We want to be nice to Stormrise, or to at least start off by being nice to it by explaining how much potential it has. We want to explain that it’s an RTS game from Creative Assembly, the same team that oh-so-recently delivered Empire: Total War and how it isn’t as dumbed down as you’d expect a console RTS to be.
We want to do that, but we can’t. The reality is that Stormrise is just an awful game and if we start off by building your hopes up then we’re only setting you up for a massive disappointment. It’s kinder just to start off cruel, trust us. There just isn’t a single part of Stormrise that displays any quality at all.
Stormrise is so confused and messy in fact, that we’ve actually had to double-check that my understanding of the plot is correct by reading some other websites. We honestly aren’t even sure that the story for Stormrise takes place on Earth, despite the fact that the game has a lengthy FMV cutscene that leads straight into a tutorial mission.
What we’ve been able to ascertain from our combination of game experience and further reading is that whatever world Stormrise is set on undergoes a massive environmental catastrophe. The world is almost wiped clean of life by a powerful firestorm that burns the planet to a cinder over the course of several centuries, driving humanity underground into artificial hibernation.
Or some of them anyway. While huge portions of the Echelon Military Forces were able to make it safely below ground, most of the civilians were trapped topside and forced to endure the storm. Eons later, when the Echelon forces emerge from their slumber they find that those who remained on the surface have evolved into a new race of weird, alien, psychic tentacle people called the Sai.
Yeah, it’s that whole shtick; like The Last Train but more extreme and less good.
The one interesting and innovative stroke that Stormrise manages to make is in how it casts the player: not as an established leader of one faction, but as a field commander who’s only just been awakened. Rather than viewing all the action from high-up and top-down like in most other RTS games, the perspective is shifted to floor level and elements of the game are as much third-person shooter as they are strategy.
It’s a shame then that the shift in viewpoint is such a huge source of trouble for the game, especially when you take the weird console controls and the way they aren’t properly introduced to players. At the very start of the game you’re pushed into a 20 minute tutorial mission (which is remarkably long considering the player moves less than 20 feet), but massive elements of the controls and mechanics are just skipped over. You’re never told how to group units into squads, for example, which means that you spend the game moving units one at a time until you figure it out.
Even worse than that though, is that you’re never really given any idea of what the different units are or how they work, so you can’t really gauge what strengths and weaknesses they have. It’s mostly through trial and error that you learn never to send Infiltrators into battles unless they have the high-ground, or that Recon drones can quickly climb over structures, which isn’t exactly a great position to be in.