Welcome to 15th century Mexico. The Aztec empire is yours to control, with you deciding where to send your elite Aztez to quash uprisings, participate in holy festivals or try repel the Spanish invasion. Things are about to get bloody.
Part empire management
Aztez is part empire management game, with turn-based decision making allowing your empire to thrive. Will you stop the dissent in the neighbouring city, or will you rather go investigate ruins for artifacts to strengthen your empire? Depending on how many Aztez you have, you only have a few actions per turn. At the end of a turn all the events on the empire screen resolve, often for the worse. Miss a festival? That is fine, you just lose out on bonuses to your empire, like more population or better weather in the next few turns. If you miss an uprising, though, you might lose a city in your empire, or famine will strike or darkness will descend thanks to unhappy gods provoked by zealots.
Part 2D beat ’em up
Every festival, uprising, expedition or conquest takes you away from the turn-based empire screen to a 2D beat ’em up arena, where you control an Aztez and strike down your opponents. The fighting is fast-paced, bloody and gloriously smooth, with combos, counters, weapon changes and bloody sacrifices fuelling your ability to call a god to smite your foes. You better learn how to beat your enemies quickly, because running out of health means failing the event and, in almost every scenario, losing your Aztez. Run out of Aztez and you lose the game, and with less Aztez meaning less actions per turn, you suddenly find yourself between a rock and a hard place as you choose which events to leave to expire and resolve. Things go downhill and you lose the game, your score rolling onto a leaderboard. Get ready to see that leaderboard often until you really get to grips with the combat and every enemy type, because a few mistakes can cost you the game.
A training arena lets you take on enemies outside of the campaign mode, so you can perfect combos and get used to fighting certain enemy types. Getting used to what attacks can be blocked or parried, which ones have to be avoided completely and how to parry all takes time and this is the place to try perfect the art. For example the end goal in the campaign is to run a strong empire until the Spanish invade, and then repel Cortez’ invasion force until they eventually withdraw. Sounds easy enough, right? Wrong. The Spanish arrive with unblockable attacks and armour that prevents your attacks from staggering them and they have some elite Aztec soldiers with them, trying to take your head. If you fail against the invasion, you lose an Aztez and the Spanish conquer the city they are occupying, then moving onto the next city. If they conquer your capital, that is game over too.
Everything comes down to how well you can play the fighting game and well, it can be brutal.
As much as I love the empire section of the game, it is the weakest of the two things that make Aztez tick. Maybe I have just played too many turn-based empire management games and I want a stronger experience with more to do, or maybe I just want it to have more of an effect on the campaign as a whole. Besides unlocking your weapons and getting more Aztez, there is nothing that you can do in the empire that gives you a better fighting chance against the enemies. No better armour, no weapons that do extra damage. Everything comes down to how well you can play the fighting game and well, it can be brutal. Sometimes you need to fight a boss-type enemy, complete with armour that prevents staggering and multiple unblockable attacks while fighting off a mix of elites, and your reward is a city not falling into civil unrest. Try do that several times in a row to perfection, then die as soon as the Spanish arrive because you don’t know their fighting patterns yet.
Get knocked down and right back up
That being said, as soon as that campaign ends I fire up a new one. Eventually I will beat the Spanish but for now I will try perfect the combos I can do with every weapon and getting my parries just so. Also, there is something far too satisfying about watching all the blood on the level rushing towards you as you make a tribute to the gods. If you thought Kotal Kahn from Mortal Kombat X was a bloodthirsty monster, you need to meet the pure badass that is Aztez. I feel that Aztez will keep me busy for quite a while as it offers up some pretty intense action in a nice, easily digestible portion. Watch out leaderboard, I want to climb higher and beat you up as well.
If you want to know what the fighting of God of War felt like in a 2D monochrome world, Aztez is the place to see how things could have been. If you like beat ’em ups, you need to pay attention to Aztez, which is available on Steam, and will eventually be released on Xbox One, PS4 and more.