Cool! A city-building RTS sim with minimal fighting and plenty of construction, sort of like Caesar III, albeit with cute little Vikings instead of more traditionally drawn Roman citizens. I love the city-building games from Sierra, and therefore was really looking forward to playing 8th Wonder of the World, my first foray into the Cultures saga.
8th Wonder of the World is the fourth game in the Cultures series, developed by Funatics and produced by GMX Media. The story this time is that the spreading darkness and evil can only be averted by building the eight wonders of the world again, to reflect their former glory. The eighth wonder is a bit of a mystery, as there are only seven known ancient wonders, but Bjarni and friends are more than ready to solve the mystery surrounding this marvelous object, and thus save all humanity once again.
Players can choose from the single mission or multiplayer modes, or play the tutorials. If this is a player's first time with this series, I would strongly suggest that he or she play several of these before starting the mission campaigns, as there are a few features of the game that are not easily discerned by just jumping in. In fact, there are several features that are still difficult to figure out, even with the tutorials.
The main focus is on the economic side of things, mostly pertaining to building a successful settlement that is growing and mainly self-sufficient, although there are plenty of trade opportunities with peaceful neighbors for needed goods. Building a beginning settlement is easy for the most part, as the Vikings will pretty much take care of themselves from the surrounding environment while the essential buildings are being built. This helps tremendously, as players don't have to worry about providing food and shelter immediately while building the farms, warehouses, mills and bakeries needed to improve the Vikings' lives in the future.
There are many types of workers, and each Viking can be assigned a specific profession. These professions include extractors, who are the resource gatherers of clay, wood and stones; carriers, who transport goods from one building to another; scouts, who explore the countryside and set up signposts; builders, who erect the buildings; merchants, who handle trade; and other professions like farmers, bakers, potters and masons. These professions lend a fun RPG flavor to the game, as each profession acts like a stepping stone to another, through experience points gained in working. As each worker gains another level in job expertise, the new available professions for each individual will be announced via message windows that pop up at the top left of the screen during the game.
While these professions can be upgraded automatically by just letting the workers work different jobs, they can also be learned through a technology tree by assigning through the action display.
The informational windows for each character and building are designed wonderfully for the most part, and display an extraordinary amount of information in a small, compact setting. At a single glance, players can see the health stats of their Viking, what he's currently doing, what experience and professions are available to him, and sundry other things. A right click elicits the action window, which consists of a circle of icons for such tasks as assigning buildings, work areas and vehicles, changing professions, and social activities like marrying, moving into a house, and having children. There are also handy hot keys for sorting Vikings by profession to see who's available for certain tasks, and grouping large groups of Vikings together for combat purposes.
However, there is one feature of the game that has a less then desirable interface and informational window, namely, the trade/merchant functions. These are frustrating to figure out, as the trade windows are non-intuitive, and the explanations offered in the tutorials, online helps and manual are less than helpful. For instance, in the Trade Tutorial, the instructions say to "Employ Merchant" via the character display. After fruitlessly trying to figure out how to do this, I finally figured out that they meant I was to select the "Set Merchant" button at the very bottom of the window screen, which then popped up the desired trading goods window! One, it was the wrong name for the button, two, I wasn't really sure if I was looking for a button, or if "Employ Merchant" was a description of what I was supposed to do. This was mildly irritating, but there was more to come.
Instead of simply setting trade agreements with selected goods and then having automated trading between trade points, each transaction becomes much harder to carry out than it should be, with merchants having to be assigned to the two trade buildings, and carriers to move the goods. Once again, confusion reigned while I was attempting to negotiate a trade in the Tutorial. The task appeared simple; I was simply to sail to an island of Saracens and unload my goods, then set up trade. Once I arrived, the instructions said that I couldn't trade directly from the ship, but must trade from a warehouse. Oh, goodie, it said, some Vikings had already built a warehouse. So, I promptly moored my ship on the island, and proceeded to unload my goods onto land. Where they sat, and sat, and sat. No trading going on. No nothing. I redid this tutorial task four times before I finally realized that hey, the warehouse wasn't actually built yet, but was only in the beginning stages of building! I had been unloading the goods before the warehouse was finished, so, brilliant person that I am, I decided this fifth time through to wait until the warehouse was finished, THEN unload the goods. Tada! This time, the carriers unloaded the goods directly into the warehouse, and trade could then proceed. Why they wouldn't transport the goods from the shore into the warehouse when it was completed, I don't know.
The extractors are the main resource gatherers of the settlement, and can be assigned to gather three specific items: clay, stones and wood. They will pile these items up as they extract them, to be picked up by either carriers or other professionals who may need them for their place of business. Each warehouse has a list of items that can have minimum amounts set, but there is no manual maximum setting. A manual maximum setting would allow more control over what is stored, as there may be a need for clay, but instead the carriers may spend all their time collecting wood until the automatic maximum amount is met. Sometimes the carriers will ignore the piles of goods, but assigning a handcart to a carrier and then sending him to the piles will usually encourage him to load them onto the cart.
Vikings don't grow on trees, and nature has to be utilized to expand the population. Fortunately, there are plenty of women more than willing to raise as many strapping Vikings as anyone could wish. In order to win a blushing bride, a Viking male must be assigned to be married to an available female, and then both will need a dwelling place. Depending on the size of the house, one or more families can live in the dwellings. Women will take care of the needs of the house by stocking it with goods and feeding the inhabitants, whether they're married to them or not. Women have the babies, and the gender can be assigned with the request for a baby. This is a neat feature of the game, it's easy to become attached to the growing families. Having babies is important, as there is a finite number of workers in the beginning, and not enough people for all the jobs that need doing.
Bjarni and family are all heroes, and have specific attributes for the missions. As in most RTS games, it's usually imperative that one or more of them stay alive, or the mission is aborted. They're mostly peripheral, though.
There are lots of building types available, and most of them can be upgraded to produce more types of goods. The simplest of buildings only require a few resources such as clay, wood and stones, but the more advanced buildings will require more goods in order to be built. Builders will automatically build requested buildings, or are at least supposed to anyway, but can also be assigned manually to specific building sites. They will then gather the needed resources and begin building. If there is a missing resource, construction will stop. Sometimes, the resource is nearby, but the builder is confused about its whereabouts. The pathfinding is less than desirable, but may be a planned part of the game strategy, as this is tied to the number of signposts that are built by the Scouts, yet another part of the game that is less than explanatory. On the first mission, it literally took me two days to complete a task that really should have only taken about thirty minutes, namely, to move quarrystones from my settlement to the Lighthouse in Alexandria. First, I moved some stones by ship, but my carrier almost starved to death after deciding he was too tired to unload any more, and there was no food to forage nearby. I moved him posthaste across the land to his settlement, where he revived by eating some mushrooms.
I then tried moving stones by carrier and handcart, but the game wouldn't count those for some reason. I decided to build a warehouse to load them into and then trade them, but I couldn't get my builder to finish the warehouse. I tried everything, until I read in a review of the previous game Northland that this design quirk was due to a lack of signposts. Eureka! I planted signposts everywhere, and my builder miraculously went and collected the needed resource from a warehouse and finished my new warehouse. The tutorial did mention that Vikings needed signposts to keep from getting lost, but there was nothing specific about building signposts if your workers refused to collect things that were literally lying in front of them, nor was there any mention in the manual about this issue.
While the economy is the brunt of the game, there is also combat, but it is of an easy nature, pretty similar to the difficulty of the peaceful missions in the City Building games from Sierra. And that is the way I like it. Barracks train soldiers and stock up on their weapons. Weapons and armor can be assigned to each fighting unit, which are divided basically into either long-range or short-range units. Fighting is pretty automated, and as long as there are enough units, and players don't send the archers into hand-to-hand combat, most battles are easily winnable. Defense is an important consideration, though, and in later missions will require some thought and planning in defending settlements from attack when diplomacy isn't working.
The Vikings are cutely drawn, with large features and a cartoony appearance. They are a little pixelated, though, and could have been more clearly delineated. The animals are all cute too, and everything has its own special animations and movements which are handled nicely. The buildings appear to be better looking, and the backgrounds are the most attractive aspect of the game, especially the water, which is fabulous.
The music is nothing memorable, which is slightly disappointing. Given the Viking theme, I expected some serious music, but it probably wouldn't have fit the cutesey theme. Still, there really isn't much lighthearted music, either. The Vikings don't say anything much, just a few mutters here and there. The sound effects could have been better, especially with the buildings and their functions, like the sound of breaking crockery at the pottery, or hammering at the carpenter's building. The animals make sounds, though, mostly the cows.
Despite the numerous negative comments above, I have enjoyed playing this game. The game design quirks, namely the lousy pathfinding and confusing trade functions, were irritating at the beginning, but once mastered, became just slight annoyances. A more detailed manual and better tutorial instructions would have definitely helped. However, the essential satisfaction in building and maintaining a successful settlement while completing tasks in set missions that are interesting more than made up for these irritations.
Micromanagement is the name of the game, and this is an RTS feature I love, and tend to miss in most games that are more combat-oriented. There is always something to do to keep busy. This game is engrossing, and a whole lot of fun to play. The manual is less help than it should be, but the gameplay itself is forgiving enough in the first missions that there is plenty of time to learn the game before things get sticky. Easy doesn't mean simple, though, as there is a surprising depth to this game, and players can spend hours tweaking their settlements. Once the missions are finished, there is an editor to design additional scenarios in a sandbox mode, which helps with the longevity of the game.
I was mostly pleased with The 8th Wonder of the World, and believe that any fan of city-building games will be, as well. Hopefully, the next edition in this series will see the pathfinding, resource management and trade options more streamlined. These design quirks ultimately hold the game back from reaching its full potential, and keep it just out of the league of Caesar, Zeus and Emperor.
People who downloaded 8th Wonder of The World have also downloaded:
A*M*E*R*I*C*A, 1701 A.D., Age of Empires 2: The Age of Kings, 7 Cities of Gold, Age of Mythology, Age of Empires, Age of Empires III, Against Rome
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