Before I began playing Warrior Kings: Battles, the word imperial struck me and I was reminded of the age-old Latin quotation: si vis pacem, para bellum. If you want peace, the Romans wrote, prepare for war. With that attitude I delved into Warrior Kings' unique blend of the occult, the medieval and gunpowder. Promising a twenty plus mission single player campaign, a wealth of multiplayer modes, and units from elephants to stone golems, variety is definitely not Warrior Kings' deficiency.|
action, Warrior Kings plays on a more tactical scale than other real-time strategy titles. Conflicts are won by the usage of the correct units (otherwise known as the paper, rocks and scissors effect) and forcing combat to occur on terrain favorable to you. One slip in either category can result in horrendous losses; charging cavalry uphill, exposing your archers to hand to hand skirmishes or quick marching your heavy infantry against agile light cavalry. It's in this fashion that I'm reminded of Bungie's Myth and more recently, Medieval: Total War.
While the models in Warrior Kings are not as complex, there can only be so much leeway if you think combat is simply amassing a horde of troops and clicking in the general vicinity of the enemy's base. Warrior Kings lets you differentiate between troops that are in formation and troops that aren't. That's because it still has the traditional real-time strategy trappings of the "horde" formation; the everyone for themselves mode. Unlike Ensemble's real-time strategy titles, formations aren't for show. Under the unformed mode, your troops will chase enemies down, so on and so forth. But under formation, your troops will literally listen to your commands to a tee. So when you tell the archers to concentrate fire on one specific area in a line formation, you won't see any stray arrows going every which way. Some units, like barbarians, for example, are cheap to amass in the beginning. For a time, I wondered why I would even bother to build the more expensive troops until I realized they don't perform in the usual infantry formations.
The most profound tactical element throughout Warrior Kings is no doubt height. The lands of Orbis help facilitate this, with its rolling hills and patchy forests. You can stage quite a few ambushes in this terrain and the enhancements to your projectile troops are vivid. Volley fire from arrows and siege weapons can extend dramatically through the use of elevation. At one point, I had one of my outposts shelled only because I placed it in the middle of a valley, while the enemy artillery pieces took up positions halfway across the map.
Not all of Warrior Kings is about tactical combat though. A good chunk of the game involves developing your manor (basically a castle), expanding it and organizing villages (resource collection centers) to fuel your faction's undertakings. There are plenty of upgrade paths to take, both in the domestic and military spheres. And the resource collection itself is less clear-cut than traditional real-time strategy titles. It works more on the lines of Settlers, where logistics is as important as extraction of raw materials. If you can't get the materials into processing or you don't have the supply carts and wagons to carry them home to your manor, you could have a million peasants hitting the hills and still come home with nothing.
In later stages of the game, when you begin to build satellite villages far away, you'll find logistics an integral part of ferrying resources back home. Furthermore, there is a strategic dimension to all of this. Guerilla attacks on your chain of supply wagons can seriously weaken your ability to marshal resources.
The game itself is based on an original game, simply called Warrior Kings without the subtitle - one that is unplayed by me. While itís being pitched by Strategy First as a medieval strategy title, I was able to use a hefty amount of the occult with the pagan faction, summoning creatures and witchcraft. During the tutorial segments, I also saw that Renaissance troops were capable of handling weapons like guns (muskets or arquebusiers). Cannons are also promised in the final cut of the game. These special units add a different dimension to Warrior Kings.
One of the things the developer promises is the creation of random AI personas as well as predefined ones. Not a terribly big deal here, as I saw a similar feature in Impossible Creatures early this year. Hopefully, the ability to mix AI and human players up in multiplayer games will be available. This is something lacking in other games. They were either human versus human or one human versus AI or nothing. From Capture the Flag to Siege modes, there's something for everyone in the multiplayer area. A Valhalla mode will also pitch you directly into action sans the resource extraction and building part. This should be good, especially for those strategy buffs who are veterans of the Total War and Myth series.
This edition of Warrior Kings reached wide release elsewhere, but it is now being prepped for a release in North America. Some of the things that bothered me during the game involved the unit AI, which either struck you as smart or plain stupid. Pathfinding, aggressive/defensive stances and postures were some culprits that could use some tweaking before it is released again. A less sensitive mouse wheel for zooming would be nice too, as I found myself either in a top down sky's view of the game or so close to the ground that I could see peasant feet. And finally, the load times, especially for people with older computers, might put a crimp in waiting for those multiplayer games to start.
Warrior Kings: Battles is due out fall 2003.
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