Ærena is a free to play, turn based strategy game which takes us to a future filled with warriors fighting over the titular resource known as Æther. With enough Æther, a combatant's firepower reaches an entirely new level, thus seemingly giving them an advantage over their adversary. Though the gameplay is by no means sophisticated, Ærena had enough tricks up its sleeve to sustain my interest.

Part of Ærena's charm lies its devotion to giving gamers a contradictory universe. Although this steampunk infused environment takes its battles to the skies, the multi-skilled gladiators are housed in intricately designed ships that, to our preconceived notions, should be stationed on the oceans. Sending your fighters out to battle also requires chess-like analytical prowess from the gamer, as arbitrarily moving mercenaries across the board will surely end in their deaths.

These ships also have an organic tie to their fighters, as their own health will decrease once a warrior is killed. When a member of your group dies on the board, you must generate another fighter to take that person's place. Sending off another loyal soldier, though it's a sheer necessity, will cost an entire turn, giving your opponents a slight edge in the battle.

The biggest twist centers on the ships' use of firepower. Once you gather enough Æther, your ship can either blast its wounded fighters with extra hit points, fire at will against enemy soldiers, or unload its might on the the rival ship. Once you fire unto your enemy's craft, their health will decrease, but their Æther reserve will increase, thereby increasing their own artillery power.

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Strategy is also employed with picking the right type of fighters to occupy the board. Whether it's having gladiators melee their way through your enemies and attacking the opponent's ship or employing long range soldiers to stay close to your vessel, you won't be lacking any battle options. On a pure strategical level, Ærena forces gamers to truly think about their actions, so players who want to simply mow down the competition may be frustrated with their experience.

On a purely visual level, Ærena also receives high marks, bringing an inspired blend of steampunk nostalgia along with a Mad Max, apocalyptic feel to the mix. This may be the future, but Earth's inhabitants still crave the sight of combat. Instead of MMA and boxing, they are treated with arena style death (and thanks to Æther, the regeneration of warriors). There may be subtle suggestion on how the hunt for rare resources, whether it be Æther or oil, can lead to our own demise. Since this is a tactical adventure, I'm assuming the developers are letting the more analytical gamers draw their own conclusions.

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Different fighters and artillery will be available during various level-ups or via marketplace purchases. Since this game is free to play, you obviously have the option to purchase items with your own cash, but thankfully Ærena is can be thoroughly enjoyed without spending a single penny. Whether you lose or win an arena match, you'll gain experience points and leveling up is the easiest aspect of the game. You'll also generate in-game cash during your fights, and once you accrue enough bucks you can purchase weapon packages with your currency. Currently, I have five unique fighters at my disposal and different shells to heal my soldiers or fire at my enemies. All of these additions to my arsenal were free.

While the strategic aspect is well executed, Ærena's actual fights didn't hold any kind of visceral thrill for me. We've seen it all before, but in fairness, this game's strongest facets will appeal to the more cerebral player and not a first person shooter enthusiast. Waiting for online competitors was also common during my Ærena journey, but I've learned to accomplish other chores during the occasional lag.

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Ærena adds an inspired texture to a tried and true genre, challenging gamers to truly think before they act. Turn-based neophytes who want a simple point-and-click battle should take their business elsewhere, as collecting and employing Earth's most valuable resource requires a bit of intellectual nuance. Though I'm usually at the losing end of my arena matches, I will continue to take my battle to the skies, and hopefully my ship will finally sail in the right direction.

This review was completed with a code provided by the publisher of Ærena for PC.

8.0 out of 10 arcade sushi rating