Review – The Battle of Polytopia (Switch)
Not every 4X game needs to be a brand new commitment for the rest of your life. I realize many players look at things like the Civilization franchise, ENDLESS Space or Stellaris and decide “Yes, I will now play this game until my heart gives out.” They’re wonderfully engrossing, full of variety and lore, and can be played for hours, if not days, at a time, with tons of variety and no two same games. The AI is somewhere between brilliant and malevolent, the number of researched ideas spans libraries…it’s a lot. It also makes the entire genre a little daunting to get invested into, especially when I consider the humble roots of the first Civilization.
So I can see how The Battle of Polytopia fits into the gaming sphere. Instead of going deep with historical aspects and massive levels of expansion and strategy, you simply exist. You choose one of several tribes, each with a starting advantage (things like farming, hunting, archery, etc) and then have thirty turns to prove you’re top of the heap. In theory, if you truly wanted to sink your time, there is an endless mode, but I simply have no taste for those types of ordeals.
In fact, that’s one of the big reasons I haven’t touched a Civilization game since Alpha Centuri: it just becomes too damn much. I hear people talk about meaning to go to bed at 11 pm and they suddenly realize it’s 4 in the morning, and I run away screaming. I want my game time to be enjoyable and engaging but also reasonable. When I get addicted to a game, I want to pick it up and put it down multiple times. I don’t want to accidentally forget a meal or going to work because I’m trying to figure out if I should expand aqueducts or invest in literature or attack the Mongolians or whatever the hell else can happen in a single, thirty minute turn.
The Battle of Polytopia boils down to three things: turns, stars and points. You have thirty turns: make them count. You get points from making progression, such as learning new technology, capturing villages, or engaging and defeating other tribes. The stars are the give and take currency of the game. You use stars to research ideas, to harvest materials, and to create new troops. You get stars based off of how much whatever you’re in possession of at the start of a turn. One city that’s level one will only get you two stars, but a fistful of sizable townships plus some lumber mills means you’ll be rolling in stars. Keep managing your stars, keep an eye on the other tribes, and go until you either reach the end of thirty or until you obliterate the other team. Both are possible, or, at least, theoretically are.
As you might imagine, this incredibly simple game is also incredibly simple to look at. With an isometric view and very simple, rounded sprites, The Battle of Polytopia isn’t a grand affair in looks or sound. As a game that is already available on Itch.io, Steam and Google Play, you get the impression that this is a one size fits all game, and you’d be right. There isn’t extreme details in anything, the attacks aren’t cinematic or gory, and most animals are distinct in that the elephants are gray and the bears are brown.
Each tribe wears different colors and different hats, and that’s about it. A defender holds a shield, an archer holds a bow, and I hold my tongue to criticize because it gets the job done. I would much rather have a game that looks dead simple and runs well than a gorgeous title that Janis around and makes my Switch grow progressively hotter as it attempts to bastardize what other, more powerful consoles do. But I never got myself mixed up with anyone else, and I suck at diplomacy, so anyone who isn’t me is an enemy.
Though, to be fair, declarations of peace and alliances are all things that can be done and will be unlocked in The Battle of Polytopia, and it comes with a good, gradual expansion. The tech tree, the branching pathways of discoverable attributes, are logical and connect well: once you master mining, now you have access to more steel, which lets you build shields (defenders). After some good forestry, now there’s more wood, so archers ahoy.
Far from treading new ground, I found myself enjoying it because it makes straight pathways and allows for developing the sort of tribe that you enjoy very clearly. You can’t, for example, unlock tanks before you become literate like certain old 4x games, but you can dabble a little here and there to maximize star gains and then just focus on what you do best. For me, it was destroying every tree, making plenty of log cabins to amplify a city’s population, get that city up to having a wall and then grinding out barbarian warriors until I overwhelmed everyone else. This was perfectly acceptable and a lot of fun, and that’s all I ask for.
On the other hand, the difficulty levels don’t exactly scale accurately. As a joke, I put the number of other tribes to the highest value (15) and then set the difficulty to the worst. The result was getting totally wiped out on turn two because everyone converged on me and razed my city to the ground. While I get enjoying a challenge, even the worst possible scenario should at least be, theoretically, possible. When you play Madden NFL 23, there isn’t an option to match up a Pee Wee League team from Boise against the 1995 Dallas Cowboys. You need to work in the realms of possibility, and it’s ridiculous that Polytopia allows you to craft an utterly unplayable situation, mostly because it feels dreadfully unfun and utterly pointless.
Logistics aside, The Battle of Polytopia is still a decent little game and a surprisingly competent Switch port. I recommend playing in handheld so you can combine joystick and button movement with touchscreen to streamline a lot of actions and decisions. You get the idea of what you need to do by the second or even third game, and you can always experiment with different tribes for different approaches, which inherent skills mean the most to you, etc. This is exactly what you think it would be: a boiled down, simplified approach to the most daunting game genre out there, and I think it’s pretty good.
It isn’t going to prepare you for diving into Europa Universalis: if anything, it might make those big games feel even bigger coming from such a small pond with very same-ish maps and layouts. But it might let you see if you’ve got a taste for the run, and, if so, this is an inexpensive starting point, both in actual price tag and time investment. As for people like me who long for the simpler days, this could be the next great pocket game to keep around for a turn or two of research, raids and risky alliances.
Ultra simple, colorful sprites to accurately if blandly represent different objects. It won’t blow you away but I wasn’t mad at the display.
Ridiculously simplified approach to the 4x genre. While there are choices for setup, the actual payout is the same: research, grind, attack, and defend.
Generally forgettable, the jarring track when going into the skill tree never didn’t catch me off guard. Listening to something else is recommended.
The lighter approach to 4X with the options to expand and scale as needed was incredibly refreshing. Actually being able to drop in, play a little and drop out was exactly what I wanted..
Final Verdict: 6.5
The Battle of Polytopia is available now on PC, Nintendo Switch, iOS, Google Play and apparently Tesla.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.
A copy of The Battle of Polytopia was provided by the publisher.