Chariots of War Review (PC)

I don’t care what anyone else thinks but to my mind the very thought of marching into battle with only a sword, shield and wearing a mini-skirt, takes testicular warehousing which has pretty much left the human race.

The game's graphics are average. This game isn't about eye-candy, though.

The interface is simple and easy to use, even for beginners.

Chariots of War published by Strategy First is the spiritual sequel to “Legions” and builds on the theme of mastery of the ancient Middle East.

Chariots of War works on a much broader scope than Legions by covering all of the Middle East area from Egypt to India up all the way to Ancient Constantinople (now Budapest). The game ships with multiple smaller campaigns centered around different regions as well as two versions of the Grand Campaign to unite the entire Ancient World under sandals.

Chariots of War is a classic “Bake, Build and Burn” strategy game a la Civilization III. It also works on the two-tiered system of linking the strategic game to a simple, yet fun tactical system. These types of two-tiered affairs can be real bombs if done poorly. But if successful can add a lot of depth to the game.

Fortunately Chariots of War gets it right. The strategic layer is simple but has enough twists to keep the game moving. First off you can choose from a large number of races to start with. Each race is fairly similar with the exception of special units which only some can produce. This will be an important factor later in the game so choose well.

As per the industry standard, cities are your projection of power at the strategic level. Cities must be grown from a small settlement into an ancient megalopolis, building improvements, resource generating structures and military barracks/training areas. You produce and trade for resources (tin, copper, wheat, horses and gems to name a few) which in turn go into building your empire up and grabbing for more power.

What is cool (kids still say that right?) about Chariots of War is that you have to think about your empires overall long term growth and defence as you conquer and build cities. For example cities in the mountains not only yield Tin and Copper (two key resources) but also are much easier to defend due to terrain i.e. approaching army will take much longer to get to you, allowing for time to generate more units in defence.

This is one small example of keeping an eye on which cities you need to grow while leaving others is key. Staging of military capability is also very important. Not every “city” is in fact capable of generating troops, these are called minor settlements. These are essentially forts which specialize in a certain resource and hold troops. You need to plan not only where you want to generate units but also what type of units. Chariots for example are next to useless in mountains or close terrain. The result is that you need generate chariots and use them on open plains where they are deadly.

There a number of resources in the game that add to the economy.

You can quickly check the status of all your settlements in one fell swoop.

These are simple examples but needless to say the strategic level of Chariots of War is solid and best of all takes all of about 30 mins to figure out. There are a few annoying aspects of this layer, the need to fill in empty “worker slots” as you build new structures for example, but all in all it is an elegant presentation which works and can be a lot of fun.

Also there is a diplomatic model but to be honest I couldn’t figure out exactly why. The model allows you to send emissaries to different nations and get some intelligence but no negotiations, treaties or the rest of the diplomatic “clag” one finds in high strategy. I think the developers could have saved their time and left it out but the diplomacy at least does not get in the way of the game, we’ll call it even.

Of course the hazard of “death by success” does exist in Chariots of War. This meaning that as your empire gets really big, it gets much harder to manage. Luckily you will find that cities in the heart of your empire can pretty much be left to generate resources (food, horses, building materials etc) and ones on the frontier need to focus on a) increasing in size and b) generating troops.

The strategic game may be fun but if it did not have a tactical game as well it would seem very “lite” indeed. Plus no self respecting lover of computer gaming violence would be caught dead in some sort of Berkley-peacenik nightmare of “building in the name of peace and harmony”. No siree, I for one like the Conan system of expansion..”Crush your enemies, drive them before you and listen to da lamentations of der woman!!”…make you wonder what he has planned for California. Anyway, I digress; the tactical system in Chariots of War is like the strategic layer, elegant simplicity itself.

The tactical system is top down and graphically simple to look at but it has a lot of depth…more than I expected after a first glance to be honest. Basically you have a finite set of unit types in the game and they play off each other in a “rock, papers, scissors” fashion. Chariots excel at mowing down the infantry, skirmishers are deadly in trees and move quickly, infantry are the backbone of the organization but are vulnerable in trees and against mounted units, spearmen are really good against chariots/horses but weak against everything else….the list goes on. Now when you add terrain considerations the “little” tactical game takes on a life of its own.

You have armies with eight unit slots available (you can get more when defending from a city with a fort) which you fill with combinations of units based on just where you plan to fight. When two opposing armies meet on the strategic field they switch to a tactical field where you must layout your units in formations and give them a very simple set of orders (basically march, wait, flank and go deep flank) in a series of combinations to try and beat the enemy. Again at first glance this may seem simple-stupid and not simple-fun but as you begin to get into the game and see just how different uses of your unit types in cooperation you begin to get a feel for how deep this simple little game can go.

There are a fair amount of tactics available to you as far as battles go.

Battles can be interesting, especially when a lot of troops are involved.

When you hit “GO” your work is over. Some may find this frustrating but I found it forced me to really think and plan my attacks defence and just how I was going to use the units I had. Combat then unfolds in a brutal fashion here with the losing side usually breaking and being cut to pieces. This is hardcore in that once an army loses it is gone (a side note: this is also historical in that regrouping was usually very hard to do back in the “good ol days”).

The link between Strategic and Tactical levels is solid. Lose battles and you will eventually lose cities and resources. Strategy has to support improving both the size of your units and the quality or you may find yourself on the bad end of a capability gap..or is that chariot gap?

Like most grand strategy games if you get too much momentum in either victory or losses it is very hard to turn around. But in the larger campaign you will find that you are so far from other civilizations that you can be getting very powerful and keep expanding until you smash up against another giant. Then it is time for Armageddon!! Blood to the horses bridle!!! Let joy turn to ashes in their mouths, let their clothes be sackcloths for a generation and for a thousand years I shall rule them all, like a GOD!!

One feature missing is the ability to quick resolve an individual battle. This can make the Tribal Raids downright boring as you once again have to watch your eight Battle Cart units mow down a single peasant unit….one….more….time. But to be honest this is a minor niggle in the grand scope of things. The tactical game is fun and at the end of the day this is what really matters.

Chariots of War is strictly a single player affair and this is unfortunate to be honest as the AI is not as strong as it could be, particularly on the tactical level. I did see some very good play at the strategic level (triple large army attacks on a city are particularly infuriating). Here the AI seemed able to mass forces and actually pick logical objectives as it waged war on you.

At the tactical level I am afraid the cracks did begin to show. While I was using flanking and wave combinations the AI pretty much massed the lads on the startline and charged. Now against an AI nation which has built very large and powerful units, this type of tactical combat can still be quite a challenge. Couple this with the fact that nations have different specialty units means tactical combat can still give you a run for your money. But it will start to get somewhat repetitive as the game moves into the later stages, particularly in the large campaigns.

Finally I should say something about the visuals and sound…well to be kind there is not much to say. I did hear sound, the background music and sound effects are nice but very repetitive. As to the eye-candy, well this is old school strategy gaming so don’t expect visual flare, fog or any of that other crap which passes for content these days. Nope Chariots of War is built on a fun strategy-tactical game and for me at least that is enough.

It's important to upgrade your troops so you can compete with other civilzations.

Battles can get very messy, quickly, and this adds to the fun.

Top game moment: Taking on one of the other well-developed civilizations in a gigantic battle using most if not all of your troops.

Chariots of War is a low budget “retro-esque” affair but it gets more right than a lot of high budget blockbusters I have seen as of late. The game manages to balance strategy and tactical level very well and combine them with a simple interface. All in all I liked the game despite its Spartan looks and simplicity and recommend it to anyone looking for a little bit of depth and still a lot of good ol fashion “steel and blood” fun.

by Capt
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