Hello, my name is James and I’m a Match-3 addict.
When I first became aware of Ironcast, and the fact it would involve Match-3 gameplay, I instantly thought of Bejeweled, Candy Crush and those other similarly addictive games. Maybe I should’ve looked a bit deeper into the game because then I would’ve realised how Ironcast cannot really be compared to others in the same category. Dreadbit, the developers, seemingly wanted to provide us with the next level of Match-3 games by mixing it up with turn-based strategy and roguelike elements. Does this combination work together to bring a finely tuned machine to the table or have they actually overcomplicated a hugely popular and accessible genre?
Set in alternate history 1880’s Victorian England, the English are bickering with the French over a highly sought after new energy source known as Voltite, leading to a war between the two. With neither country managing to take charge of the war, a private group called the Consortium of Merit had seen enough of this stalemate, deciding to build seven metre tall war machines for both sides to use. Thus the Ironcasts were created and you’re one of the lucky few chosen as a commander to take the fight to the French, protecting your country from invasion!
The story itself is conveyed entirely in text form and although I was always kept slightly interested in what was going on, the gameplay made it pale into insignificance.
From the initial tutorial which went over the ‘basics’, I realised there is a lot more to Ironcast than I had anticipated. In a nutshell, you need to match three or more of the same coloured node to add them to your resource reserves, to then use in order to perform certain actions. There’s no swapping of nodes to make a match, they just have to be selected on the grid in any order or direction as long as they are touching each other. Different colours will build up different sections of your reserves, and these are split into four categories – Ammo, Energy, Coolant and Repair.
The Ammo is necessary to fire off your weaponry, whereas Repair nodes will need to be stocked up in case of any damage to your systems; if the system fails then it becomes useless until fixed. Performing actions such as movement and deploying shields can cost a fair amount of Energy nodes. Despite those all being important, it’s crucial to keep your Coolant nodes at a decent level otherwise you’ll actually be causing serious damage to yourself by activating a system which creates heat.
There are four systems to help you succeed in the middle of a torrid battle against a feisty opponent, two of which are offensive and two of the defensive kind. Weapon A and Weapon B slots can be filled with any combination of weapons you’ve unlocked, whether they are projectile cannons, missile launchers or energy based weapons, it’s your choice. The Drive system will allow the Ironcast to move, increasing the chances of evasion for incoming attacks and Defences ensures the raising of a shield to limit the amount of damage coming through. Both have three stages of increased defensive ability but these will drop down a level after each turn, meaning they need to be kept topped up.
By the time I’d finished the tutorial I still wasn’t entirely sure about the systems or what the special nodes were but going straight into the first battle of the campaign was the baptism of fire I needed. The campaign works as a selection of randomly generated mapped missions to choose from. As missions are completed, the amount of days until a boss reaches the centre of London counts down and when that gets to zero, you better be ready to rumble.
Depending on the types of missions you are offered, it may simply require you to collect a set number of wooden boxes (whilst holding off the enemy too) that’ll randomly drop down onto the grid or surviving a certain amount of turns against a barrage of attacks. Personally I preferred the standard battles, where I could destroy the Ironcast or Steamtank in my path. There’s so much strategy that comes into play, no matter what kind of mission it is.
Each mission at least has the same general play rules where turns are taken and within a turn, three matches can be made whilst the system usage is limited only to your resource riches. With a health bar on each side being the difference between succeeding and failing, deciding how to play out your turns and what areas of the opponent to take down first will be key factors. Do you blast all your efforts at their weapon systems to limit the incoming damage or eliminate their shield to allow maximum damage to pulverise them? Those are just a few of your choices, choices which are boosted by abilities and augmentations.
Customising the Ironcast’s abilities, the Commander’s augmentations and the system can all be done in the hangar bay which works as the hub between missions. Levelling up will earn a single augmentation or ability at a time; it’ll offer you the choice of three which are randomly chosen from the reward pool. The abilities that allow me to steal health or resources from the enemy are easily the best, whilst in augmentations I want accuracy or extra power. There are quite a lot of combinations to try and find the perfect setup but sometimes you have to spend a bit of currency to get ahead of the curve.
Scrap will be the currency to spend, but you’ll need to consider that most of it will be spent on repairing your Ironcast’s hull, leaving very little for upgrades and building system blueprints. That’s one of my few issues, there’s never really any Scrap left to increase resource limits or gain additional health, let alone the pricey blueprints. Chances are you’ll lose before you ever reach a boss because of this, and when you die that’s it I’m afraid, back to the main menu to start all over again.
Normally I would’ve been outraged, grasping for my phone to write an angry tweet which I’d later delete in embarrassment of my own failings. Not with Ironcast though, firstly due to the fact I love the gameplay but secondly because no matter how many times you’ll be restarting the campaign, it WILL be slightly easier the next time. How so? Well, I’m glad you asked. Every XP earned throughout the campaign will be converted in Commendation Marks after death to spend on a selection of unlockables.
Maybe a new Commander is needed because you’re sick of the current one’s starting augmentation or a sparkling new Ironcast model equipped with differing resource limits, health points and ability. You can even purchase more starting health or an increase in Scrap earned. At the rapid rate that I’m dying though, I’m not sure there’ll be enough items for me in the Commendation Exchange. It could do with more than three Commanders and Ironcasts to unlock.
By the time you’ve finished reading this, the Anglo-French war will be over but we’re coming to the end, there are just a couple more things. Mainly the boss battles – they are far more powerful than any of the enemies you’ll have already taken on but by building up on War Assets via missions, you may actually have a chance. For every WA accumulated in the time it took for the boss to arrive at the centre of London, it’ll wipe off a health point from it. Seeing over 1000 WA in the bank, the boss becomes wounded… even though it’s still got at least three times more health than you.
Anyway, the point once again is the depth that Ironcast possesses due to the randomly generated missions, the pot luck grid layouts, the rewards system and your own decision making in the heat of a battle. I have absolutely loved my time on the battlefield, with my mind ticking over on how best to play out the remaining turns and whether I need to wait out the mission turn limit to fight another day or fall on my sword to be resurrected for a new campaign with new unlocks.
It’s not going to amaze people visually; however, the dull sights in the backgrounds go hand in hand with the vibrant node grid. I didn’t even notice any gameplay issues across my many hours of play, although the sensitive analog stick can cause a few errors when selecting the matches if you aren’t careful. The only real addition it could do with, apart from more unlockables, is a multiplayer mode of some kind.
Ironcast is quite easily one of the best single player Match-3 based games I’ve played in my lifetime, mainly due to the strategy elements that are bereft in other games of this genre. If you are even slightly inclined to match stuff then you NEED this game, no matter the cost.