Jon Shafer's At The Gates


In AOW I play the battles, taking my time, managing units, casting spells and whatnot. In a TW game, I mostly watch the battles, wishing I had more control of the mass of units piling into another mass of enemy units. Sure, I can pause and individually select groups of units to do a particular thing, but in the end it seems I’m just zooming in and out with the camera, playing as a cinematographer rather than a general.

I’ve always liked turn-based combat over the mess that is real-time with pause.



I actually hardly ever finish a game - and I think this pacing issue is a big part of whether I like a game or not.

AOW is boring for hours (to me) until you get a few decent battles vs the AI; but a lot of people also grind MMOs for hundreds of hours before they get to the “real game”. Which is insane to me (I think I got to level 20 or something in Guild Wars 2 and WoW before bailing because I just couldn’t take it anymore).

The best part of any Total War game is the first few hours. Which is also true of games like EL or Civ V or Endless Space 2. But I rarely if ever actually finish a game. Once I have all the power I need to make victory inevitable I tend to quit. IOW, I vastly prefer a good early game than a good late game.

I do think AOW would be fantastic in multiplayer, otoh. This might be why I find the game a bit dull, since many of the cool abilities don’t really actually do much vs the AI but would be very useful vs. people.

It’s also a bit idiosyncratic, but I also get annoyed that I can’t make my Hero unit in AOW a real melee monster. Warhammer Total War actually does hero units better, with larger variety of use cases and deployments. Because the AI focus fires your Lords, I’ve never really been able to make a Lord a true tank in AOW. I’m sure it’s possible, but again, it will be a late game, not an early game, thing (if it’s feasible to do so at all). So Warlord and Mage characters don’t feel as different as i’d like them to be.



I would argue that this is actually more like a general than the TB tile-based approach in that it limits your control to something closer to what a general might have, as opposed to being an omniscient controller-being. (Though let me state firmly that I don’t want to come close to accusing Total War of being realistic.)

I love both TW and AoW; I think both have their place and they’ve found a way to do it well.




I played the necrophage and got a powerstack and romped through the map without losing a single unit.

Good luck not losing a unit on Emperor in AoW3.

You are referring to the quests?

A great idea, totally badly done.

Gladius does that better, and even there it is not quite right (like the final stage of quests just suddenly swamping you in units.)

Against someone at more or less your level, the game truly shines.

Structurally speaking though, the multiplayer isn’t done as well as i would like (mod management, finding a game etc are all harder than I would like.)

Totally possible. A bit of work required. I’d recommend Warlord or dreadnought, stack defence, beeline for the item forge, get tireless boots, a shield with aura of x (frost, fire, lightning, you pick. I like frost the most) a decent ranged item (you can loot these) a melee item with lifestealing or life drain, a helmet with seeker.

With seeker + ranged attack, enemies will come to you.

When they do, you hit them, they hit you, and then get frozen/stunned/set on fire.

Stack inflict x on your hero (inflict severely poisoned is my favourite.)

If you have creation adept, abuse the heal spell. If you have a Theo or Druid hero, abuse their heal ability.

If you have none of those, create an item with higher regeneration.

This has been pointed out enough times that it is a legit critique imho.

If I were making an AoW4 (assuming ofcourse it was fantasy again) I’d make Sorcerors into something like Wizards (your standard mage, using grimoires in battle), Warlocks (blood sacrifice, your units or the enemies, to power sopells and warlocky units, i.e. demons) and Sorcerors (innate magic, makes them physically frail)

I’d also split Druids into Rangers (lots of shootiness, pet companions in battle), Shamans (lots of nature spells and abilities) and Beastmasters (lots of beasts, turns into various animals, no or few spells. think Beorn from The Hobbit)

Similar treatment for Theocrats (Priest, Paladin, Monk) and finally Warlords (melee brute, tactician/general etc.)

And, for magic casters (the Sorceror classes) I would actually introduce the Wizard Throne mechanic - if they are sat on their bum inn their magic tower, they get magic bonuses.

I’d also revamp the magic system entirely, although that’s a post for a different day (spells able to be cast over multiple turns, spell chance failure, range and line of sight requirements etc.)



A bit back on topic. Anybody still playing the game? Jon’s roadmap looked like a lot of things I’d be interested are coming over the next several months. Having waited so long for the game, I’m content to wait a few more months to have better initial impression. On the other hand if it is fun game now, why wait.




Developing your tribe, dealing with clans and resources, moving around, all that is very enjoyable. But moving on from there, lots of rough edges to be smoothed out.

Unless you are feeling particularly impatient, it is probably better to wait a bit.



Still playing. I’m on board with the core gameplay loop and interested now, so why wait for the polish?



Sounds like a bit more than mere “polish” is coming.

I own it, but I have yet to install it and I’ll give it time to cook a bit before I do.



Had to put this one down - no notifications when 2 of my clans disappeared ain’t really acceptable.



Ouch. Did the 1.01 patch come out yet? I don’t see any mention of it on Steam, and we’re beyond the “1-2 weeks” window. Just curious if there had been any updates or news on the updates that aren’t posted on the Steam page.



The game’s concurrent players are dropping like flies, and it’s at the Mixed rating. Unless Jon has cash stashed away for further development, I don’t see how post-release plans are going to work.



Yes, this is one of the main things which needs fixing. If a bandit kills or captures your explorer, you do not get any notification.

It is almost too easy to clear things out with a spearman, but if you fail to do so, your people just disappear into the ether. In one case, I had one captures and later I recovered him, all without any special messages.



Some news about the first update



One strategy question - it seems like the best strategy is to beeline out to find a source of stone as that fundamentally changes how the resources nodes work (making them permanent vs degrading). And also leave any resource nodes once they’re done to 1 or so units before you have stone as I guess you can come back and then they’re basically full powered…



At least one migration is pretty much designed into the game. Doing as you say could be viable, but it would necessitate a pretty early expansion and might slow your initial development.



Stone blocks are not very hard to get- stone, coal, or even wood all eventually get you to stone blocks.



I think it depends on the map. If there is space available with good resources, it can be advantageous to move around a while, in which case depleting a resource is not particularly a negative. But if space is limited (or key resources have limited availability) then definitely, stone blocks are the way to go.

But it is a definite sacrifice if you hold up resource usage in a big way, just waiting on stone blocks.



I took your advice and I’m glad I did.

I struggled with 1/2 dozen restarts before noticing that you could do upgrades of tech, at which point the game becomes considerably easier. It is a nice idea, less powerful than next gen tech but able to really help your economy. Maybe it was just me, but hiding the upgrades behind the main tech and not even mentioning them in the otherwise excellent tooltips wasn’t the best UI.

I won with the Goths and unlocked a number of other tribes,then played again as the Slavs (probably an easier clan since they don’t worry about supply). Played until I was ready to send units to Roman and then didn’t want to sit through clicking 24 end of turns. I’ll try one more tribe but then I’ll wait to play more until the game is which given @Jon_Shafer track record on hit milestones maybe a while.

But overall I found the game to fun and truly innovative in several ways. Overall this review (German but Google Translate works well.) expressed my view on the state fo the game.

I thought I’d grade the game on well it accomplishes the 4x for the Genre

eXplore. Honestly, it is pretty hard to screw up the explore part of a 4X game. Something very compelling about an almost blank map. What will be revealed? How will the goodie huts treat me is some of the most fun parts of any 4x.
Good features: most of the resources require a two-step identification. That’s fertile ground for some crop. or some mineral but you have to send another unit to fully identify it.
Bad: The map is huge and the benefits of explorer the whole map are minimal the good huts are nice in the beginning but quickly become irrelevant. To me Stellaris, has raise the bar for eXplore part of the genre with the fun multi-part stories revealed in the goodie huts.
Overall B-

eXpand A real mixed bag here. Expand really consist of two different elements, population growth and expanding your presence on the map.
Good features. I was playing a lot of Rimworld before playing AtG. In Rimworld, you get more people, but the process is almost completely random. You have no control of getting more people you just have to react to events. In contrast in most 4x, population growth is very predictable in 6 turns you get a new Pop (4 if you build a granery). AtG combines randomness with player control. If you need more people, you put people in Fame generating positions. But what type of Clan you get is completely random. You maybe critically short of blacksmiths to make tools, but the new clan, is curious clan, who longs to be out exploring the world and not cooped up in the settlement. So do you train him to be a blacksmith, and risk tensions later or send him off exploring.
Bad features. I felt almost no need to expand at all. Sure it is nice to be able to move your whole clan, but I never felt the need to do so. You can easily win the game with 2 mines, 4-5 farms and logging campl. Building a single Watchtower is pretty much all you need to do to win the game.
Overall no higher than a C.
eXploit This is where the game really shines.
Good Features. The economic system is really well developed. You do need all of the resources to win the game. But you have many options on how best to get them you. You can use specialize and sells your excesses via the caravan system. But the caravan isn’t a 100% reliable and often doesn’t have what you need. I also like the research system. Just researching a tech isn’t enough to help you, you have to assign somebody to do it, and that often requires considerable resources that you don’t have. Overal I felt every job assignment, and every research goal was important, and mostly importantly they were very situational dependend I made different choices in different games.
Bad Features: bugs in several of the professions
Overall A-
eXterminate. Just as it is hard to screw up the eXplore part of 4x, it is really hard to do a good exterminate. I can think of only a handful of games that really were successful Moo and Civ IV being the most well know. First of all, you have to create a situation where the player is resource constrained, he needs something another player has. Or you have to make the player feel threatened by another player. Then those threats have to be credible (i.e. decent AI.) Stellaris had Fallen Empires which were super powerful but not threatening. Civ V and VI had plenty of threats and often the AI controlled stuff you need, but the incompetent AI but the threats meaningless.
Sadly aTG fails in all of those tasks. The first couple of winters facing starvage created some tension. The bandits are never more than nuisance, and generally incompetent. I tried to get a large worthless clan wiped out by making them an explorer and sending them out into bandit country, the bandits attacked him but never killed the guy. But most importantly no AI player ever attacked me.

Overall F:


Stellaris grand strategy space game by Paradox discussy thingy thready thingy
Stellaris grand strategy space game by Paradox discussy thingy thready thingy

Thanks for the detailed review. I keep thinking I’m going to spend time with it, but when I read things like this and the German review I realize I should wait. Maybe in another year…



Yeah thanks for the great write up. I am still waiting to see where it ends up once all development is done. Sadly I feel this will be one of the forgotten games of 2019, that might have been at least good (B range) if given more time in the oven before release.