War, what is it good for? well as far as gaming goes, it is good for great gameplay. Many RTS games in the past have attempted to combine a good micro management system with a top notch combat system, but it has proved to be a difficult formula to whip together in most cases. Warrior Kings: Battles attempts to inject the industry with fresh RTS action, and with the RTS genre perhaps beyond its wonder years, it gets pretty damn close to achieving just that.
Gameplay - 8.5/10:
Like any good RTS, Warrior Kings gives you the option of starting with a tutorial. Although most RTS games are relatively basic to grasp, I always make sure to run through the tutorial atleast once before taking on serious gameplay incase I miss something that is unique to the game. It is good to see the tutorial cover not only the basics, but also advanced fighting techniques involving formation and unit control, and even some advanced function involved in resource gathering.
Unlike many RTS titles to date, Warrior Kings actually succeeds in making micro management that little bit less exhausting. This can be contributed to the inclusion of advanced control commands. For example, if your researching 5 peasants to chop wood, while your waiting for them to spawn you can click on a tree and as soon as they are shot out of the village center, they will go chop down some trees. This allows the player to do one thing, then quickly switch to another task without losing any production. Another example, and perhaps are more useful one, is the ability to spawn peasants who instantly build a farm. Farms are your most vital resource, they produce the food which allows you to build more military units. Without food they can't operate properly, so it is extremely handy not having to individually build farms one by one yourself.
Once you have the resource gathering under wraps you can begin to build your army and respective defense units. To defend a base with infrastructure your are only really given two major options - walls and/or watch towers. It is not uncommon for the enemy to sneak up and launch a small assault on a few farmers, so it is vital you keep an eye out for any incoming forces. Unfortunately replacing farmers is a task you must complete manually.
As far as military variation goes, there really are not that many units to chose from. The game puts a large emphasis on archer units for longer distance combat, but it is also necessary to have close quarter combat units incase of a charge. With this said, you have only a handful of different units for each type, with a few also riding on horse back. On top of this, there are limited upgrades that really don't seem to fit in the scheme of the gameplay, it would be good to see upgrades specifically designed to improve a certain unit type rather than the whole army.
If there is one thing that the gameplay excels in it is the AI. How many times has your army been defeated or devastated in an RTS game because you simply don't have the time to select every individual unit's target? this is a thing of the past in Warrior Kings: Battles, as your army units actually appear to have a brain. If you select every archer of yours to attack the enemy, instead of choosing one enemy, you are usually given the option of attacking a whole cluster of enemies, effectively spreading the blow out instead of focusing on one unit. Another great aspect to the AI is the inclusion of realistic reactions. In many RTS games, if you select to go somewhere on the map and on the way you are attacked without knowing it, your units will continue on their merry way with spears and arrows in their backs. In Warrior Kings, being attacked causes your units to fight back, although after that you will have to reissue the movement command.
Overall, you get the impression the gameplay in Warrior Kings: Battles is as realistic as a mythical based RTS can get. Never before has large scale RTS war been so brilliantly executed, with a few good micro management aspects in between.
Like most RTS games these days, Warrior Kings: Battles is based on a 3D engine. However as far as the quality goes, nothing really seems to stand out. Everything looks pretty good at a distance, where such effects as fog and dust kicked up from the hooves of battle horses give a realistic feel, however when ever you zoom in a little, textures look low resolution and appear to overlap, models are harshly rendered with clunky square like appearances and the animations just aren't pretty to watch at all.
However while the image quality may not be all that impressive, the performance of the engine certainly is. One can argue image quality is useless when your frame rate can barely manage it, so basically hundreds upon hundreds of units can be rendered without any significant slowdowns. If there is one good thing Warrior Kings: Battles achieves in its visuals department, it is the feeling of phenomenal power when a huge battle is fought out, thanks to the capabilities of the powerful engine. And since most of the time you will be using a long camera view, the quality issues mentioned above will not arise often if at all.
Controlling your units in Warrior Kings: Battles is much like every other RTS game, however a few unique aspects arise that take some getting used to. For example, to get a peasant to construct a building, you select the building as usual, but the actual placement of the scaffold on the ground is done with the right mouse button. It is a small issue, but with 99.9% of other RTS games out there using the left mouse button for such a task, it takes some getting used to.
Camera control is also something that needs attention. Traditionally the mouse wheel zooms in and out, however in Warrior Kings: Battles, it moves the camera up and down vertically. To zoom on a certain part of the map, first you must position the camera to look directly at the area by holding down the caps-lock (which in itself is an odd button to use for camera control), and then use the mouse wheel to zoom in. Luckily zooming in doesn't occur that often, as most of the times there are too many units to control in a zoomed state.
However overall the controls still feel solid. Little features like easy selection of every certain unit type, simple formation selection and generally an easy command selection menu make up for the other usually irrelevant problems, giving the control subsystem a reasonably balanced feeling.
Although it is hard to call a game like this the best in its genre when you have games like Age of Mythology around, there is no doubting Warrior Kings: Battles offers a unique and solid RTS experience. The graphics aren't much, and the camera/control system could use some tweaking, but the gameplay is its saviour. This is not only a series to watch out for in the future, but it is also a series you can enjoy right now. Warrior Kings: Battles is certainly a refreshing game to play from a somewhat dying genre.
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