I love when developers take a risk - either trying something different or adding new mechanics to an already existing genre. Granted, sometimes it doesn’t work out, and in most cases, this is why you find AAA studios being more conservative with their designs. But indie developers tend to push the envelope. And in Cantata's case, the risks the devs took paid off.
What makes Cantata unique is that it’s a story-driven strategy game with elements of tactical gameplay. The story involves three factions battling on Shoal - a living organism. The three groups include The 111th Reign of Harmony and Prosper - an aggressive group that rose out of the ashes of humanity. Their leaders are ruthless and do not put up with weakness and rebellions.
Then there’s the Unified Spirit - a gathering of machines that decided to overthrow the shackles of creators and stand against them. They are the sworn enemies of the 111th Reign of Harmony and Prosper.
The final group is probably the most interesting, The People of Sun and Shadow - humans stranded on Shoal long ago and altered by the living planet. They resist plundering their resources by The 111th Reign of Harmony and Prosper.
The lore is deep, and the story plays out through nine chapters. In each chapter, you’ll complete story objectives that drive the narrative. You’ll have a certain number of rounds to achieve the objectives, and while it may seem like you’ll have plenty of turns to complete the objectives, because of how resources are dished out, you’ll probably use all the turns given.
Playing Cantata is like playing a board game - you have units that you move and scout out the areas hidden behind a fog of war. The play is turn-based so once you have completed all your moves, your turn ends, and your opponents then move. During your turn, you may move units to new locations, attack the enemy, or build structures to help in the war. Certain military forces can do a “Surge,” allowing you to take an extra turn at the cost of an action point. However, you have limited action points, so you must consider using them wisely.
The areas that you command will provide resources for you to create new units and buildings. The more zones you own, the more resources you have available. You’ll need more “pressure” than your opponents to win an area. Some structures you build will increase the pressure; even some units you command can produce small amounts of pressure to win that area.
The challenge comes in when you need resources to build new units but need more availability of said resources. You’ll find yourself waiting and ending your turn early to get more resources. And thus, you start to burn through those finite turns you have to complete your missions.
If it sounds like a lot is happening in this game, it’s because there is. And because of this, the learning curve is relatively high. Initially, I jumped into the campaign and got frustrated that I couldn’t progress. I swallowed my pride and went through the tutorial, and while it doesn’t teach you every nuance about each building and the forces you build, it provides you with enough to play the game successfully.
Another highlight of the game is how gorgeous it is - the different pixelated units and the playing field pops. And the artwork for characters is beautiful as well. You can tell a lot of work went into making Cantata feel alive, and that time paid off in the final product.
There is multiplayer as well as a map editor. I didn't play with these much, but it's an added bonus for those who want to have epic battles with friends.
Final Grade: B+
Cantata offers a lot to fans of strategy and tactic games. There is a learning curve, and the game can initially feel daunting and overwhelming. But once you get a sense of the game mechanics, you’ll love how deep the game is. I found myself sitting down expecting to play for a few hours, then looking up and realizing it was late and I needed to sleep. Cantata is a slower-paced game, so it’s something to consider - but if you enjoy plotting out your moves and want to dive deep into a strategy game, Cantata is for you.