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Video Games

Insidia – Review – Simultaneous Turn-Based Excellence

A video game board game, basically

This article was originally published in 2018 for Old Grizzled Gamers. However, that website no longer exists so I’m putting it here instead. Also I received a free review copy of this game.

Insidia is a wonderful new turn-based strategy game. It’s full of tension, clever moves, a quirky set of characters and lots of interesting, tactical decisions. Most of the time, it is exactly the competitive strategy game I have been looking for. It isn’t without its flaws, but few games are.

The game itself is solely PVP. There is a practice and a tutorial, but you won’t spend a lot of time there. Instead, you will want to jump into head to head matches against strangers from around the world. Each match you select a team of four champions to control. They fall into five different class types: assassin, tank, support, special and fighter. This dictates their specific play style. However, you can also see their stats in things like dealing damage, health, and movement through clicking on each. This is where Insidia places the first, of many, interesting decisions. What kind of team do you want to use, and what is your specific play style?

Right now, there are 10 characters, but the game shows space for another 10. This is great news because certain classes feel a bit limited at the moment. If you want to throw a tank on your team, then you are stuck with Gunther. Not that there’s anything wrong with Gunther – I love you, Gunther. However, it does mean that you will see a lot of people using him. As for the rest of the cast of characters, you have a wide array of melee and ranged units. Each character has three unique abilities. One active, one passive and one ultimate, which you slowly charge or collect from specific locations.

Your aim is to destroy the opponent’s base. To do this, you need to get rid of their shields. Each base has three shields that represent three entry points. Each shield has three HP and they are always destroyed in the same order. You can damage these shields in two different ways. Firstly, if you control the cross in the middle of the map for three whole turns, then it fires at your enemy’s shields dealing three points of damage. Secondly, when a character is respawned it deals one damage to its owner’s shields. Once even a single shield is down, you can run a champion inside and perform the sabotage action to win the game. The more shields that are down, the more exposed your base becomes.

So far, so turn-based strategy game. Each turn you input commands to a single unit who will then do what you have asked. However, Insidia has the twist that both players’ commands take place at the same time. This can mean that the character you were going to attack has moved elsewhere causing friendly fire instead – yes that is always on. Or perhaps, you understood exactly what your enemy was going to do and you move into the right position at the right time.

Things don’t happen at the exact same time. Instead, there is an initiative order with certain characters always moving before others. You can see this at the top of the screen, so it is worth calculating into your turn. It is an issue that this bar isn’t 100% clear. It is quite small, and you can waste valuable seconds trying to decipher its meaning.

And you are going to need those seconds. You have an extremely limited amount of time to assess the situation, decide which unit to use, move it and then attack in the way that you want. This ticking clock causes a turn-based game that could be about taking your time, posturing, and trying several potential moves into something nail-biting, exhilarating, and stressful.

I love that there is such a short window for executing commands. However, at times this is incredibly frustrating. Choosing the direction your character will face, which way that they are going to attack and then feeling confident that you have picked the right direction, is far harder than it needs to be. Once you have decided where to move, it is not as simple as clicking on the square. You need to make sure that you are facing the right way. Otherwise, you might not be able to use an ability in the way that you want.

The same is true for the game recognising when you have issued an ability. For certain characters, it’s obvious due to animation cues or sounds, but for others, there is nothing to suggest that the game has understood what you want it to do. This would be fine if the game always completed moves as you wanted. However, there are times when this does not happen. Despite being certain that you shot an enemy, the sniper lady Naima stands there staring at them. It is so frustrating in a game where every single move is important and counts.

However, I the developers fixing all these issues in upcoming patches. They are not the core elements of the game, they are glorified bugs and I am being picky. The interplay between characters is fantastic. A good example is the champion Angor. His passive ability means that each turn, he runs forward three spaces and hits the first thing he collides with. This might be an enemy unit, one of your own or simply a wall.

Stop for a second and think about how a character running across the map can affect everything else that is happening. Angor can never capture territory unless he is hitting one of your units. However, he can chase enemy champions brilliantly since you can’t activate the same champion twice in a row. This means that Angor can give chase to anyone if used correctly. To get the most out of this passive ability, you want to manipulate your opponent so that Angor comes crashing into them when they least expect or want. And this is just one champion.

Three abilities might not seem like a lot but getting as much mileage out of each is how you win the game. Baz III, for example, makes the slowest unit nearby move slightly further as a passive ability. He can also create Keres Runes that either damage or heal. If you can get one of your champions onto a rune, then you massively benefit from a move your opponent made. Since you queue up actions and then execute them, you can shove an enemy out of the way and jump in this healing pod yourself.

Characters gains experience points and levels as you play matches with them. This gives access to skins and in-game currency. The only things that you can buy are skins and permanently unlocking characters. However, I encourage you to not think of Insidia as a free to play game. Instead, if you are interested, you should get the founders pack. This gives you access to all current and future champions, some skins, and a bunch of in-game currency. Insidia does the thing that I wish more free to play games did, it gives you the choice to permanently make it pay to own.

Insidia is the most interesting tactical turn-based game I have ever played. It succeeds in being both intense and thoughtful. The game shines the more units are in play at the same time. When you have 6 passive abilities fire off and two champions running around the map, there is so much going on that it can be overwhelming at first. The strict timer doesn’t help matters, but then that isn’t its job. The timer is meant to keep the battle from becoming a sluggish chess match. Instead, you have spectacle full of missed opportunities, silly mistakes, and actual drama. When your enemy shoves your character so that you accidentally kill it, you can’t help but applaud their clever strategy.

I think that is what Insidia comes down to. It is a rare thing in online video games for you to be able to appreciate an opponent’s moves. The barrier of the internet can make them feel distant and shrouded. However, in Insidia you are matching wits, you are taking pieces and you are bouncing off one another. It is the closest I have seen an online only video game come to replicating local multiplayer or even a board game. That is a rare, and high praise.

Thanks for reading. If you would like some more recent video game reviews why not check out my article on Space Hulk: Tactics. Alternatively, for a physical card game read my review of Machi Koro and it’s various expansions.

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