[Update] Review: Atlas Reactor, the lovechild of Frozen Synapse and Overwatch

And I don't even like MOBAs

It seems like I missed out on an important part of the game while reviewing, something which was brought up to my attention by the competitive community, and that is the competitive play and how there is, in fact, a lot of depth to Atlas Reactor. I wrote in the main review on the first page, saying that I could not find a lot of depth to Atlas Reactor. I felt that it was mostly wash, rinse and repeat gameplay. It turns out that I was wrong and the there is in fact depth to Atlas Reactor just like there is to DotA or LoL; I was just not seeing it.

As you probably have guessed, the following was not written by me since I did not experience this part of the game, the following is a guest review with a focus on the depth I missed out on while playing. Now that I see these points, I agree with our guest reviewer, and I just didn’t notice it.

The guest review/ opinion piece below will focus on the competitive aspect of the game, something I missed out on. Enjoy.

A new genre is born with the release of Trion Worlds latest game, Atlas Reactor. A mix of the action and teamwork of traditional MOBAs and the deep strategic gameplay of turn-based tactics games, the game has attracted a lot of attention at release. Initial reviews for this new style of gameplay have been pretty positive, but the question on everyone's mind has been this: Will it hold the attention of the crowds it has attracted, or will it be a flash in the pan? The answer is that Atlas Reactor has deep, exciting, competitive gameplay without the twitch reaction requirement, which makes it well positioned to be a game serious gamers play for years to come.

The choices are simple, yet subtly profound, like chess. Each turn your character can input a short movement and use one of their four abilities. This makes the game incredibly easy to pick up, but even little choices have a significant impact on the game. This turn might not matter if you move to a particular position or the one next to it, but that can affect where you can go next turn, which can influence the turn after that, leading to snowballing consequences for even little choices. Also, one ability may be better this turn, but do you use it, putting it on cooldown and removing the threat of its next turn, or do you hold it, making your opponents play around your choices as you wait for a better opportunity? Thus, like classic strategy games that have stood the test of time, it's simple but small decisions that lead to big advantages down the road.

However, the action is much more intense than other strategy games. Atlas Reactor has everyone input their moves simultaneously during a 20-second turn, then play out all the results quickly. Even experienced players find themselves scrambling to understand the opponent's options and thought process and formulate then execute a strategy in 20 seconds, so the game has an intense, high action feel that most strategic/tactics games lack, in addition to the pressure of coordinating with teammates.

The team gameplay attracts a lot of players that the single player games leave behind. Players can excel at certain roles, and focus on sides of gameplay they enjoy more or perform better at, relying on teammates to cover the rest. Since the time limit is too short for one player to consider everything, people have to make important callouts and trust their team to perform and make the right decisions, and each player's personality and individual gameplay can shine. No two players play the same character exactly the same way.

The bluff/prediction gameplay, combined with the fact that different players play the same character differently, means the game can never be 'solved' for best play. Since each team inputs their actions in secret, then they all play out at once, a big part of the gameplay is bluffing/prediction. Obviously, I should use my big dodge or shield this turn – but will I, since I know the other team THINKS I will and might not attack me? Fans of Poker and other bluffing games know that this isn't random chance, but another level of strategy and another way to outplay your opponent.

In fact, you can beat your opponents before each match even starts. In competitive play, teams can pick the map, ban freelancers that counters their strategy or that the other team is strong with, and alternate picks. This has come to be a standard in most team games today, but it's nice to know it is there. What pushes this even further is the mod/catalyst system. After the map and characters are chosen but before the game begins, each player can choose three once per game abilities from a common pool and also apply slight tweaks to how each ability works. This lets you see how you expect the matchup to play out and alter your character's gameplay to shore up weaknesses vs. their strategy or push your strengths, giving the team that understands not only themselves but also the other team a competitive advantage

Esports has already recognized these positive properties of the game. Even though the game released less than three weeks ago, throughout the closed and open beta competitive players have been flocking to the game. The most recognized competitive league for Atlas Reactor, the Prep Phase League (PPL), has already completed two seasons of league play and championship tournaments, complete with live shout-casting and monetary prizes. Since release, other organizations have been quick to announce competitive tournaments via Reddit and other sites. Top players are already featured in podcasts and interview programs and by Trion Worlds themselves.

The top players are just that, as well. It's not just a matter of mastering the basics, as so many players have done. The very best competitive players show a distinct advantage, as the same two teams placed first and second both seasons of competitive play, out of a wide field of entrants. All these players have fully mastered the basics, but the top teams take advantage of all the strategic elements outlined above and do them much better than their competitors.

Top teams and players can stay that way for longer in Atlas Reactor can do that for longer than they can in other games, as well. Most popular E-sports today require intense twitch reactions and precise mechanics and see top players drop out of favor after only a few years. By keeping the action/excitement and cutting the response requirements, Atlas Reactor can retain top players for much longer, building more experience and even more skilled gameplay.

In short, even after mastering the basics and mechanics, you're only just starting to play real Atlas Reactor. The true draw is in the incredibly deep gameplay of the teamwork, the strategy, the complex future ramifications of little decisions. It's in outplaying your opponent not just in your individual action, but also in your teamwork and strategy, forcing them so that even their 'best' move just puts them further behind. Competitive Atlas Reactor will continue to grow, not only as an Esport but as regular players to play it for a long time.

Written by: Matthew Swasey


Well, it seems like I was wrong, there is in fact much more depth to Atlas Reactor than I first saw, something which I missed. Now after being informed about this, and after investigating it on my own, I agree with him.

The modification and catalyst system can change the game if used correctly and with ranked and competitive play you need to keep tabs on them. Now that I know about this it is quite clear that Atlas Reactor has much more depth to it than I previously thought. Hero picking and modification do matter more than what meets the eye, if you want to win you have to know each hero, anticipate their move, what mods and catalysts they have on, and much more.

One other thing I addressed in my review on the first page was the lack of Freelancers and maps, but Trion Worlds reached out to me and assured me that new Freelancers and/or maps would be coming every two to three weeks.

It seems like I was wrong on two things, but I, and we at GameZone can see when we are wrong and adapt to the circumstances. Two of the things I was worried about, the lack of depth and new content turns out to be nothing to worry about anymore.

Update: New information has surfaced so we at GameZone felt like we needed to update our review to make it as factual and up-to-date as possible. The updated content can be found on page 2

Platform: Windows PC

Developer: Trion Worlds

Price: $30


Imagine the lovechild between Frozen Synapse and Overwatch, then imagine that this lovechild had a lovechild of its own with XCOM, that final lovechild is Atlas Reactor.

This combination of three great games turns out to be much better than you’d expect. Many MOBAs have tried, but Atlas Reactor is one of the few who actually manages to reinvigorate the MOBA genre like few MOBAs have managed, Atlas Reactor manages to cater to both hardcore MOBA fans but also to fans of strategy games.

Atlas Reactor is a 4v4 turn-based MOBA where players fight to get either most kills in 20 turns or first to five kills, whichever comes first. There is some story in the background but it’s not that important, what is important is to win games. Atlas Reactor is a pretty straight forward game without any deep story to dive into, it’s just a lot of fun, and that comes from a guy who most of the time can't stand MOBAs

atlas reactor air strike

Glorious turn-based tactics

Yes, the turn-based gameplay is glorious and it works smoothly. The maps are divided into small squares and players click where they want to go, either a short distance and being able to shot or a longer sprint but without the ability of shooting, sort of like in XCOM. To make sure that players don't take an eternity to plan out their next move they have 16 seconds to do it and then it plays out whether they are ready or not, sort of like if Frozen Synapse added time pressure.

To make sure that teams get the right diversity they have a class system with Support, Frontline (melee), and Firepower. When I started playing the game I was skeptical towards how the game would work, the tactics, the community, the Freelancers (heroes), and all that, but it all works well. Atlas Reactor manages to balance Freelancer selection when picking a game so most games get well balanced, only once have I ended up with a team of only Firepower Freelancers.

To make sure that players’ moves don’t become a cluster of animations causing bad framerate they have split it up into three segments. First, there is the Preparation phase where players can use buffs, set traps, and other similar action. Then there is Dash where players can dash out of harm's way and survive to fight another turn and after that, there is the Blast phase where all of the attacks or other similar action are played out. It might sound like a simple concept but players only have 16 seconds to plan out all of their moves, read where the enemy is going, if he will dash or not, turning an otherwise simple game into the thinking man’s Overwatch (not that Overwatch needs less tactics and thinking, just that this is slower and gives more room to think, like chess).

I could go on and on about how much I love the gameplay in Atlas Reactor and all the mechanics, but that would make this review too long and no one would read it, let us just say that if you like Frozen Synapse, Xcom, and Overwatch then this you will like how Atlas Reactor plays and feels.

atlas reactor classes

Nothing is flawless though

The biggest flaw with Atlas Reactor as it stands today is the lack of characters. Sure, there are more than enough characters, but the ratio of characters per class is way off. It is already hard enough to find enough support players and with only five out of twenty-one Freelancers being Support it gets even harder, and there are also only five Frontline Freelancers, meaning that there are eleven, twice as many, Firepower Freelancers. Trion Worlds, the developers, will most likely add more Freelancers over time but as of now they are too unevenly distributed and that needs to change to help with character balance.

There is also little to no depth to the game. Sure, you can add different modifiers to your attacks, shift them around for different combos, like doing more damage next to cover or more damage when enemies are up to two tiles away from you. Then there are Catalysts, three one-time use powers with one for each phase of the game, but there is no depth.

Don’t get me wrong, I have about 10 hours play time, 1.5+ win/loss ratio, and I really enjoyed the game but when you get out of the tutorial and play a few games there is nothing left to it besides learning how to play new Freelancers. That’s where a single player mode would have really filled the gap, especially since the tutorial was so promising.

atlas reactor is not f2p

Atlas Reactor may have a free mode, but don't expect to get the full experience without paying a dime

After looking through some Steam reviews I saw a lot of people complaining about the game not being completely free and putting down negative reviews like this one

“Game not f2p! To play a full game, you will have to buy it.This is a free trial”

Yes, that one was a negative review. So don’t expect this game to be fully F2P, also, usually you "will have to buy it" to be able to play most games, not sure why so many are complaining. There is, however, a free mode for players to try the game but it, of course, has its restrictions because if everything was available for free then why would anyone buy it? The developers have to make money after all.

The basic $30 edition of the game unlocks all characters, all modes, and everything you need to play the game, which is a lot cheaper than most games these days, even within the same genre(s) like Overwatch or Xcom. Once you buy the game you everything you need.

However, there are microtransactions, even though I don’t like them at all, they have implemented them in an acceptable manner. The microtransactions are only for cosmetics and such and when leveling up separate Freelancers and your own profile you get in-game currency as well as items like skins, taunts, and other cosmetic stuff which can be bought with real money. Microtransactions can be completely avoided, they are only there to make players look fancier like in DotA, Overwatch, CS:GO, and similar games. New skins, taunts, and such doesn't change gameplay and balance.

Atlas Reactor battle


All in all, Atlas Reactor is a really fun game but lacking a bit in depth. Once you get to know the game you pretty much know it all, but if you look at other games within the genre that is not necessarily a bad thing. The mix of turn-based tactics and MOBA works surprisingly well and quenches the thirst for both genres and with the price of $30 you get your money’s worth. The downside is that if you get bored of playing multiplayer then there is nothing left for you to do, and the fact that there are microtransactions, they are always a downside in my book.

If you like the cartoony Borderlands style graphics, turn based games like Xcom and Frozen Synapse, and MOBA games like DotA and Overwatch then Atlas Reactor should definitely be on your radar.