever since. Made by a small team based in Brooklyn, New York, Afterschool Studio has been active in bringing this cool sci-fi tactics game to reality. Well, it recently came out on Early Access, and they very kindly offered me a code to try out. They are incredibly interactive and kind people to communicate with and are always available on their Discord (here’s the link to that!) I had a wonderful moment with one of them when we realized we were both in the Spellforce community, and as a writer who worked on the Spellforce 3 expansions, it ended up in a cool moment. One of the nicest things as someone who’s done game dev before is meeting others!
This isn’t a full review of Cantata as I have yet to complete the current content, but I’ve been having a mess around with the game’s systems and editor and there’s a lot of awesome stuff to dig into. As most games in early development go, we only have that first slice of the delicious pie.
Right now, Cantata has the following:
. Chapters 1-3 of its nine-chapter campaign mode, with one scenario per commanding officer so far. . Basic tutorials to teach the player how to play the game. . A solid editor to make scenarios.
Now, that might not sound like much, but Cantata is greater than the sum of its parts. Each scenario is sprawling with plenty of things to do and see multiple objectives and secrets, and I spent 5 hours on the first map alone just tinkering with mechanics and learning how things worked.
While the basic tutorial helps a lot to get the player going, you’re left to your own devices. This plays especially into Chapters 2-3, where the new factions require a lot of tinkering to learn how they work. Every map is large and packed with activity, and the art design comes into its own. Everything is colorful and dynamic, with plenty of eye candy. It’s one of the nicest-looking games in its genre, and the dialogue is well written for a game like this.
One thing which brought my interest is Cantata’s focus on logistics. Very few strategy games care about supply lines and you know, the important ways of waging warfare. So many games, films, and TV shows just decide to ignore them completely. (tosses a glare again at Game of Thrones). Highfleet was a game I reviewed last year which has a ton of focus on logistics, resource management, and espionage. Try that game out sometime, it has a ton of cool stuff behind it even if I got burnt out on it. In Cantata, there’s a big focus on maintaining supply lines. Economy and resources are finite, and the player needs to maintain them effectively to succeed. Resources must be carefully handled, and an attack on a supply line can doom the entire network until it’s repaired. I love stuff like this, and it always draws me to tactics games that do this well. Unity of Command II has a similar system.
The factions are entirely different from each other, with their little quirks and abilities. The Aliens fuel their war machine with the dead and can set up long-range reconnaissance with their plants, while the Machines focus on reorganizing leftover scrap on the battlefield, transforming their basic units into more powerful engines. The Humans are all about their guns and big tanky boys. There’s a lot of diversity, and that’s something I wish similar games like Wargroove lacked.
What I love about Cantata is the potential for modding and map design. This is a huge part of these games: the support for custom content. For strategy games such as Age of Empires, Command and Conquer, Highfleet and so many others, the ability to make new things with a level editor is incredibly important to keep things fresh. At launch, Cantata ships with the same editor used to make the deep scenarios provided, so there’s plenty of room to make more content. I’m messing around with some ordinary skirmish maps for now, but I want to try making my scenarios as well.
While there’s plenty to explore and enjoy in Cantata, as an early development game, there are several little quirks I’d like to see tweaked. The tutorials do a basic job, but I would like to see some more aid, especially during Chapters 2 and 3, and it took me a while to work out how certain mechanics work, such as using units to transport into buildings. Fortunately, the developers are very active: I asked about a screen tearing issue that came from a lack of V-sync options. Within a day, it was fixed, and moving around the map is smooth again. I would like to see more graphical options, but it’s a good start and the game doesn’t require much to run. Playing involves a lot of trial and error so far, so I would like it if some things were better explained. It’s not badly done, it could just be a bit clearer.
This is not a quick experience: maps and missions will take a long time to build up an economy. With the large maps and slow burn, that might turn off other players. I enjoy that as it gives me plenty of time to organize and learn, but it is something I want to mention. The game is also geared more for exploration and sandbox options. While some parts are challenging, you are left to experiment without too much blowback from the enemy. This is a more casual experience!
Besides that, the game is reasonably stable. I’ve had no crashes or major bugs, although I noticed that reloading a save will result in the objectives list vanishing. I also experienced some slowdown between turns on Chapter 3 especially. There’s a lot of nice dialogue in the tutorials and the campaign maps which makes me wish I had a dialogue log option, so I could re-read the words. There’s no voice acting right now, but that’s something that takes plenty of resources to add. That’s more of a selfish desire from myself!
In conclusion, there’s a lot to like about Cantata in its current state. Sure, it’s not perfect, but I never expect that from an Early Access title. What we have is a deep, dynamic tactics sim with plenty of focus on logistics, with some big scenarios that offer a lot to do. It’s early days, but Cantata brings enormous potential.