Ark of Charon Early Access Review

Ark of Charon is an interesting colony sim that combines traditional mechanics with tower-defense gameplay and a cool Howl's Moving Castle Style.
Ark Of Charon Featured

Ark of Charon plays as a combination of a colony sim (aka RimWorld, the game I would most compare Ark of Charon to if I had to make any comparison at all) and a tower defense title.

As the game’s opening cutscene explains, there was once a great, gargantuan tree that gave the world life, guiding society into the modern age before suddenly decaying. As the tree decayed, it brought with it darkness, some kind of force of malicious entities set out to destroy all life. After this apocalypse, a seedling for a new tree suddenly appeared, and it is your job to protect it from the darkness that would seek to destroy it once again.

Ark Of Charon Tree
Screenshot: Try Hard Guides

Ark of Charon begins in the first region, seemingly sparse of resources, and prompts you to prepare. You have three golems, who are like your colonists in RimWorld, all of them complete tasks and can be ordered to prioritize certain activities over others in much the same way.

As you will quickly learn, Ark of Charon has a storm of darkness that will slowly encroach upon the location of the seedling over time. Having your base and golems in this storm will cause them to rapidly take damage (your structures and seed core will decay within the storm, too, golems and base included.)

Thus, your task in Ark of Charon is to gather all of the resources you can in one location before heading to another, watching as your base uproots itself from the ground and walks to the next, storm-free location.

In my first attempt at Ark of Charon, I had no idea that the base moved. I was surprised, therefore, when everything uprooted itself and then not only left behind but actually crushed the buildings I had built outside of the tree’s radius.

Ark Of Charon Walker
Screenshot: Try Hard Guides

Having to build your base on the walking tree’s back obviously limits your colony construction radius, but the way in which Ark of Charon addresses this issue is really cool. Instead of building-wide, you build towering, lop-sided structures that look like something out of Howl’s Moving Castle, giving the game a really unique look.

That being said, the game’s build system isn’t the best, and it can make constructing your base a game of trial and error as you try to figure out what is a platform, what’s a roof, and what will stand without supports.

Since Ark of Charon constantly has you on the move, your game plan is to exploit the resources in regions as quickly as possible, build as much of a self-sustaining base as possible, and then move on. Interestingly, since the game is post-apocalyptic, I assume most of the resources are found underground, including wood, which is mined from the earth from giant roots.

The tower defense aspect of Ark of Charon comes into play when you travel to a new region. Choosing to move from one place to another triggers a transitional period where your Golems can’t interact with the earth floor and where enemies attack from the right side of the screen. In order to protect your Seed core, you’ll need to have automated defenses (towers in the tower defense game) set up, which means a good part of the time you spend in each region has to be spent preparing your weapons for traveling to the next one.

I really like this aspect of Ark of Charon. It makes you play a constant game of feeding your golems and preparing your weapons, knowing that you WILL face opposition soon (the storm forces you to leave, putting you into a guaranteed combat encounter instead of just being a randomized thing that can happen in other colony sims.) It’s not something you can put off and forces you to make strategic decisions about how to use your golem’s time as well as your resources.

Ark Of Charon Battle
Screenshot: Try Hard Guides

Ark of Charon is unique in its genre, not only in its presentation but also in the way it thinks differently than most other games. This is both a great selling point for the title and something that can create a bit of a learning curve.

Using the example I laid out earlier, harvesting trees is not your main source of wood income in Ark of Charon. The game instead wants you to look underground to gather these materials, something that is not outright said but instead assumed that you would figure out. You will, of course, but it took me several new games before I noticed what was happening and started mining those big root blocks below my feet.

Ark Of Charon Mine
Screenshot: Try Hard Guides

A good amount of my time early in the game was spent like this. I made some mistakes while learning the game that left me unprepared for the darkness invasion coming soon, leading me to start a new game and try again. I think I must have restarted five or six times before I finally made it safely into the game’s second region.

My only real issue with the game, as it now exists in Early Access, is how it handles building. Each structure you place has a ceiling, but not a floor, meaning building right up on the edge of your walking base can be a hit-or-miss experience as some installed platforms stay and some crumble when you walk to the next region. The ceilings of these buildings can’t be climbed, though, like in other 2D building titles (Terrarria and Starbound, for example), requiring you to leave space on the side of the structure for ladders, which then further limits the amount of buildable space you have.

All in all, Ark of Charon is an interesting title. While still in Early Access, I think a lot of what it needs to fix can easily be buffed out before the game’s full release, making for a truly great colony sim/tower defense combination.

Pros:

  • Great art, awesome style, and a unique vibe for the genre
  • Clever twists on presentation and mechanics that make for a unique experience
  • A good combination of colony management and tower defense mechanics

Cons:

  • Some awkwardly designed features need polishing before the game’s full release
Erik Hodges

Erik Hodges

Erik Hodges is a hobby writer and a professional gamer, at least if you asked him. He has been writing fiction for over 12 years and gaming practically since birth, so he knows exactly what to nitpick when dissecting a game's story. When he isn't reviewing games, he's probably playing them.

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