Fabulous Favorites: Atlas Reactor

Atlas Reactor oh Atlas Reactor, how I mourn your passing like a dear friend. A game that was officially released on October 4th of 2016, however I played the Alpha in April of that same year and was instantly hooked. Stumbling upon it practically by accident by clicking on a Facebook ad (so naïve I know) I saw with a bit of gameplay of it and was immediately in love. I downloaded it and put hundreds of hours into it before it even left the Beta stage, and when it got added to the Steam store officially as an early access game I got a more accurate account of all the time I spent. It is a sub-genre of MOBAs (multiplayer online battle arenas) and I was quite deeply ingrained in its scene. Before Atlas Reactor (AR) came out I had played other MOBAs like DOTA (1 and 2), Smite, a Lord of the Rings MOBA, and an unhealthy amount of League of Legends.

Atlas Reactor received great reviews from critics. GameSpot gave it an 8/10 and called it “unique and fresh,” and Redbull eSports claimed “it has everything it needs to turn heads in the competitive space.” At PAX West 2016 it won the reward for ‘Best PVP’ and was described as “fast, exciting and simultaneous PVP action that combines the fun competitive aspects of a MOBA with the strategic thought process of chess.” It even had begun entering the eSports scene, being hosted by both PrepPhase and ESL. However despite all these positives on June 28, 2019 the game shut its servers down for good. So what was so special about Atlas Reactor? What made me fall in love with it so much and why did it ultimately die off? 

First up lets discuss how innovative the game was. Atlas Reactor was a truly unique beast that pushed the boundaries of MOBAs in a new and interesting direction. Traditionally in MOBAs you take control of a strong hero that battles it out with other heroes. The traditional gameplay loop of the genre involved a large map with three lanes and five heroes per team, who would fight to kill each other. Each side consisted of several turrets and a main base, with destroying the enemy base being what won you the game. Everyone has ‘primary’ attack that has no cooldown and a few special moves. Using your abilities properly granted you energy and once you reached 100 energy you could use your ultimate. You could customize how all your abilities function with ‘Mods’, with varying costs to based on each mod and a limited amount of points to spend per loadout. You could create multiple loadouts to choose from and edit them on the fly, really changing the way your character played from game to game while adding fun customization. Certain mod loadouts could allow you to fulfill multiple roles like allowing a support to also tank or a damage dealer to get some supportive capabilities for their team.

Instead of the usual formula, AR instead had two teams of 4 heroes called Freelancers and had a large array of maps that varied in size that were randomly selected to play on. Both teams would spawn on opposite sides and the single objective was to kill your opponent better than they killed you. Rather than real time, AR was a turn based game, a crazy concept for a multiplayer PVP experience. The map was put on a grid, with characters able to move a fixed distance and at the start of each turn all players had 20 seconds to plan out their actions. Allies can see locked in actions of their teammates in order to try and plan things out but it was entirely on you to try and guess what actions your enemies might take and plan accordingly. You can see all cooldowns of all abilities of any ally and enemies you can see (though enemies can hide in numerous ways), including ultimate abilities. All the information you’d need to succeed if you were clever enough to outwit and outplay your opponents! Players respawn at after a one round delay, so you’re rarely out of the action.

Each round was divided into two modes and five phases: the Decision where everyone plans out their actions and the Resolution mode where all the actions are then played out. There were four phases to the Resolution mode: Prep phase was the earliest phase and was where many traps and buffs/debuffs happened. Dash phase was where any abilities that moved characters happened. The Blast phase where all the attacks played out and then a Movement phase where characters moved. All actions during each phase play out sequentially but are calculated simultaneously. So Dash attacks always miss other players that dashed and even if you die during a phase, your character stays standing until the phase ends and they’ve resolved their abilities. This also lets you sometimes take more hits for your allies than was lethal as your body stays out to physically block skill shots. Speaking of, due to the grid based nature of the game, all attacks and abilities had to be aimed and many could interact with terrain in unique ways. This added a fun extra level where you’d angle your attacks in ways that would hit the most possible spaces whilst still going for your intended target to account for possible movement. First team to five kills or most kills after twenty rounds wins, with sudden death happening in the case of ties that gives the win to the first team to get more kills than their enemy in a round. This lead to some truly chaotic games where both teams keep trading kills and the game can go even into the 30s or rarely even the 40s of rounds. 

32 Round OT

One of the things that really helped people enjoy this game is that it did not require you to be physically dexterous in order to play. Many people struggle to enjoy games as many require you to have lightning fast reflexes, pin-point precise hand eye coordination and/or the ability to rapidly enter in a ton of commands. Atlas Reactor removed that barrier and allowed a lot of gamers to play online that hadn’t really been interested in online PVP games for the first time. I had lengthy chats with many players in AR that were so happy to have found a game that wasn’t so demanding on their physical skills, some of which having medical conditions that made playing many games quite difficult. At its core AR was a game about proper planning, teamwork, mind games and your ability to predict actions.

Another great part about this game was the uniqueness of every character. Not only aesthetically were they quite different, but they all had unique playstyles. I played at least a dozen games on each of their characters and genuinely enjoyed playing all of them, though I of course had my favorites. Divided into three categories of ‘Firepower’, ‘Tank’ and ‘Support’, they all carried out their tasks in vastly different ways. My personal favorites in each category for those who played were ‘Vonn’, ‘Titus’, and ‘Helios’. One of my favorite examples of the uniqueness of the cast is a character named Orion. He’s the coolest take on support I’ve seen in a game. His abilities all get more potent the more energy he has which means he’s incentivized to not use his ultimate ability in order to remain at full energy and thus full power as long as possible. He has quite high health for a support and had a unique drawback of not generating energy passively like everyone else did as well as losing all energy on death. His mainstay ability was a move called Fate Transfer, which gave Orion a small shield and that redirected 75% of the damage an ally took to himself. This move also turned all the damage he took into energy, so when used right he could easily go from empty to nearly full energy from a single turn, but if he wasn’t careful he get himself killed. This gave him a really fun martyr like playstyle that greatly rewarded you for proper positioning and knowing when to use your Fate Transfer, which had a fairly long cooldown.

One of my favorite mechanics in the game was that you could use taunts in a match before certain actions if you really felt confident that your play was gonna annihilate your opponents. During the Decision mode you could choose to add a taunt to actions you were planning out up to twice per match, which really added a nice level of spice to the game. Not much felt better than taunting and wiping an enemy team out with an attack they weren’t expecting. There were also moments that were just as funny of someone taunting and using their ultimate only for it to completely whiff and hit no one.

Target Impalement Imminent

I myself am an extremely social gamer. It’s nearly impossible for me to get into and stay involved in an online game if none of my friends do too. I love friendly competition with friends as we each try to be the best. I love talking about games in depth with friends and comparing opinions, I love supporting plays they make in games to make them look ultra badass, and I love the experience of hanging out with people I care about and playing something we enjoy together. Even a lot of the single player games I end up getting are just so that I can discuss them with other friends of mine that have played them. When I get a game I really enjoy that no one else in my circle has played I encourage them to buy and play it so we can talk about it. So why is this relevant? Like I’ve mentioned in many articles, context is paramount for fully appreciating anything. I had about 200 hours in AR before it got added to steam and as you saw from the screenshot from my Steam profile, that makes my playtime with AR over 1000 hours. I sung this game’s praises non-stop and got some friends to give it a try occasionally, making sure they had a great time playing when they did test it out. However I can say with complete confidence that of the 1000+ hours I spent playing, only about 10 of those hours was spent with friends. Absolutely unprecedented for me, I spent less than 1% of my time playing an online game with friends and still played it for hours and hours on end.

So what caused the game to fail? There were numerous factors, but it mostly boils down to two things: Poor business decisions and a niche target audience. The main way games are sustained and made marketable is through new consumers, and the people that owned AR did nothing to help facilitate any influx of a new player base. Once the game left beta, they just all together stopped advertising the game. They made an admittedly cool cinematic trailer, but that was it. No ads on social media, no active promotion of the game, no big events or panels at things like PAX, nothing. On top of that, the game went from a free to play model to a ‘buy the game and you unlock every character’ model so you couldn’t even test the game out if you were interested. This turned off so many people from trying it out and is a major reason why I couldn’t get friends into it. Not only did that model discourage new players from joining, but it also decreased the amount of money people who were invested in the game could spend. All that was left to buy after that was skins and taunts, both of which could be unlocked entirely through in game methods. It made it hard for those of us who really wanted to support the game to even really support it as there was nothing for us to buy. Why they changed this is baffling to me and is undoubtedly one of if not the biggest reasons the game went under.

As you might have picked up in my section discussing playing with friends, AR was a game that was addictively fun for its niche of gamers, but ultimately had a rather niche player base. Due to how incredibly unique the game was you essentially have to enjoy both MOBAs and tactical games to enjoy it. There was also a deceptively steep learning curve for the game that would severely punish poor positioning and wasting of abilities. That mixed with the aforementioned lack of advertising meant that the dedicated player base was relatively small compared to other MOBAs. The smaller player base lead to a similar issue many fighting games suffer, where new players are turned off from entering the scene because the only people that play it have hundreds of matches and are all really good and typically crush them.

The original makers of the game, Trion Worlds, was bought out by Gamigo on October 24th, 2018. Gamigo was and is a company with a history of abandoning games, a trend which they clearly continued. I won’t go into extreme details here (but I might make a rant article in the future) but long story short they bought the game out, squeezed what money they could get out of it and then shut it down, and because Trion Worlds hadn’t handled their business affairs properly they couldn’t afford to turn Gamigo down.

All this said, I refuse to end on a dour note, so instead I will share with you some screenshots I have saved of some cool post-game stats for some games I played back in the day. I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but if AR was still alive I would 100% have aimed to make it into the pro scene.

Sneaky Sniper
Tank and Spank
Vonn Baby!

And… that’s a wrap! Writing this article has been quite bitter sweet. On the one hand I got to talk about my favorite online game of all time and would undoubtedly beat RE4 in terms of favoritism if I could still play it. On the other hand it pains me looking back at how things turned out and knowing that it’s likely we’ll never get a game truly like it again. Farseers Domain is a game that is being developed by Tigrex Games that is attempting to recapture the magic of AR and I gave it an earnest shot, but it’s still a pretty rough experience; especially when compared to just how polished everything about Atlas Reactor‘s gameplay was.

I’m honestly not sure what my next article will be about. I may make a rant article, I may make another entry in Fabulous Favorites, or I may return to my fantasy stuff. We’ll see what inspiration hits me. Until then, thank you guys so much for reading, I hope you’ve enjoyed, and stay healthy!

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