Game Over Online ~ Warlords Battlecry

GameOver Game Reviews - Warlords Battlecry (c) Mindscape, Reviewed by - Rorschach

Game & Publisher Warlords Battlecry (c) Mindscape
System Requirements Windows 9x, Pentium 233, 64MB Ram, 130MB HDD, 4x CD-ROM
Overall Rating 92%
Date Published Monday, January 1st, 2001 at 08:14 AM

Divider Left By: Rorschach Divider Right

We're busy people over at the GO Network. New games come out all the time, and in those rare instances that a new game is not coming out, some gaming company is releasing a few screen shots or a designer diary or something else, so we have to pour over that to see what the game is going to be like when it does come out. Personal life be damned; we're giving our lives for you people. But even at the rate we crank through games, some are inevitably going to slip by. In this particular case, it was Warlords Battlecry that slipped. It was way back in July, not the frozen December's end that exists outside my window now. I had just come off reviews of Dark Reign 2 and Earth 2150, and then there was the whole AOE2 Expansion debacle, and I just wasn't in the mood for another RTS at that time. Especially one set upon the Warlords series, a number of turn-based fantasy/strategy titles that I found particularly refreshing and different. Who in the marketing division of SSG decided they should go with a pure RTS? I wasn't looking forward to reviewing what I was certain would be a disappointment. So I went and reviewed the disappointing Carmageddon TDR2000 instead (much better). Now things are a little quieter, all the Xmas presents have been opened (I got Scream on DVD and a Dilbert desk calendar), I've been playing Hitman for days, and could use a little RTS in my life. And what an RTS it is! At heart, it's AOE2; no getting around that. This game is so much like AOE2 at its core that they should probably be paying a licensing fee to Microsoft. Maybe they are for all I know. In a market increasingly dominated by 3D RTS games, Warlords Battlecry could be among the last 2D RTS games that we'll ever see. A fine way to go out.

There are 4 resources to harvest - gold, metal, stone, and crystals - nine races, dozens of units and lots of buildings. Resource gathering can be done entirely without peasants (for a change, as it always pisses me off to have to take a break from battle to find the lazy peasants among my workers). Possession of the appropriate mine causes resource points to be accumulated automatically. You can add peasants to the mine to increase its output. There is a construction tree (you can't, for example, build an archery range allowing for archer units until a level 2 palace is constructed), and then the individual buildings can perform research to improve those units (armor piercing arrows, flame arrows, etc.). The entire interface and game system will be instantly familiar for those who have played AOE2. So why not just call this game AOE2.1 and leave it at that? SSG brought their hero system with them from the Warlords series, and it's a great addition.

At the start of the game you create a hero, at first choosing only the name, but gaining experience and abilities with completed missions and skirmishes. Will your hero be a thief or wizard or priest? Will he have strength or a new spell or combat speed or leadership? Will he be a good trader or have a death strike attack or turn undead? Which abilities your hero accumulates are entire up to you, and the list to choose from is enormous. It is this variability in the role your hero plays in game that adds up to a very high replayability, even for the single player campaign. But your hero is far more in this game than just a completely customizable unit. He improves the morale and skills of those near him in combat, and is the only unit capable of claiming mines for your use other than generals, who lie so far up the research/construction chain that I almost never get any. He can also, at certain buildings in the game, find quests, which frequently involved killing something, to gain a resource or a magic item. Magic items can also be found in chests around the map sometimes, and further add to the capabilities of your hero. Want the hero to do more? You got it. He also comes complete with a retinue of other characters that you can add to from the surviving members of your army from the previous mission. The members of this little fan club gain experience with combat and can have some pretty impressive powers all their own, and, for a lower level hero, can actually be more powerful than the hero himself. The downside is that these units must be activated at the beginning of each mission using command points, of which your hero only has so many depending on his level and his command skill. I've had units in my retinue so experienced that I can't afford to bring them on missions.

Mind you, having a hero isn't all fun and games. For one, he's you, in the single player campaign at any rate. If he dies, you lose the mission immediately. In skirmish games, the hero can be such a large linchpin to your whole game plan that losing him can lead to a much longer and drawn out loss. In any case, you have to protect him, and yet use him in combat. It's a delicate balance. The hero does heal, but it happens at such a slow rate that an injured hero pretty much has to lay low for the rest of the mission. It's not helped by the fact that throughout the single player campaign there are a whole host of "main characters" involved in the plotline that you have to keep alive through the missions. It was much more difficult to accomplish this than in a game like Starcraft (where I would just park the mission-critical character(s) near the rear and play the mission out) because these characters represent such a large percentage of your firepower, at least in the beginning of a mission before you have your infrastructure up and running.

The single player campaign consists of 38 missions split among 6 chapters tell of the quest for a powerful relic. After chapter 2 the entire mission tree takes a split, as you are allowed to choose to be good or evil. I chose good, goody-two-shoes that I am, but I'll be back to Warlords Battlecry again, and next time I won't be quite so nice. Bring me the damsel's head!

How does the game look? Like AOE2, that's how. The units are smoothly animated both in combat and when just standing around, as horses paw the ground and archers play with their bows. Large armies containing a variety of fascinating units can be assembled who all walk and crawl and fly and shamble along on the way to stab and skewer and burn and crush your enemies (as an aside, the AI is pretty good as I rarely found segments of my armies caught up in the rocks and trees because of poor pathfinding). You can actually tell what a building is supposed to do just by looking at it, which is a big plus in my book, as I get tired of clicking around trying to find my own barracks because I can't recognize it (Hello, Dark Reign 2). The magic effects, of which there are dozens with corresponding dozens of spells, are well done also. Voice acting, sound effects, it's all in there. The music gets a little tiring after awhile, but you can just turn it off and pop in a CD.

Criticism? Of course. I wouldn't be Rorschach, the harshest game reviewer at GO Network, without it. For starters, level load times are really long. Extra long because you spend some time watching a percentage bar fill along in front of an animation of a pyramid under construction, and then when that is complete spend some time looking at a stationary "Loading" sign. What's the deal with that? Also your buildings have queues 5 deep for building stuff, but it takes much, much longer to make a mage at the library than a pikeman at the barracks. So if you queue up 5 mages and 5 pikeman, the barracks is done so much quicker that you (or at least I) would frequently forget to go back and check that I'm making pikemen for my war machine. I often would build two barracks to get the effect of having a queue 10 units deep. I also had the game dump me out to windows once unexpectedly and without apparent cause - still, damn bug free considering the state of many games I review. Finally, your armies have formations, but no waypoint patrol system (at least that I could figure out), which is a pretty significant omission considering the state of current RTS games.

All this adds up to very little in the complaints department, and I'm sorry I didn't review Warlords Battlecry earlier because I think it would have found its way onto our Game of the Year ballot under one heading or another. As it stands, it will have to be satisfied with the first Gamer's Choice Award that I've given in the 6 months I've been writing for GO. Heck, it's probably on the discount racks already - go out and treat yourself for Xmas.

[ 48/50 ] Gameplay
[ 08/10 ] Plotline
[ 09/10 ] Graphics
[ 08/10 ] Sounds
[ 10/10 ] Replayability
[ 09/10 ] Bugs


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