Golem Gates attempts to port its PC prowess over to Nintendo Switch, but it's yet another example of why RTS games just don't belong on consoles.
Golem Gates is exactly the type of game that can, when executed properly, turn a thirty-minute jaunt of an RTS break into a five hour marathon that leaves players wondering what happened to their day. The Real Time Strategy genre hasn't been shown much love as of late, and is often regarded as a relic of an ancient time, when StarCraft and WarCraft dominated PC gaming sales and created the bulk of competitive gaming's makeup. Now, MOBAs and battle royales have risen to usurp the competitive scene that was previously held by FPS and RTS titles, and games like Golem Gates feel increasingly rare.
Unfortunately, developer Laser Guided Games hasn't managed to assemble something that makes an argument for why we need more RTS titles in the future, either. Although the game flirts with brilliance at times—and features a sublime hybridization of the RTS and card battling genres—what it ends up presenting is something that is much less than the sum of its parts. Perhaps Golem Gates was great on PC, but after experiencing its Switch port, it's hard to recommend giving it another try.
Here's the quick rundown of what to expect from Golem Gates: it mixes the usual RTS unit-building and maneuvering with a deckbuilding game. Players control the Harbinger, a general of sorts, and must construct units based on a combination of a refilling energy bar and cards drawn randomly from the deck. The card variation is nice: there's a mix between units, spells that the Harbinger can cast themselves, and traps that allow for a variety of strategies to be executed.
Despite this, Golem Gates chucks much of that strategy out the window within the first few levels. It becomes abundantly clear early into the game that the best defense is an even better offense, and trying to turtle up with turrets and slowly expand is a recipe for disaster in most situations. It really does narrow the scope of the game's tactical trees, and it's a shame, because so many of the cards that seem the most interesting are designed to be defensive in nature and thus largely unusable when trying to advance through the map. Players can acquire neutral resources across the map that allow them to generate more energy and faster, which in turn allows them to build more units. Capturing and holding resource generators is probably the most important thing in Golem Gates, and that's why the game devolves into a race to build the most offensive units. A raiding party that captures two neutral objectives quickly versus one that fortifies one of them to be easier to hold will have a massive advantage.
The biggest issue with Golem Gates on Switch, though, is that it's just a pain to control. This isn't a problem that's unique to Golem Gates. The RTS genre as a whole has been trying to figure out how to make itself work on consoles since the early 2000s at least. The true blight on Golem Gates is that it hasn't managed to make things even remotely better. The scope of the game is too large, and the micro for units too intensive, for it to be a comfortable fit on a Nintendo Switch. Too often units get lost in the shuffle on the smaller screen in portable mode, which at least lets players jump around the map faster with the touch screen. In docked mode, the reverse is true: it's easier to follow units, but harder to traverse the map in general. Neither works well, and it's the kind of chaotic mess that will leave tacticians very upset with their armies.
If there's a bright spot in Golem Gates, it's in the way it approaches its different campaign levels. Sometimes the Harbinger needs to find parts to build a robot, while in others they need to fend off a descending horde of enemies after repairing a bridge. It sounds simple, but it makes for some dynamic missions that always manage to feel differentiated from one another. In a genre that can too often become too enamored with its own combat mechanics and strategy, having outside influences like level design and quest building be major factors is refreshing.
The single player campaign is probably where Golem Gates is at its most fun, which is a problem for an RTS game, since longevity is often determined by multiplayer success. In multiplayer, having randomized factors like which cards players start with help determine the early pacing of the game is a taxing experience. While it's a nice idea to combine two strategy genres together in the way Golem Gates has, the execution leaves a lot to be desired. At least in Hearthstone players can fire up another game quickly after getting unlucky. In Golem Gates, finding another human to play with is a laborious affair, and having long wait times translate into a quick fifteen minute stomp because of some bad draws is enough to sour anyone on the experience.
Overall, Golem Gates feels like the type of game that would have been better served staying at home on the PC platform. On Nintendo Switch, an already dicey conceit gets exposed even further by poor controls, leaving a game that only the most die-hard RTS or card-battling fans should attempt to play. There is some great design under the surface of Golem Gates, and it feels like it is probably well worth a look on PC, but on Switch, Golem Gates can't get out of its own way, gatekeeping potential players instead.
Golem Gates is out now for PC, PS4, Switch, and Xbox One. Screen Rant was provided a Switch download code for the purposes of this review.