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Game Over Online ~ Warrior Kings

GameOver Game Reviews - Warrior Kings (c) Microids, Reviewed by - Westlake

Game & Publisher Warrior Kings (c) Microids
System Requirements Windows, Pentium II 350MHz, 128MB RAM, 600MB HDD, 4X CD-ROM
Overall Rating 75%
Date Published Thursday, May 23rd, 2002 at 01:32 PM

Divider Left By: Westlake Divider Right

Without actually researching the topic or anything, my guess is that the medieval time period is the most used era by real-time strategy games. Sometimes the developer uses a fantasy setting and you get a Warcraft or a Total Annihilation: Kingdoms, and sometimes the developer tries to stay historical, and you get an Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings or a Cossacks: European Wars. New developer Black Cactus Games lands somewhere in the middle with their game Warrior Kings. There are knights and archers who do about what you’d expect, but there are also witches who can summon demons. What’s surprising about Warrior Kings is that Black Cactus was able to take the familiar setting and breathe new life into it, plus wrap it up in an impressive 3D engine. Now if only Warrior Kings didn’t have a series of minor problems, it would be a pretty good game.

Warrior Kings takes place in the Empire of the One God, a land that bears more than a little resemblance to medieval Europe (and includes, among other things, an island called Angland that looks suspiciously like England). The empire is ruled by a Patriarch, but when the old Patriarch dies and a new one is selected in an election that would make Florida proud, things start to go awry. People disappear, foreign policy crumbles, and when the Duke of House Cravant voices his concerns, he’s promptly branded a heretic and executed. But his son Artos gets away, and the game’s campaign focuses on Artos’ attempt to exact justice against the Patriarch.

Actually, depending on how you look at it, Warrior Kings either has one campaign or three. The campaign branches early, and, based on the decisions you make, you’ll end up playing as one of the game’s three factions. So, for example, if you join forces with a baron in the second mission, you’ll start following the Imperial route, and you’ll get to use units like knights and monks and inquisitors. But if you decide to defeat the baron in battle, you’ll start following the Pagan route and get to use units like witches and demons. Still later, you’ll have to decide whether to stay with your current faction or jump to the Renaissance faction and control units like musketeers and cannon.

Gameplay follows the tried-and-true formula of gathering resources, buildings armies, and defeating your enemies, but Black Cactus added in enough wrinkles to make those familiar activities interesting. For example, the resources in the game are gold, wood, stone, and food, which are about as familiar as you can get. But wood and stone are grouped together as “material,” making them one resource, and gold isn’t as important in Warrior Kings as in other games since most units don’t require it. But if you do need gold, peasants can build shops and then “convert” materials to gold in a nice simplification of how things work in the real world. As for food, farms are the only way to get it, but farms not only produce a surplus of food, they also support your existing army. That means farms not only do their regular job, they also essentially work as housing, and so you don’t need to build houses in the game.

But where Warrior Kings works best, at least part of the time, is in combat. Archers are all second cousins to Robin Hood, and they can hit enemies 200 feet away, even if the enemy is behind a hill and moving. The archers all by themselves make combat fun to watch, just to see all the wild directions the arrows fly. Plus, attacking buildings is realistic in Warrior Kings. You can’t just send a bunch of pikemen to destroy a building. That works about as well as you’d expect it to work in real life. Instead, you either have to have fire or siege weapons (or a lot of patience) to knock down buildings, and I expect that helps to reduce early rushes in multiplayer games, since neither fire nor siege weapons are available early.

But combat also reveals some of the troubling problems in Warrior Kings. Units are generally difficult to control. Most real-time strategy games have a “move” versus “attack-move” option, but Warrior Kings only has attack-move, and so units often get distracted by things you don’t want them to attack (like innocent walls), and retreating can be a pain. Plus, formations are necessary in Warrior Kings, but they only work well on perfectly flat land, which you won’t often find. If the ground is rugged, then the formation usually won’t go where you want it to go, or face in the direction you want it to face, and sometimes the units will start doing a weird maneuver like they just hit the judge’s booth at the local parade.

The interface doesn’t help matters, either. If you select a group of units, nothing in the interface tells you what you have selected, except for the information on a single unit. So you can’t use the interface to tell you which of your units is hurting, or even if you have all of your pikemen selected, and the problem extends to boats and defensive towers. You can’t tell what’s inside, and the only way to bring one unit out is to bring them all out. Also, rotating the camera and changing the camera height are both controlled by the mouse wheel, which is great if you actually have a mouse wheel. If you don’t, then you’re stuck using the page up and page down keys to change the height, and the numpad 0 key to do the rotating, and that placement isn’t at all convenient if you’re right-handed. Even then it wouldn’t be a problem if you could re-map the keys, but you can’t.

And that’s just the start of the problems with the game’s camera, which, as far as I’m concerned, didn’t do a single thing right. When you rotate the camera, it rotates from the position of the camera rather than where you’re looking, and so rotating always changes your view, requiring a second move to get you back where you were. Using the minimap to change your position often also changes the height of the camera (sometimes because of mountains, but usually for no good reason) forcing you to constantly readjust the height. And if you want to keep the camera pointed north, then you can’t see the southern edge of the map. These are all issues that have been solved or done better in other games, and between the camera and the interface, a lot of fun was sucked out of the game.

Luckily, while Warrior Kings might be a little difficult to control, it’s great to look at. You can zoom way out and see the entirety of a sprawling town, or zoom way in and see a single unit, and everything looks pretty good at the extremes and in between. You’re also given a huge visual range, so you can see events taking place half a map away, and that gives Warrior Kings a great cinematic feel. The only downside to the graphics is that they’re resource hungry, and I wouldn’t recommend the game to anybody with a computer even close to the minimum requirements. (My Pentium-III 600Mhz machine had trouble on more than one occasion.)

Overall, Warrior Kings is one of those games other people seem to like more than I do. Every time I started to have fun, the interface would bug me or the game would crash, or I’d run into a mission with 500+ units on the map, and the game would run in slow motion. Some of the things I didn’t like about Warrior Kings (such as the camera) come down to personal preference, so if the game otherwise sounds interesting, and if you have the computer to handle it, then there are far worse things you could be doing with your free time. But otherwise, wait for Warcraft III to come out. If nothing else, it will get the interface right (Blizzard always does).

(32/40) Gameplay
(14/15) Graphics
(12/15) Sound
(05/10) Interface
(08/10) Multiplayer
(02/05) Technical
(02/05) Documentation


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