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Stormgate is mechanically promising, but lacks the character of its inspirations

The “future of RTS” so far is smooth, but bland
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There is a lot of noise around Stormgate due to developer Frost Giant’s ambition of wanting to make a spiritual successor to the classic Blizzard RTS games – and with an all-star team that features many of the people involved in creating StarCraft 2 and Warcraft 3, the studio has the necessary knowhow to achieve this. Frost Giant is very publicly declaring its game to be the “future of RTS” and has been aggressively proselytizing in other communities to drum up hype and support – a practice that has not come without some backlash. During the ongoing Steam Next Fest, players can try out Stormgate for the first time to see what the fuss is all about.

In terms of underlying tech, Stormgate appears to hold up to what Frost Giant is promising – it’s easily the best RTS game I’ve played since StarCraft 2 when it comes to this area. Stormgate’s controls feel crisp and the units are very responsive to the orders you give them. There is none of that sluggishness and latency you experience while playing literally any other RTS after touching SC2. Using a heavily modified Unreal Engine 5 and rollback netcode tech you usually see in fighting games, Stormgate is a well-oiled machine and may set a new standard for the genre – and it’s really difficult to top SC2 in this regard, so this is an impressive feat in itself.

Stormgate combat scene between Infernal Host and Human Vanguard.

In Stormgate, the human Vanguard is fighting the Zerg-like Infernals.

It’s obvious that a lot of thought was put into options to make the game more approachable to a more casual audience without dumbing it down, resulting in some very interesting customization settings for production, unit grouping, and so on. There are some strong ideas here. Tempo-wise Stormgate is settled somewhere between StarCraft 2 and Warcraft 3 – it’s paced quicker than the fantasy title, but units move and die slower than in the sci-fi game. You won’t have to plan for hour-long slogs either, with match durations and pacing being on the quicker side. That said, a lot can change in this aspect during continued development and balancing.

The demo’s available factions, Vanguard and Infernals, feel pretty good to use in their own way. Their asymmetric design finds expression in several different mechanics, giving you two very distinct groups to choose from and try out. Though unit rosters aren’t complete at the moment, they brim with interesting options that open the paths to separate strategies and playstyles. I’m not sure how I feel about the neutral creep camps dotting the map just yet.

No matter how you look at it, the passion and experience the developers involved in this project have is visible in every corner when it comes to tech and gameplay – they know what’s important to make the game feel fun.

Aside from competitive multiplayer, Stormgate has grand plans for 3vAI co-op gameplay – a mode that even includes hero units and is clearly modeled on StarCraft 2’s co-op mode. This, too, can only be described as promising. It’s fun and exciting to play. In fact, it feels pretty much exactly like SC2’s co-op. However, it has a long way to go until it’s caught up with what SC2 offers in terms of content and variety, so at the moment there is very little incentive to switch. Long term, of course, the story is a different one, so having these strong foundations in place once again is a good sign.

Stormgate Brute screenshot.

Many of Stormgate's units look like toys that have been kit-bashed together from Blizzard articles.

However, with both co-op and single-player modes depending on future content deliveries (and co-op and multiplayer needing separate balancing), I’m a bit concerned about the developer being able to handle consistent and meaty updates. It would be nice to see something like a Stormgate roadmap at some point to get a better understanding of what Frost Giant wants to deliver at which point and what update pace players can expect. With the free-to-play and live-service model the studio has chosen, the game will stand and fall with that post-launch support. And if that support is slow – well, then there is little reason to switch from SC2 in the first place.

On the bad side, I have to call out the visuals – though I know I’m beating the same drum as many other people by doing that. Stormgate just looks incredibly bland to my eyes. It’s like I’m controlling action figures that smash into each other on the Windows XP default background, shooting Nerf bullets – attacks have no impact with both animations and sounds leaving something to be desired. Worse, these action figures look like legally distinct toys mashed together from scrapped StarCraft, Diablo, and Overwatch items.

Stormgate Vulcan mech walker.

The game's mascot literally being a Marine meeting D.Va is a little too on the nose.

I know Frost Giant wants to associate Stormgate with the greats from Blizzard, but looking like a rip-off mobile game version of them (to put it very harshly) is perhaps not the best way to go about it. They’re trying to go for this cartoony, quirky feel in the presentation that you might find in some types of fan art, and for me, that just falls flat on its face. It’s not the end of the world, especially as the gameplay foundations are rock-solid, but visual impressions count for something – especially for the self-proclaimed “future of RTS” intent on revitalizing the struggling genre.

That said, the game is a long way off from being finished and the more negative aspects of the current build luckily fall into areas that could be changed and refined more easily than all that hard-to-nail engine-related stuff, which as mentioned earlier is already living up to expectations. Like many RTS fans, I want Stormgate to be the smash-hit it could be – so maybe this is some tough love, but it’s coming from the heart.