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Cataclismo is a perfect blend of city building and siege warfare

Manor Lords publisher's Cataclismo is as close to a cozy game as RTS gets, letting you build your town Lego-style before the battle.

Cataclismo artwork featuring two opposing groups preparing for battle.

It’s a wonderful thing when a game makes you feel like a kid again. To be transported back to lands of make-believe, armed with endless creativity and the conviction that the castles you made from Lego were real, actually. If you were the kind of child who laid their toys out on the floor and surfaced hours later believing a great war or heart-wrenching drama to have taken place, Cataclismo might be for you.

Drawing again on the Lego comparison, this feels like the real branded product as opposed to that knockoff stuff you’d get from discount stores as a kid that didn’t quite stick together. Cataclismo, an RTS hailing from Manor Lords publisher Hooded Horse and Moonlighter developer Digital Sun, is sleek, beautiful to look at, and crafted with love. There’s a depth here that the genre can sometimes lack and a respect for the craft of storytelling and worldbuilding.

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Cataclismo marries real-time strategy with tower defense elements, tasking you with building fortresses capable of withstanding wave after wave of enemy creatures. The early-game tutorials are easy to follow and fairly intuitive, even if a little head-scratching is required to arrive at efficient solutions to your mounting problems. As the game progresses, the buildings get bigger and the choices more diverse. Eventually, Cataclismo presents a real challenge that is tailor-made to your level of expertise.

It’s been a while since I’ve played a new RTS with any real glee, opting instead for the golden oldies that never let you down, but there’s something in Cataclismo that feels… different. Perhaps it’s the tactile connection of building fortresses brick-by-brick, the warm world design, or the smooth gameplay. Whatever it is, I’m hooked, curious to see how deep it goes, and how much I can push its limits.

A screenshot of Cataclismo showing Citadel building gameplay

Cataclismo tells a familiar enough tale but one with a great deal of charm. The hubris of humanity, caused by an overuse of Perlas – powerful spheres with the ability to command nature itself – has caused a great disaster. A residual mist has formed, turning humans and animals into grotesque horrors and changing the earth for the worse. The city of Hogar somehow managed to survive, protecting crucial remnants of humanity’s past and teaching scholars the ‘Artes,’ largely lost abilities that once gave humans incredible powers.

You can’t just stay in the safety of Hogar, however; you’ll have to use Lady Iris’ skills to command armies and retake the land from the creeping mist. Having been abandoned as a baby for the scholars to deal with and born with a Perla in her chest, Iris is a unique figure who learns to harness these mystic Artes.

A screenshot from Cataclismo showing battle gameplay.

There is never a dull moment in Cataclismo or a period of time where you don’t know what you should be doing. By day you tend to your citadel, gathering resources and building a strong fortress, and by night you go to battle against hordes of enemies. It’s a beautiful system that allows you to be as creative as you please, piling bricks high and creating imposing defense structures without (much) fear for a good half of the game. The other half is spent engaging in genuinely challenging conflict that forces you to put your wits to good use. Your foes attack in waves and are attracted to certain buildings around your citadel, giving you pause for thought when you compose the structure.

Each unit has its own specialty, preferred range, and oxygen usage. Bowmen, for example, deal decent damage from up high but aren’t the sturdiest, whereas Lobbers prefer a face-to-face fight and can take a bit of a beating before giving in. Oxygen is in short supply in the world of Cataclismo, so you’ll have to build purifiers alongside your city structures. Houses and shacks allow for more workers, workers can gather resources like wood and stone, meaning you can build a bigger city. Simple.

The building can be a little clunky, sometimes restricting camera movement or clipping from one height to another. It’s also more of a hassle than it should be in the event of a mistake, having to go into recycle mode and delete the piece, rather than just moving it to where it should be. I imagine these minor irritants may be smoothed out come launch, as given the time limit on building each day, every second of construction counts.

A screenshot from Cataclismo showing the in-game map system.

It is, admittedly, a little devastating to see parts of your beautiful fortress crumble before your eyes as enemies tear at them. But this experience only strengthened my resolve to gather more resources and reinforce the bits I was really happy with. I felt a fondness for my units, for Iris, for my workers. I cared about my town. Cataclismo has a very different vibe from some overly macho war-based RTS games, leaning closer to ‘cozy gaming’ than any I’ve ever seen. The music is soothing, the characters are sweet, the story makes you want to rescue these poor folk, and the gameplay – when you’re not under siege – is fairly relaxing.

After spending a few hours with Cataclismo, it appears to have a few distinct niches in mind: cozy gamers looking for something a little more high stakes, those who might be new to RTS games but want a story worth fighting for, and even hardened genre fans looking for something fresher than the endless shuffling of units across a map. There’s a lot to like here, and a lot of potential. Who knows where Cataclismo might end up if it keeps building to these heights. You can check it out for yourself when it hits Steam Early Access on July 22.