Aztez PC Review

A promising hybrid on paper, Aztez doesn't squeeze all the available potential out of its systems.

By Woozie, Posted 09 Aug 2017

Aztez proposes an interesting combination of strategic boardgame-like empire management and brutal 2D beat ‘em up combat where you slash, dash, crush and soak the blood of your enemies in order to summon a large representation of a chosen god for a powerful attack. You’re given the reins of Tenochtitlan and a handful of other cities in each of your playthroughs, as you proceed to conquer other cities, repel dissent and, ultimately convince the Spanish that staying home would have been a better idea. Stylistically, the game largely makes use of grayscale to craft its visual identity. Roads on the strategic map are green, while blood (which does come in large quantities) is, naturally, red, painting some pretty strong contrasts. It undoubtedly looks nice, but, as the combat shows, it’s not always practical.

Aztez, PC, Review, Screenshot

The strategic component takes place on a map with hexagonal tiles. Every city you control grants resources, based on its population, which can be used for a number of things: expanding your empire, stopping dissent, gaining items or making one of your owned cities immune to ever rebelling. Items come in the shape of cards which influence a variety of things. They can remove battle events, increase your cities population, grant extra Aztez and so on. The goal of the game is to hold onto Tenochtitlan, while keeping the aforementioned dissent and, later, the Spanish from conquering it. Battle events spawn each turn from a random pool. Dissent has a chance of starting in a city and, unless taken care of, will spread throughout the area. Foes may try to alter the weather, steal resources or assassinate one of your Aztez units. To face these off, you have a limited pool of these elite warriors.

There is a certain element of choice involved, as you won’t always have enough warriors to clear out all the events popping up in a turn. In that respect, they are color coded, red ones being usually a good idea to prioritize. This part of Aztez does give a heavy boardgame-like feeling. I enjoyed conquering cities, choosing where to stop dissent, or which missions to go on, initially. However, the more I played, the more the segment’s limitations became obvious. Firstly, it’s not as much strategic as it is responding to a random string of events. There’s no sense of an AI strategy (not even with the Spanish who do have an active presence on the board once they come in). Furthermore, the pool of available events is rather small, being always solved through 2D battle sequences. In a short while, enjoyment turned to impassive breezing through the available missions, only to get to the next combat scenario.

Aztez, PC, Review, Screenshot

Aztez’s core is found in these 2D beat ‘em up segments, so much so that, should players want to skip the strategy side of the campaign, there are over 50 challenges to be done in the Arena, which keep in tune with the game’s fast-paced nature. And fast it is. The most time allocated to a battle was around 3 minutes and more often than not the fight was over before the timer was depleted. Your Aztez can equip a series of different weapons all which have different attacks. While there is a tutorial that covers all types of possible attacks, unlocking the full potential of your Aztez will require a lot of trial and error.

This happens due to new enemies and weapons being introduced as you go through the campaign. Each of these enemies come with their own different attacks that take different amounts of time to launch/complete. You will also fight different combinations of foes, some of which are truly unforgiving. But what can you (or your Aztez) do? There’s a great deal of potential for fluidity in Aztez’s combat. Issuing an attack locks you into its animation (some of which are longer than others) but dashing, or beginning to block can make it so that you break through the animation, not needing to complete it before issuing another attack. This makes it so that you can seamlessly strike foes a handful of times, throw them up in the air, strike them a couple more times,  let them fall to the ground, switch to a different weapon then pierce through three different enemies on the other side of the room as you swoop down from above. There’s some really great feedback too, both visual and auditory which propels you into these power trips, where you actually feel like the elite Aztec warrior that you’re controlling. At the same time, the game does sort of work against this fluidity as it does favor completing combos. The last attack of each combo deals the most damage, the only problem being that there aren’t that many combos to do. This gives the game a bit too much of a button-mashy feeling, leaving the door open for repetition to set in.

Aztez, PC, Screenshot, Review

When an enemy intends to attack, they’ll always have exclamation marks above their head, signaling their intention. Yellow means they can be blocked or parried, orange attacks can only be parried (requiring very precise timing of your block, right as the attack hits) while red attacks should be avoided altogether. The attack proper takes place a number seconds after these marks appear. This varies pretty wildly from foe to foe, requiring a good amount of trial and error with the possibility of spending time in the practice arena fighting appropriate dummies also being available. Reading different animations, especially when the screen is full with enemies does quickly become frustrating. This is worsened by the game’s use of grayscale, enemies being drawn using shades that are a bit more washed up than the player’s. Another area where the right moment to hit the button was nebulous to me was when being downed. You can quickly get up by pressing the “up” key, the game says, just as you hit the ground. Over my hours of playing, I could never quite grasp when exactly that is. On the same note, attempting to do an attack that would launch enemies into the air also was also met with mixed results, often having my character consider I had issue a jump order.

To top everything off, certain missions simply throw you against unbeatable odds. I’ve encountered random missions which were over in about 6 seconds as the screen was instantly filled with lines of attacks and enemies teleporting above me, only to smash my skull in without giving me the chance of doing much. Enhanced variants of shielded enemies are a major obstacle, as only a handful of attacks render them vulnerable. However, these attacks didn’t always seem to work. I can understand that the fast paced nature of each playthrough can bring difficult levels around quicker. The main problem is that, these situations seemed to pop in randomly, in between strings of missions where foes were much easier to handle. The odd thing is that the introduction of Spanish invaders clearly raises the difficulty bar, albeit in a sensible manner (they come in near the late game and are made in such a way that you do get breathing space to work around their attacks). Thus, aside from too many moments when the timing of attacks is difficult to determine due to clutter, there are also these missions that simply break your power trip far too brusquely which, in my case, resulted in frustration that left me with little desire to continue.

Aztez, PC, Review, Screenshot

My time with Aztez can be described as a mixture of enjoyment and unwelcome frustration. It has the pieces it needs to be a great title and there were moments when slashing through foes and connecting a long streak of attacks felt extremely satisfying. However, for all those moments, there were unfair fights, attacks that didn’t set off when they should and clutter on the screen. By no means a bad game, Aztez simply doesn’t squeeze all the available potential out of its systems.

Bogdan Robert, NoobFeed
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General Information

Aztez

70/100

Platform(s): PC
Publisher(s): Team Colorblind
Developer(s): Team Colorblind
Genres: Action, Strategy
Themes: Historical, Indie
Release Date: 2017-08-01

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