Unlike the horde of RTS games released in 2002, Warrior Kings offers a bit more than just resource collection and fighting by incorporating mythology and thinking of medieval times. Instead of orcs as enemies, the real fight is science versus religion, an age-old battle that offers an interesting change of venue, which is very well executed.
The Empire of the One God, ruled by the evil Patriarch and corrupt lieutenant known as the Holy Protector, is subjugating the land and its people. A resistance movement, led by Amalric, the Baron of Cravant, emerges against this unjust rule. The Patriarch then squashes the rebellion and razes Cravant, killing Amalric, but his son Artos escapes to the island of Jarlsford. You, as Artos, must build a powerful army, topple the Empire, and destroy the Patriarch.
Warrior Kings features a non-linear campaign mode in which Artos has three different ways to eliminate the Empire. Each level requires you to make a few moral decisions, which affect how the game plays out. Sparing the enemy puts you on the Imperial path with stronger defense, god powers and elite troops, while killing him aligns you with the Pagans, a more attack-centered path giving you plenty of quickly generated creature units. The Renaissance path offers siege weapons and lets you gather resources more quickly than the other groups. Adding even more strategy to the mix is the ability to combine the factions into either Imperial/Renaissance or Pagan/Renaissance, which adds the technological benefits of the Renaissance but takes away a few of the strengths of the other two.
Compared to other RTS games of recent vintage, the interface is arguably one of the best and simplest. The drop-down menus are clear and unobtrusive and the permanent mini-map, while small, is clear and out of the way. The application of many tutorials eases the learning curve for gamers who have never played real-time strategy before, making Warrior Kings a good first-time experience.
In the tradition of classic RTS gameplay, peasants or serfs gather food, wood, stone and gold, but use carts to travel between locations. There's no need to waste precious resources creating these units, since only a few are needed to load up the carts, but production is constant without starts and stops and can result in areas being drained of resources faster than normal. Another unusual element is the damage over time that troops can sustain if food becomes scarce. Stationing a few men to guard the carts as they travel back and forth is a wise move, as one missed food cart due to a raid can mean the difference between winning and losing for either side.
Four basic types of troops, light and heavy infantry, cavalry and archers have been carefully balanced and require a good mix for success. For example, archers can ruin heavy infantry and cavalry, but light infantry and cavalry can take out archers. The AI is a bit dense and on a few occasions troops get separated in the forest and can't find their way back, forcing you to divert attention away from the battle at hand. The unit controls are great -- clicking on an archer will highlight all them so you won't waste time holding the control key down, frantically picking out individual units. Using the correct formation is also key to winning battles, as columns move fast, wedges launch strong attacks, and ovals let you last as long as possible and buy time to create more units.
Simply building as many units as quickly as possible and storming the enemy base will often get you killed and leave your base unprotected. In Warrior Kings, landscapes affect the outcome of a battle. As in real life, high ground gives you an advantage in viewing the enemy and gives archers greater range and accuracy, while making it tougher for the enemy to approach your walls with siege weapons. Scouting and laying in defenses is a mandatory part of the strategy, as that easy path to the base may be lined with archers and pikemen waiting in ambush.
The game does have issues, though, including the lack of a random skirmish mode, which at this point in time should be standard RTS fare. Occasional long load times or lag due to the number of units on the screen occur, but a patch is available to help correct the problem. Warrior Kings is definitely a title worth looking into for newcomers to the genre, since the learning curve is fairly small, while veteran RTS gamers will find quality gameplay with an emphasis on strategy.
Graphics: Good zoom features highlight the great graphics. Unit movement is clear and details like launching a catapult are nicely done. Textures look great and the environments are functional as well as nice looking.
Sound: The music sounds as if it's being played by a true medieval orchestra, and adds tension in appropriate places during gameplay. The voice acting is well done, people scream as they die, arrows slice through the air, and fires crackle. Great ambient sounds enhance the enjoyment without distraction.
Enjoyment: Even when your troops are defeated, you'll want to jump right back into the fray and try again. The game looks great, sounds great and plays even better.
Replay Value: The main character changes and evolves based on your decisions, resulting in many possible outcomes. The missions are long but never boring. Despite the lack of a skirmish mode, replay value is high, and multiplayer action lets you compete against others.
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