EA SCOUT the last line of defense for buying on Steam's Early Access
by Michael Stallworth
previewed on PC
As a genre, Real Time Strategy is often seen as currently on a downswing. Once encompassing some of the most popular PC games, now it is a genre that maybe sees one big release a year. With the decline of AAA RTS titles, the large bulk of RTS games that come out now are from smaller, indie developers and unfortunately, often go unnoticed by many players, including myself. As someone who loved playing Starcraft and Command and Conquer as a child, I was hoping that Meridian: Squad 22 would fill that RTS sized hole in my heart, but unfortunately, it looks like my heart will remain a cold, dark void.
Meridian: Squad 22 is the upcoming sci-fi RTS sequel to 2014’s Meridian: New World. The game includes a campaign, and a conquest mode. The game’s single player campaign focuses on the titular Squad 22, a team of highly trained specialists who have been sent to the equally titular planet, Meridian to investigate the disappearance of a group of colonists and bring them home safely. The opening cinematic shows Squad 22’s ship arriving on Meridian only to be almost immediately shot down by a mysterious robotic foe. Now, Squad 22 must repair their ship, defeat their robotic foes, and figure out what happened to the colonists.
The basics of the gameplay in Meridian: Squad 22 are fairly easy to pick up and will undoubtedly draw comparisons to Starcraft. Players begin each mission, with a few military units, a resource processing facility, and a few drones for mining and construction. Anyone who’s played real time strategy games knows the routine from here; construct new buildings and units to build up an army, while at the same time balancing your resources of shardium, which is harvested by drones, power, which is gained by building power plants, and food which is gained (for some reason) by constructing new shardium mines.
The implementation of resource management is perhaps the game’s biggest shortcoming, especially when it comes to obtaining more food. As previously stated, food can only be obtained by constructing a new shardium mine, which can only be built next to shardium patches and you are limited to one mine per shardium patch. Each shardium mine provides enough food to build 15 units, which means that your food quota is maxed out almost immediately upon starting a mission. So even before you have your first base up and running, you have to send a drone and some soldiers out to search for a new shardium patch and start a whole new base just to get enough food to continue building units.
This food system might be intended to make the game more challenging, but it ends up feeling unbalanced. When you max out the unit quota at your first base, you will have to split your forces, half to stay and defend the first base, the other half to defend the new base. But when you are splitting up such a small force, the result is that neither base is able to effectively defend itself. This problem is exacerbated by the enemy AI, which begins every mission with more offensive units. This was probably employed to stop players from immediately rushing the enemy’s base for an easy win, which is understandable, but unfortunately the same isn’t true for your enemy. Several times in the game’s conquest mode, I would be defeated by the enemy AI’s starting units before I’d even had a chance to build a barracks. This imbalance of starting units feeds into another issue of the game, which is the seemingly random placement of the bases in conquest mode. It wasn’t uncommon for a match to begin only to find that the enemy’s base was located literally right next to mine, and with more powerful enemy units that would destroy my base before the match had barely begun.
Not all bad
Despite these issues, Meridian: Squad 22 is not all bad. The game’s campaign missions are fun, the combat is more evenly balanced, though it still seems that the enemy AI is still a bit overpowered, and the story is engaging and narrated by talented voice actors. One interesting aspect of the game is the tech tree upgrading system. Unlike most RTS games where better units are unlocked through the construction of new buildings, in Meridian: Squad 22 players must search for research samples that are scattered around each map. The tech trees are divided into offensive, defensive, and economic upgrades, and the upgrades carry over from mission to mission. This means that players have to commit to a play style by spending their research points in one of these three trees. This gives the gameplay some RPG elements, and adds to the replayability factor since players can try different combinations of upgrades.
Avoid for now
Meridian: Squad 22 is a promising, but overall an unfinished real-time strategy game. While it has an engaging story and interesting upgrade mechanic, the game’s balancing issues and problematic food system ends up causing more frustration than thrills.
It pains us to say this, but we don't see how this game will mesh. At the current stage of development the game should be much farther ahead than it is.