For me, real-time strategy games have always seemed incredibly slow-paced. Almost all of them involve waiting until you have enough resources to defeat your opponent, which gets incredibly boring. However, AirMech Arena manages to remove the issue by adding in some very MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena)-like features.
As with any RTS the main gameplay involves creating multiple units and using them to attack the enemy base. The difference between a standard RTS and AriMech Arena is the AirMech itself. Instead of being an omnipresent god-like character as is the case in most RTS games, you control an AirMech, an almost transformer-like machine that can switch between flying and grounded forms at will.
While airborne, your AirMech can carry your units around the map, as well as fight any flying foes such as the opposition’s AirMechs, and while on the ground your AirMech is most used for combat against other grounded AirMechs and enemy units or buildings. Using the AirMechs to transport the units certainly adds further strategy, as you can only carry so many at a time, and so quickly moving all units to defend a building in danger is no easy task.
The MOBA-like features come courtesy of the AirMechs: each one has differing ability sets, and combat between mechs can be avoided entirely or it can turn into a blood bath – much like a MOBA. Killing enemy AirMech’s will grant further experience points to level up your Mech, and once you have a sizeable level advantage over the opposition victory is all but assured.
The MOBA influences don’t stop there. Units that are effectively creeps will spawn and automatically advance across the map to fight it out, which helpfully reduces the need to constantly be building units. The MOBA influences are so obvious that AirMech Arena could legitimately pass as a MOBA in its own right and the strategy elements could theoretically be ignored entirely; however, that doesn’t mean true RTS fans should avoid this outright.
If creating a giant army of units (which are quite varied, it must be said) is your tactic of choice then go ahead, as it is also a viable strategy. Sure, your opponent might want to fight you mech on mech, but you are free to avoid them, build an army and launch an unstoppable attack. This variety means that every match can have a different feel, and may require you to switch tactics on the fly, making for very entertaining and mentally challenging experiences.
The maps on offer also change each match significantly. Some are wide open spaces with multiple neutral bases to capture, while others involve a few tight passageways that lead to the enemy base. The map design overall is splendid, none of the maps feel unplayable and they all feel significantly different.
Unfortunately, the diversity in the gameplay will only be felt in multiplayer matches. Playing against the AI is great for learning the game, but after that there is no point playing solo as it’s just too easy. I don’t recall selecting a difficulty and I can’t find a way to change it so I can only assume all AI operate on the same setting. I have a perfect record against the AI and I don’t see that changing.
However, once you start playing against real humans the game’s full potential is shown, the differing tactics come into play, and fortunately everyone I played against offered a much more substantial challenge than the AI ever did.
As well as the core game mode that sees you fight an opponent (or fight in teams) in the traditional RTS sense, there is a horde-like mode that sees you defend against waves of enemies. The mode is fun but probably won’t keep you coming back. There are also a number of challenges that effectively serve as a tutorial that you don’t need to play, because the challenges do a much better job of teaching you the game.
AirMech Arena is a free to play game, and unfortunately with such a limited amount of people playing at the time of review it was difficult to see how much of a pay-to-win system is in place. Almost everything can be purchased with real money, and the prices are generally what you would expect to pay for a single item in a F2P game. However, it was hard to tell just how powerful the bought items are. It may be balanced, but there are no guarantees.
Even if you chose not to pay for anything there are a lot of customization options, with more being unlocked as you play. The pace at which you unlock things could be quicker but it’s not a massive issue, and that’s probably there so you are more tempted to buy the items. A community marketplace allows you to sell unwanted items for in-game currency, or of course you can buy from other players.
VERDICT: When you play against other humans AirMech Arena is incredibly fun. Personally I preferred to take a MOBA-like approach of killing the opposition while slowly gaining a sizeable advantage and creating a small army. However many people I played against would avoid confrontation altogether in favor of a more traditional RTS style. Fans of either genre will enjoy themselves in AirMech Arena, and it may even convert a few naysayers – it has certainly made me a lot more interested in real-time strategy.
VERY GOOD. An 8/10 is only awarded to a game we consider truly worthy of your hard-earned cash. This game is only held back by a smattering of minor or middling issues and comes highly recommended.
Review code provided by publisher.