Desert Ashes is a somewhat free-to-play strategy game that has three episodic installments. The first is free, while the other two cost $2 each. This review goes up through Episode 2.
I’m not new to strategy games, but it is important to note they aren’t my particular forte; I think of them as tedious, too challenging, and often overwhelming with the number of units you can choose and that are on screen. Thankfully, Desert Ashes never rubbed me that way.
You take control of Winged Crusade and fight against the Landians, a warring neighbor who begins encroaching on your territory. There is a bit of story here that the game tries to offer up as background information. It’s there; it isn’t the most intriguing, but it doesn’t and won’t deter you from continuing on with the game – I actually did find myself wondering why they were fighting, and it was answered, thankfully.
In Desert Ashes, there are three main structures you are vying for against the Landians in order to win the scenario. The first two, Headquarters and towers, give you currency to buy more troops. The last, huts, increase the number of troops you can have on the battlefield at once. You have to be strategic in your decisions; sometimes it’s wiser to take away their towers rather than cut down the Landians troop strength. It’s scenarios like this where I truly appreciate the strategy game.
The game’s first episode is rather easy; it’s a simple tutorial showing you how you play, what different units do, and getting you acquainted with the game’s cadence – you can blow through that in roughly an hour and a half. The second episode is more of putting those teachings to use and is where the fun really does start. However, be warned: this game is not for strategy veterans. It is very simplistic. The scenarios occur in small areas, and the difficulty is fairly easy, except for the very last battle in the second episode. Some of those scenarios had boring layouts and designs, others were interesting and made me think.
It does do some really interesting things, though, that make it stand out. Desert Ashes has a night-day system; every time after you and the Landians take a turn, the clock advances an hour. What this does is, once the time reaches about 2 a.m. until 5 a.m., the water freezes, giving you another option for movement. This changed my whole thining when playing. Instead of competing for control of a bridge so I could get into Landian territory and convert a tower and hut to start producing troops, I would create a stalemate on said bridge, just drawing out time until the water froze. Meanwhile, I was mounting faster troops on the water’s edge, who would invade and easily take over their resources. Needless to say, it felt rewarding, even though it tended to draw out many scenarios.
Even with the vast majority of scenarios being easy, I found myself being strategic at the same time and really enjoying what was happening in this skirmish. I had look at the enemies troops, their weaknesses, my own troop’s weaknesses and decide how to proceed with my attacks and further troop selections – each troop has a strength and weakness against certain other troops. For me, I love when game’s evoke this type of thinking, again, even if it’s relatively easy. It fires off some endorphins when you succeed in a strategy you laid out.
Another thing I like was the game’s aesthetic. The colors are very bright and brings real life to the world – seriously, they are brilliant and I loved seeing them. Coupled with that is the brilliant sounds that are played when troops engage in combat with missiles going off. The music is also well done, and I found it put me in the mood to play, drawing me in even more.
Desert Ashes is a well-designed game. It isn’t going to be for hardcore strategy fans, because there simply isn’t that level of difficulty that they would expect. However, I would highly recommend it to anyone looking to get into the series; it’s a very good starting point. The game isn’t long, and you won’t find yourself looking to play the story after you’ve finished, but it it could very well initiate you and draw you into strategy games. There are plenty of options afterward, like giving its multiplayer a shot so you have a higher difficulty, and I think that’s the thing Desert Ashes does best: it’s a good first strategy game.