Cataclismo is a game of castle walls and terrible mistakes

Cataclismo is the new game from Digital Sun, the team behind Moonlighter, so I was waiting for the twist from the moment I started. Moonlighter’s a straight-up dungeon crawler, until you crawl out of the dungeon with all your loot and have to face a far more terrifying foe than any monster you encountered in the depths: supply and demand. Moonlighter was a dungeon crawler, then, and also a game about stocking a shop and making a profit. Risk your life to find stock, and then return to the surface and try to find the right price for it. The horror!

So what’s the twist with Cataclismo? My recent demo began in a dark autumnal woods. I’m controlling an archer, clicking to move them through forest paths between spectral, bronzing trees and dark abysses that make the whole thing feel very claustrophobic. Is this an action RPG? No, up ahead I find another troop type, a lobber, who flings bombs or rocks or somesuch. Height and distance come into play as we fend off an attack by mysterious horrors, who all look like plucked but uncooked turkeys. Oh, this is an RTS!

And it is. But then we come to a clearing with a broken bridge and no way to get across. Here is the twist! It’s an RTS in which you can build. It’s an RTS in which you have to build, in fact. Pretty soon I’m fixing the bridge with wooden pieces, making sure that each piece I place is supported and safe. Further on I get a staircase that needs repairing with stone, so I’m dealing with cheap, flimsy wood, and heavy, more dependable stone. Next comes a proper castle, already built, and night is falling so I place my troops and fend off hordes of those turkey enemies. It’s tower defence! Stop it already.

Cover image for YouTube videoCataclismo: Gameplay Reveal Trailer | Humble Games

Cataclismo trailer.

But Cataclismo does not stop it already. For the next few hours I was in the midst of a game which continues to unfold, but takes cues from its own building system and ensures that it only ever lays out a new piece, a new idea, when the old pieces are suitably supported. So it’s a game in which you make your base and defend it, with walls and merlons to aid your archers and banners to boost your attacks – or was it your defence? That’s all great, but you’ll need wood, so you’ll need sawmills. You’ll need workers, so they’ll need houses. You’ll need stone, but the quarry spot is outside your camp, so you must grow your area of influence by placing torches.

Then you’ll need to actually place a quarry and make sure there are clear paths for all your workers. Then you need to filter the air, because the horrors that attack you are agents of a hideous mist that has descended. Then you’ll need to think about walls because night is coming and here come those turkeys again.

The base at the centre of a camp in Cataclismo - there's a stone building with a pearly orb on top.

I have attempted to use wood to complete a stone bridge across a misty gorge in this shot from Cataclismo. Autumn trees loom all about.

Cataclismo. | Image credit: Digital Sun

This is only the start, mind, as pretty soon emboldened turkeys are likely to launch little sorties during the day, which means barracks and armies and new troops and onwards and outwards. All brilliant stuff. But the key, I think, lies with two things: the simple things are very satisfying, and you are never far from disaster.

The little things: placing blocks is enormous fun, and it’s also really easy to do, as you select from menus and build, piece by piece. It’s easy to see where you can place things and where you can’t, and there’s also scope for creativity and interesting choices. Tall walls are strong walls, but what if you’re low on bricks? How do you make low walls stand a better chance? And where do you place them and your own troops relative to them?

Troops try to defend a castle from turkey-like enemies in Cataclismo.

A cut-scene from Cataclismo showing a hero overlooking a misty forest with a bird beside them. Picture-in-picture offers a portrait of their head.

Cataclismo. | Image credit: Digital Sun

This is the second part. You are never far from disaster. Early on, I managed to make a simple skirmish three times more exciting by simply building my wall in the wrong place. It was right out of Laurel and Hardy. There I was in the East making a really gorgeous castle defence, while over to the west, turkeys were eating my actual castle. Then stairs! Oh god, I have made staircases in this game that nobody could climb, staircases that are a horrible joke against the living, against the idea of height. Staircases with sudden gaps, interesting wooden doodles as the bannisters and steps that decide to juke suddenly to the left or right. I have made things in this game so poorly conceived that I will never show them to another human being.

But what brings it all together is those turkeys that attack every night. Earlier today I positioned my forces, built my walls, and then waited. The horns blew. The turkeys attacked. And it wasn’t that they so much threw themselves at my defences. Instead, they sort of steadily ate them. I could see each individual block in each wall being targeted and giving way, each stone crumble and fall and disappear. That’s Cataclismo, then: you’re building and expanding and defending forts that are basically made of shortbread. Just don’t ask me about why the stairs are out.

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