Hey, so you’ve literally never played Atlas Reactor before. You’ve come to the right place.
This is a game that’s sort of like robot chess, with lasers. But the robots are pretty hot, and the lasers are more like guns than laser pointers.
Basically, it’s 4 on 4 on a large grid, and you control 1 character, called a “freelancer,” or “lancer” for short. Each turn you have 20 seconds to lock in your “move” (as does everyone else), then everything resolves simultaneously. 20 seconds is plenty of time to aim an ability, but there’s a lot to think about. The game revolves around thinking strategically, coordinating with your team, and predicting what your enemies might do — basically, some of the best aspects of any team strategy game. It’s not mechanically demanding, but requires lots of quick and complex thinking.
As mentioned, you control a single character, called a Freelancer or “lancer.” The objective in the most common game mode, “Deathmatch,” is simply to kill the other team’s lancers by outmaneuvering them. First to 5 kills wins, or most kills after 20 rounds. (Thus, a typical game goes about 20 rounds — some end sooner if a team reaches 5 kills, and some end later if it’s tied after 20 rounds and goes to sudden death. A game usually lasts about 15-20 minutes.) More on the different kinds of lancers in a minute. (And more on killing lancers, too.) For now, I’ll just walk you through what you do in a sample game. First, (1) pick your lancer.
So, you’ve picked your lancer, now what? Well, the first thing after that (before you load into the game) is (2) you set some custom specifications called “mods” and “catalysts.” You can read what they do in the menu, and you’ll learn more about those soon — basically mods provide special customizeable bonus effects for your abilities to tweak based on your desired playstyle, and catalysts are special one-time-use abilities (you can choose 3 catalysts from the menu of options, and can use each once per game).
Ok, now you’ve picked your lancer and set your mods and catalysts. Time to (3) load into a match!
As I mentioned above, a game is divided into rounds, or turns. (A typical game lasting about twenty rounds.) On each turn, you get 20 seconds to lock in your move. Note: Everyone — you, your team, and the other team — is doing this simultaneously during the SAME twenty seconds. After your moves are locked in, everything resolves simultaneously. More on that in a sec.
You’ll notice that your lancer has five abilities (plus catalysts) and that the game takes place on a grid. Your “move” typically consists of using one of your five abilities (also known as “actions”), aiming it however you like, and then moving on the grid up to 4 squares. If you don’t use an ability, you can “sprint” or “full move” up to 8 squares instead. Most abilities deal damage to enemies (the other team), or heal or shield allies (your teammates are “allies”). Some abilities also move your lancer or apply status effects (buffs) to yourself, allies or enemies.
You kill an enemy lancer by dealing damage to reduce its health (hit points) to zero. Lancers tend to have between 120 and 200 hit points, and a typical attack deals about 25-35 damage. Also note that if a lancer reaches zero health during the resolution of a turn, it won’t immediately die — it still gets to use its abilities for that turn, and it may survive if a subsequent healing effect picks it back up to positive hit points. This makes sense because everything is really meant to be happening simultaneously, even if it’s shown happening sequentially. If a lancer dies, it’ll choose a location to respawn on the following turn, and then choose movement the turn after — so basically it is out of commission for two turns. Plus the killing team gets +1 point on the scoreboard (remember, first to 5 or most kills after 20 turns wins).
Okay, couple of other things before I tell you more about the lancers. First, sometimes players can use multiple abilities on a turn: some actions are called “Free Actions” and don’t count towards your limit — so you could use an action, a free action, and move 4 squares, or use a free action only and move 8 squares. Second, you can move diagonally but it costs 1.5 movement. (How do halves work? Simply put, you can move as long as you have more than 0 movement left.) Third, some abilities don’t let characters move as normal. Roots and knockbacks (applied by the other team) prevent characters from using the movement that they were instructed to do that turn. And dash abilities already move your character, so most (though not all) don’t let you move during the movement phase as well.
Finally, most importantly, all of this resolution takes place in four PHASES. You’ll notice that your abilities are color-coded Green, Yellow or Red. The fourth and final phase is the movement phase — so your standard movement for the turn happens LAST. Green is the Prep Phase. It happens first — typically heals and shields, buffs, etc. are applied in this phase, and traps are typically placed during this phase. Next is Yellow, the Dash Phase. This is where characters dash. Some dashes deal damage — but they can only damage non-dashing characters (i.e. if a would-be target also dashes, it avoids the attack). However, a dashing character can take damage if they dash through a trap. Then it’s Red, the Blast Phase. This is where most damaging abilities do their damage. (Knockbacks happen at the very end of Blast Phase, after everyone’s taken their damage.) And finally, movement phase, where everyone does their movement (if able). What you’ll notice is that Blast Phase happens BEFORE movement. That means if I shoot you, you can’t ordinarily get out of the way until after the damage has hit you. However, the Dash Phase happens before the Blast Phase, so if you expect you’ll be focused you can dash out of the way. A lot of gameplay revolves around this.
Okay, cool, so now you sort of understand how things go. You load into the game, and lock in your move over 20 seconds (communication with your team during this time is encouraged — look out for the special pings like DANGER and FOCUS THIS TARGET. Hold Alt + mouse direction if you want to do a special ping). Then everything resolves for that turn. And so on until the game ends.
Great. I said I’d say a little more about lancers. You choose one of 30 lancers to play. That’s your character for the game. Lancers are divided into three categories: Firepower, Frontline and Support. Firepower are focused on dealing damage. Frontline are focused on absorbing damage, slowing or rooting enemies, and providing vision for the team. (You can only see 6 squares! A typical ranged attack can travel at least 7 squares, so having the ability to see your enemies is very important!) Support are focused on healing and shielding their team, and possibly providing other helpful effects like weakening enemies. Although firepower are obviously the best at it, all three types can deal decent damage. And all three are fun to play.
A “typical” 4v4 comp is 2 firepower, 1 frontline and 1 support, but there are no hard-and-fast rules about this. In general, if you don’t have a support you need to deal damage quickly and efficiently because you can’t really heal yourselves, and if you don’t have a frontline you need to figure out a way to get vision. These are doable, but provide unique challenges.
Okay, cool. I think that’s most of what you need to know. The in-game tutorial is very helpful for showing you the basics of how to take a turn, aim an ability, and lock in your move. Beyond that, I recommend just playing a bunch (you can play vs. AI if you’re not feeling confident, but PvP is a casual game mode vs. other humans that you should check out as well. Just avoid ranked play til you feel comfortable). At first it’ll probably be difficult to get your move in within 20 seconds — it goes by surprisingly quickly, and there’s a lot to think about! But you’ll get the hang of it soon. Ask around for tips, or check out my blog for some more intermediate advice.
If you’re looking for characters to play as a newbie, I recommend:
Firepower: Lockwood, Blackburn, Zuki
Frontline: Garrison, Phaedra
Support: Aurora, Dr. Finn
I’d recommend avoiding PuP, Nix, Elle, Oz, Quark, Orion, and Su-Ren for a while. These characters are relatively hard to play effectively, and don’t teach fundamentals the same way.
Good luck out there!