Most gamers would tell you that RTS type digital games have become a classic “same old tired song everybody’s heard” kind of platform. They had a great run, gave birth to other forms of games like the ever-popular MOBA, and sure, they’re still around, with the Total Annihilation series still creating awesome games and incorporating interesting mechanics or one Sid Meier’s plethora of titles that still draw an admirable following. Some, however, might argue that the RTS is a dying breed, that its heyday has passed and the Pied Piper is playing his funeral dirge while the RTS genre desperately grasps at anything that might prolong the fading notes of its existence. But does that have to be the case? What if we could evolve the RTS platform a bid, harmonize the melody with just the right notes to enliven the old tunes in such a way it might catch your attention again? An acoustic cover, perhaps? A new conductor for a new interpretation of a much-loved symphony of death and mayhem? Maybe it can be done. And maybe a small indie development team like Systence Games is just the one to do it and The Maestros is just the instrument to do it with. This is our review of The Maestros.
Yes, I’m referring to a video game in the same sentence as high brow music. One, because a title such as The Maestros all but requires it (Maestro actually means: a great or distinguished person and is not exclusive to the musical world, despite modern preference of usage), and two, because any old RTS pro will tell you managing an entire base while waging war on possibly multiple fronts can be very much like conducting a symphony… with a touch more destruction (which honestly makes for great bass drums if done right). So ends my sad references to music. Maybe. But that’s only one of your questions, I know. The other question (yes, I’ve determined for you that you are only able to conceive of two questions; you're welcome.) is: What makes this RTS so different?
Of course, every different iteration of RTS games has its own installment of different unit types, abilities, and strategies. Yes, The Maestros has its own, too. But let’s not belittle them, the thought and work that went into them, or how adorable their artwork is just because you think seeing one RTS equates to seeing them all. Shame on you. The world, the units, the tactics are a bit different than what you may be used to in this kind of setting. To start, you will have access to a steampunk maestro and will gain access to the other two as your account levels up. This is also how you will eventually acquire the alchemist maestros, so dig in and become a maestro of steampunk yourself. Each maestro has a powerful ability that can be used to decimate your opponent’s forces but should be used strategically for best effect. The alchemists are a bit of a different game, but worth the dedication of earning your levels. They are more powerful toe-to-toe, and to even this out has been given a ten minion maximum as opposed to the twenty you will get with the steampunk.
The steampunk minions consist of the Doughboy, Euler, Juggernaut, Aimbot, Skybreaker, and Conductors, and each has its own special ability that will be placed on your action bar. The Doughboy is the default minion that is the building block of all the others. As you play you will encounter platforms with different icons on them representing the other steampunk minions, at which point you may send the required amount of Doughboys to said platform to go through some dynamic changes and exit as your desired minion. Each has a different Doughboy requirement and creating a new minion still takes up the amount of minion allotment as the now transformed Doughboys would have (I.E.the Juggernaught requires four Doughboys and therefore takes up the allotment of four minions).
While you begin with only one commander available (the Robomeister), every two account levels you achieve you will acquire access to another one (the Blastmeister and the Tinkermeister consecutively) until level six when you will begin unlocking the Alchemist faction beginning with the Rambam Queen, and the Hive Mother and Snake Master at levels eight and ten. Unlocking the first Alchemist commander also unlocks the ability to play with the Alchemist minions… no, they don’t intermix with the steampunk minions. Eww.
The Alchemy system works a bit different, more organic if you will. Rather than sending your Rambams to the icon platforms, you send your commander to acquire potions for that icon. See that? Alchemy - potions?! Makes sense. Your commander may hold up to ten potions of each icon at the same time, but acquiring all ten of any one type may take more time than you want, or have. Once you have the potions, you use your “T” key to administer the potion to the nearest Rambam, who then morphs into that specific evolution. The evolved Rambam does not take up any more minion allotment than it originally did, a nice one-to-one exchange, but remember the ten minion limitation on Alchemists. When you have multiple potions to choose from, hold down on the “T” button and use your mouse to choose from the pie chart that pops up, otherwise, the commander will use the last gained potion and that could be inconvenient. The Alchemy minions consist of Rambams, Gasilisks, Squirds, Green Widows, Rock Turtles, and Medimoths, each with an ability of their very own.
The Maestros presents with three different map types: three 3v3, two 2v2, and a single 1v1 and on each map you can decide. There are also two match types to choose from: Deathmatch, in which you get only one life and the first team to be irradicated loses, or Round Based, wherein the first team to three victories wins. Not exactly groundbreaking, I know. However, certain aspects of these maps are a bit different. You know how most RTS game maps take place in a section of space or land that has no real reason for borders other than that is the end of the map space? Well, how about if these battles were taking place on magically floating, aesthetically pleasing islands that contained an entire eco-system all to itself? Yeah, they did that (though the eco-system maybe a bit simplistic; c’mon, you were just gonna blow everything up anyway)! And it’s a good thing they did. No longer are you doomed to search near and far for various types of rare resources! No, to speed things up and streamline the process, you have one resource: the blood of neutral monster NPCs. Which “monster” NPCs are totally minding their own business… and kinda cute. But the needs of the Maestro outweigh the lives of unaffiliated!
Let’s not forget to mention the other fun things on the map, the Dreadbeast and the Shrine. Okay, so you’ve encountered the Shrine idea before, fine. But the Dreadbeast! This freaky lookin’ monster is powerful, and defeating it does more than earn you bragging rights. Once defeated, the thing will temporarily fight alongside you and help to demolish your foes. Unfortunately, it is physically averse to being “tamed” and will lose its health even when not in combat from captivity woes. So use it to its utmost while you have it.
Unlike most other RTS games, The Maestros doesn’t pin you down with a required base that you must grow and develop to succeed, rather, your commander is the base. Everything revolves around your skill in effectively using and defending your commander. So, no concern about your base being attacked while you’re out playing peekaboo with others. No, once you find an opponent it’s either kill or be killed… or run like hell and hope your minions got your back. How well did you treat them, really?
The Maestros may not be the next big thing, I’ll admit. But as far as introducing a new concept or two and making the game enjoyable, I think it’s done the job admirably. It has the potential to challenge with new dynamics of strategy and entertain with the adorable steampunkery and oddly cute, almost pokemon-like minions, and it certainly adds a freshness to the concept of real-time strategy games.
- Beautifully rendered art
- Well implemented original ideas
- Entertaining even as a spectator
- Not enough variety in maps
- No story to go along with this awesome world?
Note: Our copy was reviewed on PC with a code provided by PR.