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A Brave New Multiplayer Experience

William Murphy Posted:
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Atlas Reactor is a game unlike any other. Trion Worlds has managed to create something that’s unlike any other game in the crowded competitive marketplace, and therefore it just may well succeed where so many also-rans have failed.  It also helps that Atlas Reactor is a hell of a lot of fun in its own right, with style and panache all its own.

When I was first introduced to AR at its unveiling over a year ago, I was excited by its look, and the idea of a competitive team-based tactics game. When I was finally able to play it a bit later, I was impressed by its style and its bold new ideas… but it didn’t click. It wasn’t until the beta phase, after several matches as my personal favorite Oz, that suddenly I realized I was playing Atlas Reactor more than most games on my hard drive.

The premise is simple: two teams of four fight in a cover-filled arena trying to knock each other out. The first team to 5 KO’s wins, or the team with the most KO’s at the end of 20 turns wins. In the event that you both have an equal amount of KO’s at the end of 20 rounds, you play until one team lands another knockout. 

This would be overly simple in any other real-time game.  It would devolve into a simple brawl or button mash until the victor is crowned.  But the combat in Atlas Reactor is turn-based, and each player only has about 20 seconds to decide what actions they’re taking that turn. This keeps matches pretty much always to 15 minutes or less, and keeps the action flowing at the kind of tense pace that’ll keep your sphincter clenched shut between rounds.

Atlas Reactor’s Oz, in all his adorably dangerous glory.

While I’d love more game modes, or even simply 2v2 and 1v1 fights, the 4v4 matches we have at launch are pitch perfect. You can play with friends against bots, or solo with AI against bots, or compete in pure 4v4 PVP. You can group and queue up, a ranked mode with its own rewards is coming near the end of October, and the Seasons system of playing to complete challenges and gain rewards is a good way to keep players working toward goals while doling out lore about the game world too.

If I could make two suggestions for gameplay additions: it would be “challenge” a la Duelyst where players can take on story-based missions with preset goals and characters to defeat objectives. These could tell the stories we see in the Seasonal lore, and also have their own rewards. Plus it’d be a nice break and way to learn tricks with different Freelancers.

Additionally, I think maps with objectives other than straight taking out the enemy team would be welcome down the road. Not in ranked mode, surely, but a “defend/destroy the reactor” mode seems like it could fit right in.

Heroes are called Freelancers in Atlas Reactor – guns for hire working for the highest bidder and their own factional interests. There’s a good bit of story to be found, but it’s mostly in-game via the Seasons system, so a lot of it is yet to come. That said, each of the freelancers from the toy Oz to the brutal Rask, to the quirky Quark have very distinctive looks and gameplay styles. There’s literally something for every type of player, and you don’t have to feel guilty if you’re a fan of just one. You can level him up, unlock everything, and still be earning rewards for all the other lancers at the same time.

Atlas Reactor looks confusing to play, but after a few matches becomes really smooth.

Atlas Reactor is not a free to play game, mind you. There’s a sort of unlimited trial where you can play the free rotation of characters. But ultimately, you’ll get the most bang for your buck and most fun for your time if you spend the $29.99 on the full game. A key was provided for us by Trion PR, but we also paid our own way in back when the game was in Alpha. The trial is a smart move by Trion, because frankly Atlas Reactor is hard to grasp from watching videos, or even playing a match or two. It may not click with someone right away, because it’s such a novel gameplay loop.

There are additional Loot Matrices (lootboxes) to be bought, and yes they’re RNG, but the contents are always cosmetic, or XP boosting consumables known as GGs. You earn them by playing the game as well, so you never have to spend a penny to unlock all collectibles in the game.  Smite runs on a similar business model with its “Ultimate God Pack” and it works well. It would be nice if one day Atlas Reactor allows player to buy the Freelancers piece-meal, but frankly $30 for all current and future content is not a bad deal at all.

But therein lies the beauty: Atlas Reactor is something special amid a world filled with one too many MOBAs, team shooters, and card games. I truly hope it takes off like wildfire, though I fear it may be destined to be niche with its Competitive XCOM flare and somewhat steep learning curve. Once Atlas Reactor clicks for you, I promise you’ll be hooked. It hits the sweet spot in match length, has loads of replay value, and scratches the competitive itch. More than that, its community seems bright and helpful, the gameplay itself doesn’t require 200 APM skills, and you’ll succeed with quick thinking and careful tactics more than pitch-perfect aiming.

Atlas Reactor is highly recommended. Give the trial a shot, and let us know what you think.  Our code was provided by Trion Worlds PR, but we also bought our way in back in Alpha. It was reviewed after playing over 200 matches between Alpha, Beta, and now launch.

GAMEPLAY – 9 | The quick but tactical turn-based combat is the stuff of legend. A game like this with so many variables between players shouldn’t work, but work it does and beautifully. We only wish there were more game modes to toy with.

VISUALS AND SOUND – 9 | The art, voice over work, and music are all of exceptional quality in Atlas Reactor. Sometimes the environments look a little muddy or washed out, but it’s rare. The Pixar-level quality of character design is enough to inspire cosplayers and fan artists everywhere.

POLISH – 8 | In-game streaming, clips, and other social options would be nice to see. Additionally, while we get why Ranked mode is held back to let players get their feet wet, it’s missing for the most competitive minded folks among us.

LONGEVITY – 9 | While some might tire of the 4V4 fights, I doubt it would be a quick road to exhaustion. There are a dozens of freelancers to learn, tons of rewards to collect, and the Seasons and Daily Quest system keeps the game feeling fresh every day. As long as the new features and Freelancers keep coming, as well as ranked mode, Atlas Reactor will have a long and healthy life.

VALUE – 8 | We’re well aware that people love themselves free MOBAs. It’s a good thing Atlas Reactor is no MOBA. $30 is nothing for the amount of fun you’ll have in AR, and the free trial mode lets you get a good taste for the game before making any purchase. I wish you got more Loot Matrices for the money you spend, but they’re a fair and honest way for Trion to pull in additional funding.

  • Competitive, but friendly community
  • Great, varied cast of characters
  • Loads of customization
  • Stellar new form of PvP gameplay
  • Could use more game modes
  • No build in sharing of clips / replays
  • Somewhat steep learning curve


William Murphy

Bill is the former Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.