Warrior Kings Review (PC)

From the outset this game has been fairly heavily advertised via TV & PC magazines & I was waiting with baited breath to get my copy - to try something that promised to be ‘that bit different’ - & I was pleased to discover that this wasn’t just going to be a game that I’d wasted my money on. My initial excitement when fired up for the 1st time was somewhat dulled by the long load times before even getting to the campaign selection screen, and then by an even longer delay in loading the 1st level - but it was worth it.

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The graphics are superb, very reminiscent of Black & White, whilst the sound seems to ‘fit the bill’ perfectly. The learning curve for the game is set just right - level 1 is more of a ‘watch & learn’ to guide you into the game proper. Each level is not just a “quick, build a large army & kill everything” scenario, tactics do play an important part and just going for the “rush” doesn’t work - which makes a refreshing change from the norm.

A lot of thought has gone into the development and you cannot play the whole game through relying on one trusty unit as each one has its nemesis in the form of another. Ensuring that you use the right formations can make all the difference when in a battle, and, deep joy, putting archers on top of a hill DOES increase their range & effectiveness. It is just wonderful to watch them pick off any cavalry or infantry struggling up the hill (heaven help you if you are at the bottom of a hill & the cavalry at the top though). All the ‘normal’ unit selections apply here (dragging a box round, numbering groups etc) although selecting units can be a bit of a trial unless you have your mouse/camera view set ‘just right’. Making sure all your units are formed up into the correct formations is vital - they cannot move through trees or narrow gaps if they are in the broad battle formation, whilst putting them in columns increases their speed over the ground considerably.

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Micromanagement, in this as in most of the genre, plays a big part. The difference is that it is quite pleasant to just sit & watch your peasants going about their business and, you can if you choose, just set it up, let it go & ignore it for the rest of the time whilst you concentrate on your chosen tactics to finish the level. Keeping an eye on the statistics at the top of the screen is vital however as you can instantly see if your production and/or number of units is dropping (possibly due to a sneaky attack by barbarians from a totally unexpected & uncovered direction). Research is similar to most of the type - the further into the game you get, the better units etc and also the ability to increase the overall performance of your units. A nice side twist is also the ability to improve the performance of your peasants via strategically placed buildings!

At various stages during the game you get to choose which path to go down in developing Artos (the main character) and these change the overall campaign significantly (do you want to develop machines of war or rely on the Gods to help your armies??). An oddity here though is that by going down the ‘holier than thou’ route (Celestial) - you still get to use war machines although they are supposedly banned as they are not natural ? No two levels are the same and you can find yourself taking the loss of one soldier or peasant as a personal blow so the advice, as always, is to save the game frequently.

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Gameplay is, on the whole, smooth. It is not as manic as most of the clones (some levels can take 4-5 hours to play because of sub plots, missions and general military buildup) and sitting back and watching a trebuchet lumber into position, get loaded then unleash a hail of rocks onto the target, accompanied by the sounds of rope straining & wood bending is a delight, whilst spotting an advancing Behemoth homing in on your city whilst your troops are off elsewhere can start you twitching almost immediately. Line of sight plays a big part in the game as well - particularly with those units that do not ‘lob’ their missiles - it is not uncommon to see only ½ of your formation of gunners firing as the other half cannot see the target due to a small rise in the ground that blocks their view. Being able to use some magic in the later stages also adds to the overall enjoyment. Having the ability to set fire to the oppositions buildings and then send your men off elsewhere while you watch the target burn to the ground leaves you with a self satisfied smirk on your face (peasants can douse fires though) - although I did wonder why you cant set trees alight?

The big problem with this game is that you really need a beast of a machine to play it on. Some levels suffer from AI slowdown dramatically (to the extent that you can quite literally go & make a cup of tea whilst the AI comes to some decision or other) and a decent 64mb (or above) graphics card with the latest drivers is an absolute must. It has to be said however that by changing the engine settings you can increase the game speed - but not enough to stop the slowdown if your PC is sub P3 700! The latest patch available is also a must - no patch - then use the CD as a coaster!

Overall though, this is a game I thoroughly enjoy and I find myself continually going back to it just to see if I could do it better by trying something radically different.