It should come as no surprise, since this game is currently in Early Access, that Gaslamp Games’ latest title is buggy, broken and incomplete as fuck. That being said, it is the most fun that I have ever had with a game this broken, and at some points I am having a hard time telling what is broken and what is actually supposed to be happening. Overall, if you have been waiting for a good game that well-represents steampunk, but you were wholly disgusted with Bioshock: Infinite, then this game is one you should consider after a long debate about whether Early-Access gaming is a worthy direction for the industry.
Clockwork Empires is a game with personality and a lot of bizarre quirks. You are a group of colonists starting a small colony of the Great Clockwork Empire – at least I think you are since this is never really specified, just referred to as “The Empire.” But fear not! This is nothing like sitting in a Jane Austin novel set on a frontier! You have to help your people to survive in a world of horrors! HORRORS!
So when you start, you’ll want to start assigning work crews by clicking the work crew button and deciding which people will do which jobs. Trust me, division of labor is a pretty important concept in this game, since it will dictate which jobs get done fastest. My opinion is that breaking things down like this bears some of the best results. 2 crews for farming and foraging. This is most important. Foraging is how you will get the initial glut of goods to sustain your people in the beginning and you’ll have some food from the Empire, but airdrops are too infrequent, sometimes inaccurate, to rely on. You have to get farming or starvation will set in briefly before cannibalism starts. These little bastards don’t even think about it either, they’re just like “What ho! I’m rather peckish and Nancy just died. Guess we’d best start rationing her out, hey chaps?”
After food income is determined, the next most important economy is the space economy. This is handled mostly by one or two crews that are set to forestry, mining and hunting. Forestry is a task that will have them chopping wood, removing terrain obstacles and other sundry natural objects. Hunting will make them a useful source of occasional food. The tasks I always break out are construction and workshop jobs. Now, in the outset you can easily group these two together since there will be no workshops in the beginning, you’ll have to build them. But if you keep your workshop crews constantly divided between construction and their workshops, goods production will go WAAAAAY too slowly. Eventually construction will become its own job and given that there are so few people for all the jobs, and the more people you get the more likely you are to starve, it is something that will have to be done in spurts. Of course, there are a few exceptions.
Exceptions are always important. In the very beginning, farms should be among your first things you create, but farms alone aren’t great for producing food. You’ll need workshops, and the two most used are the kitchen and the carpentry shop. The tutorial actually recommends you make the carpentry shop first, and they are right. The carpentry shop is where you will create planks that are necessary to build nearly everything else in the game. After the carpentry shop, get on that kitchen. Chances are that you chose wheat as your first couple farms. Great choice, but without a kitchen you can’t use the wheat you’ve harvested to make bread. Your people will die staring at sacks of flour.
Construction in this game is definitely unique and undeniably irritating. First, you have to build on the grid, but the grid doesn’t run everywhere. Some areas are just not to be built upon. No real explanation, but I assume there is a ditch or unstable terrain there or something. Once you’ve cleared a spot to build upon, you now draw the outline for the building. It doesn’t always have to make sense and it is the most impressive feature of the game. You can make a thousand of the same building and each can be vastly different from the others. Once you’ve got your blue outline, you then place your modules. These are the things that give the buildings purpose and character. Some are required, in the above case a door and a worktable, some are optional and the rest are decorative. I like putting the massive bay doors on my carpentry shops. Just gives the impression of industry. And make sure you put one or two decorations. It might just be a game, but it’s the little things that give a sense of immersion. The most irritating things about the construction system is that you can’t add a few things in at the start and then finish up later. You are building everything that is going to be in that workshop for the rest of the game. That is irritating as fuck because gameplay develops as the player interacts with the game. It is just restricting and never shows any growth or development.
So you’ve got the makings of a colony, and things are moving along. You’ve got your basic workshops, goods are moving and you’ve finally gotten a few bunkhouses up for the lower class and the middle class. You are going to start having issues. Most namely among these issues are the foes: cultists, fishpeople and all manner of eldritch Lovecraftian horrors. The best part is that the fishpeople will walk in at random intervals and menace your people. Sure, you can forage their eggs as exotic caviar, effectively eating their children as a delicacy; but cogs only know why the beasts so hostile, amirite?
I haven’t really gotten very far with this game simply because it is so fucking broken. Don’t get me wrong, I love this game, but the level of incompletion and inoperability make this game absolutely frustrating to deal with. My biggest gripe is that saves don’t really seem to work. I have saved games and come back to them with varying degrees of success. Sometimes they work, other times reloading a save causes the game to utterly crash. If this were the only issue I would be less annoyed with the game, but sometimes it just crashes mid-game. All of my plays invariably end with a crash of some sort and then me sighing about everything that I didn’t save. Then I remember that the saves rarely even work and go play something else. Sure, you might be saying “But Crotchety, this is an early-release you ass-burglar! Of COURSE it’s buggy, they are still working on it!” Let me say this to you little shits, never judge anything by what it could be some day. That is how Hitler managed to convince people into the Holocaust. One day we’ll eliminate all the weaker genes in the human race and the world will be full of happy, healthy blonde-haired blue-eyed babies. Sure sounds nice until you remember you had to kill millions of people to get there. Also, the price of the game on Steam is 29.99$ AS IT IS! That is 30$ that would probably be better spent on a portion of Civilization: Beyond Earth.
Despite the issues, there are still a number of reasons to be excited about this game. There are some surprises like random crops growing in your farms, enemies and content updates. The art is nice and the music is fun. Every so often you will get drops and immigrants from the empire that will help your colony thrive, but there are so many bugs. I read about this game back in the April 2014 issue of Game Informer and getting ridiculously excited about what I was reading. Finally, a steampunk game full of cogs, gears and fishpeople and its an RTS!!!! The unfortunate fact is that this is a game whose release I am still waiting for. The best way to play these Early-Access games, in my opinion, is to buy it, play it a little bit to get the impression then let it sit for some months and let it get updates. Sure this suggestion might make developers nervous, but if you can’t release a full game, it is going to suck and hurt to play. Just like every time I have to be punished for not saving and, saving, have to be punished for buying the game early when my saves don’t load but, instead, crash the game. Well, at least the game is fun and quirky. Even the crash messages say “What ho! The game has crashed!” or some such irritating nonsense. If your game crashes, it shouldn’t be cracking jokes. This is where your skirt has blown up. Fucking apologize for your broken game.