I liked Project Wingman’s campaign a lot, but its arcade Conquest Mode is more of a mixed bag. On the one hand, it got me to play the arcade mode seriously at all, which I don’t think I’ve ever done before on any Ace Combat game. I think maybe I sunk some time into Air Combat’s arcade mode under the six-year-old assumption that surely adults would not add a feature to a video game if it was not good so surely the fun part must be in here somewhere.
The way Conquest Mode works is that you have a big map of all Cascadia running from Alaska down to Baja California, split into 40-ish territories. You pick one of four starter territories, and from then on you can only attack territories that border a territory you control. Each territory requires completing some kind of arcade mission objective like score attack, AA suppression, or bringing down enemy airships. Whenever you’re in a mission, the alert level slowly but steadily rises. Whenever the alert level increases, more and stronger enemies begin spawning (although enemies are infinite and keep spawning no matter how fast you clear them out, the cap on how many enemies can be in the air at once increases with higher alert levels). The alert level persists between missions, so you want to complete missions as quickly as possilbe in order to keep the alert level down for future missions, even if you’re in no immediate danger.
Winning accumulates prestige, which can be used to permanently unlock new aircraft to fly that persist even if you start a new game in Conquest Mode (there is an option to reset progression if you want to, though), and credits, which can be used to purchase wingmates and airships as backup and which reset if you start a new game, plus the wingmates can theoretically be shot down although even the weakest of them never seem to (the internet says they have some unknown but stupendous amount of HP). If you get shot down, you have to start over, so the only way to win is to beat all ~40 missions in one go.
I like Conquest Mode, and while there’s a couple of tweaks to be made, they mostly fall under the umbrella of “arcade modes are bad and we shouldn’t have them,” which is not necessarily an opinion held by wider audiences. You break from market trends at your peril, and Conquest Mode is already less arcade-y than most flight sim arcade modes.
Conquest Mode already comes with several difficulty toggles, including the difficulty levels from the same game that control the ability of enemy pilots and also, I think, how durable your plane is, multipliers for how fast the alert level rises that go from 0.5x to 3x, and several optional challenge toggles: One causes you to deal 2.5x damage but receive 5x damage, called “Glass Cannon,” one doubles the number of enemy planes that spawn, called “Double Time,” one removes all missiles forcing you to fight with guns only, which is tragically not called “Reformer Mode,” things like that. Since there’s already difficulty toggles like this, a couple of things that are automatic and can’t be turned off really should be difficulty toggles instead, especially the way you have to start the whole map over if you die. You could instead have a mode where you have infinite attempts, another where if you die you lose the plane you were flying for the rest of the run but can try again with other planes, and only have to start over if you run out of planes completely, and a third where you simply cannot lose and the only penalty to losing a mission is that the alert level rises by however much it did while you were in the mission.
The speed of enemy respawn is far too high. This is a really common complaint online, and given that it should probably be pretty easy to fix, I’m not sure why it hasn’t been. Taking out any enemy besides mission objectives gets pointless at certain alert levels (even on Easy) because of the rate at which they come back and how they spawn right into the action rather than at the edges of the map where it might take them some time to engage.
There’s also far too little ground attack in the mode. Apparently there were plans at some point to have more ground targets like tanks and artillery, plus landships that appear in the campaign were supposed to appear in Conquest Mode as well, probably as mission objectives. None of this made it into the game even two years after release, though, so while there’s some token AA and SAMs, they’re almost never priority targets nor is their point value nearly high enough to worry about in score attack missions, so there’s no point in engaging them, so there’s no point to ever pack any ground targeting weapons, which makes ground attack planes like the Su-25 or even multiroles like the F/A-18 useless compared to air superiority fighters like the F-14 or Mig-29.
The mode definitely feels unbalanced and unfinished, especially compared to the main campaign, less like an official game mode and more like a mod that someone got sick of making, stuck a bow on, and posted to the internet.