The Good: There is very little that is good about this game. The Bad: A middling RTS game plagued by technical problems. The Ugly: The tutorials don’t work. Multiplayer lobby seems to have not been implemented.
Wow. Just wow. Things must be going very poorly at DreamCatcher, the studio that gave us the very good FPS Painkiller series, for them to release something like Seven Kingdoms Conquest. The install went smoothly, but everything after that was bad. Was this game even playtested? Had the game even run correctly I think it would have been a very average RTS game at best, and does the crowded genre of RTS need another mediocre entry? From the poor AI to the non-existent plotline, all corners have been cut and all expense spared. I think in all things except graphics this game would compare poorly to even Warcraft 3, a game more than five years old, and the RTS genre has come a hell of a long way in those intervening years.
Where to start? Well, let’s start where I started, the tutorial. There are two sides to this conflict – humans and demons, and I decided to begin with the humans. After going through the very basic basics like camera control, building construction, resource management, and unit recruitment, the tutorial tells you to go through gate to the North and attack the city beyond it. Except that the gate isn’t open, and I can’t get it to open. I read over the tutorial directions very carefully to make sure that I have fulfilled all the requirements to open the gate, and I have, but the gate remains firmly shut. There are to be honest things that I would like to learn from the tutorial, like the roles of spies and diplomacy, but I can’t get the tutorial to advance without attacking that city, and I can’t attack that city without opening that gate, and for the want of a nail the game was lost. I’ve got little option but to try the demon tutorial. This tutorial picks up a good deal farther up the learning curve, and there are many things it’s not going to cover, like the aforementioned diplomacy, and the manual is of minimal help at best. The tutorial does tell me a little bit about casting spells, and subverting cities, but then tells me to try my hand at attacking the city through the gate to the North and, you guessed it, this gate doesn’t open either. There are other people in the support forums mentioning this problem, but no response from anyone on the developer side yet. I’ve sent email to tech support which has thus far remained silent on the issue. Never mind, I’m a professional. I’ll go on tutorials be damned.
The single player campaign is split into two halves, human and demon. There are a vast number of units available to each side, though many require expensive buildings and city upgrades that most games will never last long enough to see. And while I’ve had some complaints recently about games that have overly scripted their campaign missions, turning them almost into puzzles, Seven Kingdoms Conquest goes to the opposite extreme. Their campaign missions are entirely unscripted, really more like skirmish maps, introduced with only a couple of paragraphs of storyline read aloud in a sonorous voice. The plot in a nutshell: humans, stop the demons; demons, stop the humans. At the beginning of the mission you have a city, and they have a city, and the goal is to wipe them out.
Here the game has some interesting concepts. The map is dotted with small towns, and you can attack them and make them your own (or use diplomacy maybe, but I couldn’t figure out how to make that work), using their land to build farms or dig mines, and their population to raise your army cap. These towns can furthermore be upgraded in different ways to give you access to different development trees. Scattered around the map are also treasure chests which contain cash or some research advancement, or sometimes a trap that harms units nearby. Finally the map contains demonstones guarded by fearsome creatures. The easiest way to put this is that demonstones contain a special mana (separate from the mana used by your spellcasters) that allows you to cast special spells. I found the spells kind of weak and difficult to cast in combat – perhaps the tutorial had it run could have helped there – and on the whole I left the stones and their guardians untouched.
The human resources are food and gold. Gold comes from apparently bottomless mines, and you only need to have enough farms going to feed your troops. The demons have blood and stone. Stone comes from mines, and the blood comes from a farm-like structure. Don’t ask what they’re farming; I don’t want to know. Both sides have a third resource, which the humans call reputation and the demons call fear. You gain it by accomplishing tasks like killing enemy units or capturing towns. This third resource can be used to hire special units or to promote units in your army to improve their stats. Select a unit, click on the promote button, and if you have the resource points the unit is promoted. It’s a little artificial in that the unit need not even have seen combat to be promoted, the promotion is completely instantaneous, and you can concentrate all your promotions creating a few superunits that can stomp around the map killing willy-nilly.
At any rate, as interesting as all of this may or may not be, the computer is absolutely incompetent at running its half of the war. You can turn off the fog of war and watch the computer do a whole lot of nothing. I’ve got an army of forty advanced units and have captured half a dozen towns, and the computer has a dozen pathetic units straggling around the map attacking and then retreating, accomplishing nothing, and maybe one town. I’ve even watched as the computer attacked a nearby town, lost to the town’s defenders, and then those defenders went and wiped out the computer’s town. I won the mission and didn’t even have to play. Some maps have two groups on the map besides yours – a demon group and some other group of humans which the mission statement tells me could perhaps be won to my cause through diplomacy. If only I had some idea of how to do that. Given that the computer does more nothing with the other group, I found it just as easy to defeat them both. Then, on top of this problem, sometimes the trigger that determines that you’ve won and wiped out the enemy seems to fail, and I’m stuck in a level with no enemies and no end in sight.
Perhaps I can try a little multiplayer and see what another human plays like. And maybe in the lobby I can talk with other people about their experience with the tutorial. Or maybe not. The multiplayer screen shown in the manual has one very important difference from the one that appears in the game. In the game, there doesn’t seem to be a button for going to play on the Enlight game servers. I can play over LAN, or I can play over the Internet if I have the IP of a specific machine hosting a game, but no matchmaking service exists that I can connect to. I don’t know anyone else who has a copy of this game (and after this review I don’t expect to find any in the future), and therefore don’t have any way to try the multiplayer aspect. I suppose I could set it up on my own LAN and try to goad my wife into playing, but there’s only so far I’m willing to go for a crappy game, and that would be beyond it.
Is there a patch coming for this game? Jeez, I hope so. I wonder if the lack of multiplayer support while clearly calling it out in the manual represents some type of fraud. Even if they patch up the multiplayer and the tutorial, there’s just nothing special about this RTS. As a guy who plays a lot of RTS games, both on my own and for reviewing, I’m surprised that companies continue to develop (poorly) RTS games that add literally nothing to the RTS formula and then try to sell them into this crowded market. Or maybe it works, which is why they keep doing it. All I can do is put up the traffic cones and try and keep people away from the worst of the wrecks. Believe me, Seven Kingdoms Conquest is a wreck you want to avoid.