released on Aug 01, 2017

In Aztez, you expand and maintain the Aztec empire through turn-based strategy, while managing violent outbreaks via real-time beat 'em up sequences. Every game is unique; different events will occur, different challenges will emerge, and different spoils will be taken each time you play. Spread, strengthen, subjugate!

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I like beat 'em ups, I like card games, I like turn based strategy and I like rouge likes, heck, I even like black & white games. Mixing up everything sounds like a good idea, turns out: it isn't. I don't like this game at all.

A mixture of 2D beat-em-up gameplay that meshes mechanics from Devil May Cry, God Of War and Onimusha, and a turn-based strategy game akin to Civ. Mesh it together with some gorgeous black-and-white on blood aesthetics, and you've got a game I can see myself hopelessly addicted to in the coming weeks and months.

The "campaign" is a true case of mustard-on-ice cream, but the arena mode is very solid and is really all that'll ever come to mind when I think about this game. For all intents and purposes, the arena is the main game or at least can be treated as such, and it's hard not to think of it that way with a combat system as rich as this one. The real killer for the system tho is how absurdly easy it is to rack up an infinite airborne combo that no enemy can knock you out of. This complaint is bigger than it sounds for people who aren't really into character action, and smaller than it sounds for people who are. On the one hand, it allows for basically any enemy to be effortlessly killed once you have them launched to a reasonable height (barring some that can break free), and it renders point/combo challenges essentially meaningless as the last enemy in an engagement can be infinitely juggled midair for the aforementioned points or combo score. On the other hand, the challenges are essentially meaningless outside of the board game mode, and there are a good few enemies that can break your midair combo, that is until you get out of their vertical range, at which point it can already have been called a reasonably interesting challenge. On the other other hand (that I keep in my back pocket in case of emergencies), this is super dependent on the engagement, and a good deal of encounters don't have such enemies. Outside of that, the gameplay is extremely solid, with a wonderful selection of ground and air moves that are satisfying and intuitive to master and chain together. Weapons are mostly balanced and distinct, some are arguably more satisfying than others but the fact remains that they, as all the best weapons do, bounce and combo off one another in interesting and varied ways. The enemy design is extremely tight as well, though some enemy variants look unfortunately similar in silhouette. A bit of a shame, as each enemy does have a defined and important role in a combat engagement which itself is great, though it would've been greater if you could more easily tell them apart. Regardless, certain enemies demand certain attack or evasion strategies, some force you off the ground, some force you out of the air, some should probably be parried and, well, yes good they're good I think I've made my point. Overall, if this game doubled down on the action bits and had a defined action campaign - rather than a bizarre rouguelite board game campaign - it could've been excellent, and it almost pains me a bit to say that it isn't. But at the same time I'm reasonably happy with what we got.

Really conflicted about this one. The developer’s passion for character-action is apparent from the moment the tutorial encourages guard-canceling your moves together, and stresses the importance of player expression- of finding ways to make the combat system your own. But in the game proper, a hybrid strategy/beat‘em up, it’s surprisingly easy to forgo all the intricacies of combat in favor of a much narrower playstyle.
Each combat encounter has an optional objective, stuff like “Parry two enemies'' or “Don’t get hit more than three times.” Complete them and you’ll get an item or some extra resources which are invaluable for conquering the map; the problem comes from the fact these objectives are the only metric you’ll need to consider, so you can spend the entire round fishing for parries or playing as conservatively as possible to take no damage. It’s a strange way of motivating players, giving them such explicit directions for each encounter, stifling much of the freedom the combat seems to have been designed around.
Seems like a better solution would’ve been to capitalize on the scoring system that’s already in the game and have an ever-increasing minimum rank to aim for on each encounter, something that would still give you an extra incentive to play well without being so limiting. The game is also a bit conservative in its encounter design- despite adopting a roguelike structure, with random events and hazards, it’s surprisingly easy to mitigate most of the dangerous events, so you spend a good chunk of time in docile encounters that can be beaten in seconds.
Comes into its own when Cortez’s forces enter the fray though, seeing them cut through the network of cities you’ve spent the game conquering conveys a dread that wouldn’t be possible if the game was just arena after arena. And actually fighting the Conquistadors ends up being a lot more engaging, their rifles encouraging you to stay in the air and their armor making them a more substantial target (most other enemies you can stunlock as soon as you hit them), so you have to weave between targets, whittling down groups while keeping an ear out for the hiss of a lit fuse.
There’s an undeniable tension to these late-game encounters, all the systems that felt so listless finally working in tandem- maybe it’s just the underlying sense that the action is now imbued with a righteous fury, fighting off a bunch of colonizers in a battle for your own survival, instead of the more bureaucratic concerns that characterized much of early game, where you were suppressing uprisings and trying to bolster your forces.
This purely a hypothetical, but if there's ever a mod that has the endgame tension inform the entire experience and gets rid of the rigid requirements for combat, then I think this goes from something I’d tentatively recommend to becoming a must-play.

let's fucking go guard cancels everywhere