Conglomerate 451 First Look
Conglomerate 451 is an upcoming cyberpunk dungeon-crawler from RuneHeads currently available in Early Access on Steam, and while there are promising elements, it feels like a game that doesn’t quite know what it wants to be as, borrowing elements from a few different genres with an end result that feels underwhelming. Think of Conglomerate like an XCOM game; you’re managing and levelling units, but it’s not an RPG in the sense of having to make narrative decisions or uncover a story. Conglomerate is, however, an RPG in the numbers department. Upon starting up the game and putting together a squad, it presents statistics for abilities and each class before the dungeon-crawling has even begun. For those who enjoy examining characters’ stats with a fine-tooth comb, Conglomerate has plenty to offer.
Unfortunately, if examining the numbers isn’t your thing, you’re offered little reprieve. There aren’t any descriptions for each of the abilities or classes other than their names, so looking over statistics is the only way to try and figure out what each class or ability is best suited to. Some names are more obvious than others, like the Smokescreen ability for example, but creating a balanced squad with complementary abilities isn’t a streamlined process.
The story of Conglomerate 451 is standard cyberpunk fare: Corporations control different areas of the city and direct all criminal activity. Your agency of battle clones has been contracted by the government to clean up the mess. Simple enough, but it ends up feeling more like set dressing than anything of substance. As it stands currently, Conglomerate 451 isn’t the game for you if you’re looking for a strong narrative or a substantial way to interact with a story.
Managing your team of super-clones takes place at an agency. Management is pretty straight forward for the most part, but I do wish the UI was clearer. For example, assembling a new clone means choosing abilities and DNA variation if you have it unlocked, with progression shown through seven squares at the top of the screen. What isn’t made clear is that not all of these squares represent the same range of selections; on first look, you could be forgiven for thinking you get to choose seven abilities when you only get to choose four, while the three remaining squares represent other choices. There’s a lot of similar small annoyances that will hopefully be polished on release; they’re minor but accumulatively detract from the experience.
Once you’ve chosen a mission, it’s time to head out into the city. Exploration of the different environments is first-person and grid-based, meaning all three members of your current squad occupy the same square on the map at any one time. Movement feels good, and the environments look great, but I do wish there was a little more to interact with. Sometimes you’ll come across extra Tech points for upgrades from crates, merchants, or hacking into terminals. I liked hacking into terminals and receiving a tangible benefit for the rest of mission for performing well, and it would be nice to have more ways to interact with the environment while you’re exploring outside of combat.
Speaking of combat, it’s inevitable that your team will run into gangs of enemies to fight and put their clone-imbued battle prowess to use. Each character’s Initiative score determines the order of battle, which is shown at the top right of the screen. Because all three of your current squad members occupy the same space, there’s no environmental element to combat or thinking tactically about your team’s positioning on the battlefield. Most of the time you’re waiting for enemies to come closer, unless you decide to move your whole team towards them. I found it frustrating because moving closer wasn’t always what I wanted to do, but enemies that refused to come closer to engage left me little choice. Movement can also only be done at certain times, and as all three team members occupy the same space, you can’t protect individual characters low on health by positioning them behind others. I suspect players used to older RPGs that have similar combat systems won’t find this as frustrating as I did, and it’s likely I’ve been spoiled for choice being used to playing games that have an environmental element to combat. However, that then begs the question as to whether Conglomerate’s combat is going to appeal to newer players used to having more mobility.
The tactical element of combat lies again in reading the statistics of your abilities and focusing on details; different combinations of abilities will yield the best results. For example, using abilities that stun enemies before using an attack that is more effective on stunned enemies. While that sounds exciting on paper, and it’s a concept I’m familiar with from many other RPGs, in Conglomerate it didn’t feel all that exciting in tandem with the lack of mobility. Options to auto-battle or speed up combat like those found in modern JRPGs would be welcome additions to blast through enemies quickly when you’d prefer to focus on exploration.
Once a mission is done, whether it be to clear out an area of enemies or interact with certain items to apparently poison someone, you’re then whisked back to the agency to do it all over again as a means to increase your agency’s reputation and reach within the city. When I say “apparently poison someone” I mean just that – I had no idea what I was doing until I reached the relevant room to interact with the relevant object. There wasn’t any narrative punch for me in doing something morally questionable; the cyberpunk grit felt more like a thin coat of paint than anything with weight.
I think my feelings about Conglomerate 451 can be best surmised by the fact I felt completely indifferent about quitting the game halfway through a mission, thus increasing the relevant corporation’s control in the area. Conglomerate is a perfectly fine game, but that’s all it is at the moment. There’s some great art direction and detail in the levels, but the actual experience playing the game leaves a lot to be desired. Unfortunately, Conglomerate, as it is currently, just isn’t for me, but I sincerely hope early buyers and dungeon-crawler fans are given an experience they can enjoy upon the game’s final release.
Conglomerate 451 is currently available for Steam on PC in Early Access.