Aztez is a snazzy little side-scrolling brawler and strategy game by Team Colorblind. The game is set in the Aztec Empire just 20 years prior to the Spanish invasion. When I first watched the trailer, I was only expecting a hack and slash game with a cool color scheme and Aztec theme. However, there’s so much more to Aztez than an incredibly fun and brutal battle system.
A campaign in Aztez can be completed in just under/over 15 turns, according to the inbuilt guide. Each turn in Aztez follows the same pattern, although each campaign can vary wildly. First, you are dropped onto the map which covers many locations in the Aztec Empire, including the capital and nerve center of your operations – Tenochtitlan. You start with a predetermined number of cities in your Empire, and the rest of the cities are neutral. During the strategy stage (on the map), events pop up around the map which can net you resources (money), cards (items or single-use services) or extra Atzez. Aztez are the warriors you use in the battle stage. You start out with one and can collect more by completing events.
One of the “game over” requirements is running out of Aztez, so you have to be careful about picking up battle-based events that are too hard. When you hover over an event, it shows the conditions for victory (e.g. defeating all foes in 3 minutes), the consequences for losing (e.g. Aztez dies, lose X resources), and for every event there is a bonus condition that you can meet (e.g. sacrifice two foes during battle) to net extra items or resources. This screen also shows how many of each enemy type will be present during the battle, which is vital if you want to stay alive and avoid really difficult to deal with enemies. On this screen you can also access your Aztez’s loadout, which includes cosmetic changes, the kind of god you can summon in battle, and obvious things like weapons and armor.
Events which lead to battle will, after you have finished tinkering with your loadout, take your Aztez to a side-scrolling hacky-slashy section in an area modeled after places from the Aztec Empire. On the controller you have two attack buttons whose type of hit (i.e. flinging the enemy in the air or crushing them in the ground) can change based on the direction you hold the analog stick. You can also block and grab enemies. While the enemy still has a decent amount of health, grabbing them will give you the option of kneeing them in the gut until they fall back. However, when most enemies are on low enough health, they sway in place and are surrounded by a red light. You can then grab them and sacrifice them to the gods, resulting in a gigantic spray of blood.
All attacks result in bright red blood flying across the screen (which looks great on the otherwise greyscale battlefield), which you can absorb by holding down a button. You are left vulnerable when doing this, but absorbing blood both slowly refills your health and fills your blood meter. When your blood meter is full, you can use the same button to summon whatever god you’ve unlocked and picked in the loadout screen, which appears to deal a hardcore attack to multiple foes.
If you die in combat and have no more Aztez, it’s a game over. If you have other Aztez available or that have already been successful during their missions, you will continue the campaign with one less Aztez to use on your next turn. Once you have exhausted (but not killed) all of your Aztez in a turn, you can go about using your resources or items. Resources can be used to buy one of four services – for example, a General can be placed in a city to prevent dissent. Each time you use a service, its resource cost increases for the next time you use it. You can also receive cards featuring items during your turn which have different effects. One item will remove all current events on the map and replace them with new ones. Another acts as a single use version of one of the services and doesn’t cost any resources to use.
You have to budget your Aztez, your resources and your items carefully while taking the current climate of the Empire into account. After one or two turns, neutral cities on the outskirts of the Valley of Mexico start to be overtaken by dissent. As turns go on, dissent can spread to adjoining cities. You can deal with dissent by paying for one of the services to neutralize, convert, or prevent dissent from spreading. There also events which can show up letting you take over neutral cities and neutralize dissenting cities – typically the latter will require a battle segment against the rebelling citizens. If dissent reaches your capital city, it’s game over.
As the turns go on, it becomes really hard to keep the resources and dissent in check while dealing with the increasingly difficult enemy mobs. You can strategize by taking on festival events which allow the player to reap massive resource rewards, or take on training to acquire new gods to summon and weapons to use. Unlocking new weapons makes them available for your initial weapon selection at the start of the game, which gives you many different ways to play. Once you’ve played a few times you’ll get towards the end of the campaign, where an interesting and terrifying event (complete with new, high stakes music) will begin. Despite about five or six runs at the campaign, I only reached this point once. The first few times I was just feeling the game out and getting a handle on all of the aspects of the strategy and how to deal with different enemy types. After that, I really focused hard on my strategy and still only made it to turn 10 or 11.
This may not be true for everyone, but for me, Aztez was hard. That said, it’s not an insurmountable difficulty. I think if I really worked at my strategy, I could definitely get to whatever the end of the game holds. Part of the difficulty comes from battling with the enemy types and the strategy element at first. After a few tries you start to understand what’s really, really important for success – e.g. having more than one Aztez to deploy. Aztez does offer a training and advanced training session at the start of your first campaign, which you can also access from the main menu, but dealing with different styles of enemies requires concentration and practice, something you don’t usually expect to do too much of in a hacky-slashy game.
Aztez is fun, albeit somewhat difficult, but you won’t find yourself banging your head against a wall out of frustration. Aztez doesn’t make you rip your hair out from battling with the controls, but it could stand to give you maybe a tiny bit more instruction on the battle side of things. The strategy side is trial-and-error and provides a healthy but not frustrating level of challenge. Aztez is also legitimately fun to play, as you would expect of a game where you send sprays of blood everywhere during battle.
The impact you have on the enemies when you send them flying or come up against a block feels real and powerful, as you would expect from a battle between two hardened warriors. The gods you can summon feel truly massive, and absorbing blood from the battlefield is so, so satisfying. The battle arenas, the map, and the carefully chosen pockets of color in the blood and the event markers are just gorgeous, and the Aztec design isn’t one you see a lot of, so it’s really refreshing to look at as well. The music is absolutely perfect and doesn’t wear after the 10th or 20th battle or strategy section.
I’ve read around the internet that Aztez is slated for release on PS4, Xbox One and Vita in the future. I think that the game would work on any of these consoles, but the Vita would be the most enjoyable. A game like Aztez, being like Civilization but with less of a hardcore time investment, would really thrive on a portable like the Vita. I’ve enjoyed the game so much that I plan to pick it up on the Vita when it is eventually made available, and I’m not usually a fan of strategy-heavy games. Whether you’re a fan of strategy, of hack-and-slash games, or neither, I implore you to give Aztez a go on PC. It’s good, unclean fun. Oh god, so much blood. Blood everywhere.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.
The Spanish are coming!
Gameplay - Battle - 7/10
Gameplay - Strategy - 6/10
Audiovisual - 9/10
Aztez is an engaging, beautiful strategy-brawler with a really interesting theme that I haven't seen much of in gaming in the past. If you aren't a PC gamer, I highly recommend picking up the PS4, Xbox One or Vita port for the game when they become available. Just as Civilization is a fantastic game to while away the hours on a plane or a train, Aztez offers a similar experience with less depth, but more thrills.