Mixing genres has always been an interesting method to produce all-new experiences in the gaming industry. While some genres come together and need a lot of glue in order to get them to stick, others slide ever so perfectly together to create an experience that seems like an obvious match after someone decides to change things up and do it. Taking the tactical, turn-based gameplay of titles like Fire Emblem or XCOM and mashing that up with grand strategy titles, as you’d find in the Total War franchise, and you’ve got another obvious match that culminates in an Early Access title called: Cantata.
So what is a Grand Tactics game? Lead Developer & Creative Director at Afterschool Studio, Kyle Kukshtel, called it “tactics at the scale of grand strategy,” stating “Imagine you are playing a tactics game, but the map is Civilization, or Total War sized.” While the idea may not sound all that far-fetched, it’s one that hasn’t been done quite like this until now.
Developed by Afterschool Studio and published by Modern Wolf, Cantata is called a grand tactics game by the teams working on it for that seamless mashup between military-style tactical games and the grand strategy genre. Taking those aspects and adding in the supply-chain management you’d find in a game like Factorio, as well as the factions of Starcraft, you’ll find that Cantata has so many great ideas that come together for the perfect, all-encompassing PC game. Not to mention the art style is top-notch!
What brings you to such a unique and colourful world? All-out war! With the planet Shoal as the home to this chaos, armies from across the galaxy meet up to meet their maker as each faction takes everything they can muster and throws it at the rival civilizations across the map. The 111th Reign of Harmony & Prosper, The Unified Spirit, and The People of Sun & Shadow each lay claim to Shoal—which will have the proper logistics and firepower to take maintain victory?
“We really wanted to use Early Access as intended, and not just as some sort of marketing beat…”
In Cantata, players choose a faction, whether that be the Humans, Machines, or Aliens, for example, and head onto the battlefield or engage in the different campaign chapters through a robust story mode. Besides utilizing the basics of strategy on the battlefield and tactically placing and maneuvering units in order to maximize efficiency and firepower, levelling and resource management are keys to successful runs in Cantata.
As you defeat enemies, you will level up, which grants access to better and better buildings, allowing for higher production and stronger units —additionally, individual units level as well, which allows for special abilities and more potent attacks. Choosing which unit to give the killing blow to in order to level them adds to the strategy while making sure the units you’ve put blood, sweat, and tears into don’t get caught in an ambush and perish could be devastating.
Resources are vital to keeping your army running, as you would expect, but the unique way that Cantata handles things pays homage to management sims in a lot of ways. For starters, linking building with supply lines allows different items to transfer to the necessary buildings for production. You might take mined ore and refine it into metals that could then be transferred along with gasoline to a depot that allows for the production of vehicles, for example.
“A big difference between us and other tactics games is that there is a strong resource and logistics aspect to the game. Units must be directly produced with resources you create, and buildings to produce those things need to be built on territory you capture. The scale that then must happen to support this also lends itself to other non-tactics game tactics like flanking, taking out resource nodes, cutting supply lines..” said Kukshtel about the unique mechanics in Cantata.
These different mechanics that pair so effortlessly with the long-standing kings of the genre in PC gaming make for a title that everyone should start to keep their eyes on. Whether or not this is the type of game you’re familiar with, so many incredible parts are being put together that Cantata will be one of those games that open up the genre for players across the spectrum—regardless of previous preferences in terms of gameplay.
“I’ve said this before in other places, but with Cantata a lot of what we do in the campaigns is to try and give people a really unique, self-contained experience in each campaign chapter,” said Kukshtel when discussing what players can expect to look forward to in Cantata.
“I’ve said this before in other places, but with Cantata a lot of what we do in the campaigns is to try and give people a really unique, self-contained experience…”
“Some chapters are large-scale battles with multiple fronts and regions, and others drill in on tactical, almost X-COM-style encounters between a small force and difficult odds,” Kukshtel continued.
Having been in development for quite some time, Cantata entered Early Access on Steam in May of 2022, and the team has continued to put their nose to the grindstone to complete the scheduled roadmap with an emphasis on player involvement, as well as giving life to a vibrant modding community. With the hope that the game would only be in Early Acess for a year or less, the upcoming 1.0 launch should be right around the corner.
“We really wanted to use Early Access as intended, and not just as some sort of marketing beat to get people interested in what was an otherwise finished game,” Kukshtel mentioned while discussing this Early Access period. “I think pulling the community in early on to help us figure out what the game should be was incredibly important for us..”
As the team has continued to prepare their regular Orbital Drops and Supply Drops (patches to the game), we have seen so much progress come to the game over the last couple of months, from the addition of online multiplayer to the inclusion of passive effects for units on the battlefield and ever-improving AI. Cantata has had a brilliant journey right before our eyes that shows how quickly a game can grow while also being a perfect example of the time necessary to make the changes that make games like this really thrive.
What’s even better is the aforementioned community involvement, where the developers created modding videos themselves to allow for the creation of custom maps and units in order to ensure as many minds as possible who genuinely enjoy what’s being built with Cantata have a piece in it and make their mark.
Cantata is a love letter to everything that comes from the types of PC games we know that we played growing up as a kid. While many of the pieces can be found here and there across various games, the amalgamation that defines what Cantata itself truly is, ends up being quite astounding once you jump in and give it a shot. As the game comes to its Early Access conclusion later this year and launches into the world, Cantata is one that everyone will want to check out.