App Reviewed on: iPad Pro
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Illuminaria is a real-time strategy game that explores the idea of being able to build multiple bases of operations that persist and interoperate throughout the course of a campaign. It's a really neat idea that I'm surprised I haven't come across earlier, and this novelty definitely goes a long way for it. That said, a lot of this game's challenges feel like they lack both variety and depth, which definitely take away from the experience.
In Illuminaria, you command an army of robotic drones as they carve out spaces within rock caves, harvest resources, and ultimately try to fight back against enemies of darkness to restore control and harmony to your lands. It's a pretty cliche setup but luckily there's no long exposition you have to sit through or anything. You can hop straight into the action and get to building up bases.
What all of this looks like is unfamiliar, but it feels a lot like a semi-automated version of fairly standard real-time strategy (RTS) game mechanics. Your drones work as resource gatherers and builders and you begin most matches by having them build segmented rooms within an empty space that--once fully closed off--can house resources of your choosing. As you build up resources, you'll also be able to create "research" that can advance a tech tree and unlock the ability to build weapons on special nodes within these cave structures that can either provide defenses from potential invaders or produce units for potential invading. Your goal in any given region is to build up your resources in order to launch an attack that takes over all the enemy bases.
Supply chain of command
What sets Illuminaria apart from being just another RTS is that each region requires you to conquer and build out multiple different caverns to reach the enemy bases, and the fact that all these cavern bases are interoperable, meaning your drones can teleport between bases you've previously built to retrieve, harvest, or build structures as you continue trying to advance and complete other caverns. While this is mostly a boon to you as a player (as it allows for a lot more resource gathering and crafting potential to eventually create your fighting force) it also means needing to build defenses for multiple bases that you need to hop between as needed to fend off threats.
Another interesting wrinkle to Illuminaria is that some of the most important resources to craft with can't be produced within your bases. At certain points, you will have to send drones out on expeditions to retrieve special loot, which suddenly transforms the game into a very slapshod dungeon crawler, where you can select nodes along a branching path to encounter treasure chests, traps, combat, and more, though all of it feels about as deep and varied as a mini-game.
Create, crush, repeat
There are quite a few things to research and build in Illuminaria, and there's some fun to be had in trying to optimize your various bases so that you can have a smooth operation of production, but beyond that the game feels pretty flat. Enemies attack in very predictable ways that are very easy to defend and there's no real incentive to try different strategies for attacking bases. This leaves a lot of the joy to be found in Illuminaria resting solely on the building aspects of the game and way less so on the combat.
Across the game's multiple regions, none of them really feel different. They have different aesthetics, but their sub-objectives are all some flavor of researching a particular craftable item, all of which are just slight variations on units or ammo types you've been able to develop from the beginning of the game. As you make your way through each one, some light story moments crop up upon completing expeditions for the first time, but they don't feel like they add much to the story and are (thankfully) pretty brief.
The bottom line
If the idea of tweaking multiple bases into optimized resource factories sounds fun, then Illuminaria might be right up your alley. This aspect of the game is really what sets it apart from other RTS games. The rest of the experience feels kind of samey and barebones, so don't look to pick this up if you want any kind of deep or compelling combat systems.