For the most part, strategy games tend to offer a different sort of gameplay experience, one which is often more laid back and deliberate as the player is free to take their time and carefully consider an action before committing to it.
While this can certainly be a refreshing change of pace from more fast-paced games, that same lack of fast-paced excitement doesn’t make for the most compelling long-term gaming endeavor, a problem which developer Team Colorblind has aimed to solve with its new title Aztez.
Part slow-paced strategy game, part fast-paced action brawler, Aztez manages to straddle the line between both genres surprisingly well, with only a few minor issues marring an otherwise solid hybrid game.
Paying The Blood Price
As you might have guessed from its title, Aztez transports the player back to the 15th century during the period when the Cortez-led Spanish Empire invaded the Valley of Mexico in search of treasure. The player is put in charge of the local Aztec forces who must repel the invaders, but keeping the Spanish from establishing a foothold is just one of the many different problems the player must juggle.
This is where Aztez’s strategy element comes into play. Using an overhead interface, the player must manage both their central city and a series of outlier cities across a series of turns. On each turn, a variety of random objectives and missions can come up, and completing these missions is vital to ensuring your Aztec kingdom continues to grow in power, so much so that it can (hopefully) repel the Spanish invaders when they show up during that late-game turns.
During each turn, you also accumulate resources and items based on how well your kingdom is doing, and you can use these resources to perform actions like bringing new cities into the fold, quelling dissent, appeasing the gods, and more.
When it comes time to embark on missions, that’s where Aztez’s brawler gameplay takes over. You see, no matter what sort of mission you pursue, be it stopping a plague from spreading or preventing thieves from stealing your capitol city’s resources, they all boil down to having to fight off a series of foes while playing as a titular Aztez warrior, a warrior who can ‘soak up’ the blood of defeated foes to summon powerful gods to their aid.
Considering how Aztez is trying to cater to two entirely separate types of gamers at once, its 2D brawling mechanics are surprisingly complex, allowing the player to utilize various combos, juggles, counters, parries, and other maneuvers along with eight different weapon types, each of which has its own feel and combo style.
You can have up to four different weapons equipped at once (you begin with one and then unlock the rest as you play through each campaign), and even within its more hectic battles, there’s a certain layer of strategy in Aztez’s brawler component, one which awards players who can think on their feet and react quickly far more than it does button mashers. The large variety of different standard and ‘boss’ enemies you encounter also help the brawler element feel constantly fresh even after you’ve sunk several hours into Aztez, yet another indication that Team Colorblind was willing to go the extra mile.
Lost in Translation
Unfortunately, there are a few spots where Aztez only succeeds in tripping itself up. A few of the enemy types I mentioned above can be incredibly cheap and spammy with their attacks, a situation that becomes even more frustrating when you enter a mission that just throws a big horde of spammy enemies at you, all but guaranteeing defeat if you don’t have hyper-fast reflexes. Boss enemies can also be annoying to fight too since even a single well-placed attack from them can drain most of your health, again pretty much guaranteeing failure since there’s no way to regain health that was lost.
Aztez’s strategy campaign is intended to be the main mode of play (there’s also a dedicated brawling-only arena mode in which you can use any weapons/cosmetic items/god powers you unlock in the strategy campaign), but it’s also meant to be a shorter affair that you play multiple times over (hence the previously mentioned randomized elements) rather than a more long-term commitment you invest many hours into.
While defeating the Spanish is how you ultimately “win” the strategy campaign, you shouldn’t expect to do so during your first few runs, and even if you do, it’s usually due to blind luck more than anything since it’s not uncommon to be doing very well on one turn and then lose on the very next due to a series of unfortunate mishaps (you lose if your main city falls or if all your deployable Aztez warriors die).
All of the above gives Aztez’s strategy campaign a very hardcore feel since, aside from unlocking new weapons, cosmetic items for your Aztez, and new gods to utilize in battle, there’s no permanent progress that carries over between campaigns. All you really have to rely on is your own combat skills and the hope that you won’t have too much bad luck heaped on you at once. Depending on the kind of gamer you are, this can either be a very enticing prospect or a very off-putting one.
Also, there’s no way to avoid the brawler elements when playing the strategy campaign. Less patient gamers who don’t want to deal with the strategy stuff can just go into the arena, but strategy players who don’t care for fast-paced brawler gameplay have no such recourse.
A Hidden Treasure
Even with the above shortcomings, I still found Aztez to be a surprisingly ideal game for me since I am the sort of gamer who likes the idea of strategy games but not the long-term time investments, and I certainly don’t object to a little 2D brawling sprinkled in either. Aztez may not be for everyone, but if you’re looking for a game that brings two distinct genres together in a very compelling and unique manner, it’s definitely worth checking out.