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Battle Realms: Winter of the Wolf

Developer: Liquid Entertainment
Publisher: Crave / Ubi Soft
Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Players: 1-8
Similar To: WarCraft II, Battle Realms
Rating: Teen
Published: 01 :20 : 03
Reviewed By: Ryan Newman

Overall: 5.5 = Average

Screenshots

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Minimum Req.: P 400, Win 9x/2000/ ME, 16MB 3D video card accel., 64MB ram, 4x CD-Rom
Reviewed On: P4 2.5ghz, 256MB, GeForce 4ti, SB, Win XP Pro

Intro

Liquid Entertainment's Battle Realms was a gorgeous real-time strategy title that failed to make a huge impact, but garnered a loyal following. With its multi-trainable troops and moral choices, it did what it could to break from the mold. Not to mention its Asian flair was much more visually appealing than in its other counterparts, like Dragon Throne. Surprisingly, gamers are now getting an add-on for Battle Realms entitled Winter of the Wolf; unfortunately, simple gameplay problems still plague the game and even the character that gave the original its charm is conspicuously absent.


Gameplay: 5.5/10
Taking place prior to the events in Battle Realms, Winter of the Wolf follows the Wolf Clan as they descend into slavery and re-emerge as the proud clan that they once were. Living in peace with nature, the clan soon faces extinction as wild storms ravaged their village and they sought the help of their druidess and their sacred wolf totem. Unable to gain full control of the power, the clan was transported into an unlikely patch of territory in-between the Lotus and Serpent clans. At first, things went well as both clans gave them permission to stay on the land, but the Lotus clan soon revealed their true selves as they ambushed and enslaved the remaining Wolf clan members. Now, it has been seven years in the shell mines, and Grayback is about to spring his plan to free his people. Sounds exciting, doesn't it? Well, it isn't.

The problem here is that Liquid used one of the most annoying gameplay methods that used to be so prevalent in real-time strategy titles; they require the player to acquire their troops. That wouldn't be all that bad if this was just a few minutes, but it isn't. The process of freeing men, having them killed during the travels throughout the arduous journey, then freeing more, only to have them killed, well, it gets old. After a few levels of this, and increasing the amount of obstacles and enemies, the urge to hit the save and quit icons really start to make their presence known.

So, after finally making his way out of the shell mines, what does Grayback do? He encounters some more heroes and proceeds to attack the Lotus, of course. This is where the traditional Battle Realms gameplay comes in, but unfortunately, it's a stripped-down and unimproved version of the original. The lack of formations and solid unit cohesion wasn't addressed, as well as the sluggish pace of the units. That's really a key point in the games disappointment: the lack of refinement. Combat is nothing more than tossing mass troops into the fray and hoping for the best, only real tactics come in trying to keep clusters of the same type of units together and keeping track of where heroes are - if one dies, it's game over - to optimize their talents, be it rallying troops, longer reach of attack, etc. The slow pace has far reaching impacts as levels seem to last forever, and while injuries causing troops to move slower is a cool feature, it's made null but auto-healing and their already abysmally slow pace.

The moral choices that made such an early and semi-frequent appearance, in the original, are absent this go-around. That's a shame though as it really helped it stand out from the back in Battle Realms and gave it a more RPG and personal feel. About the only thing returning that's true to the original are the simple resources of water and rice, and the ability to cross train troops. Few resources are nice, but the real fun is mixing soldiers, putting a brute soldier in a ballistic camp will cause a stronger soldier, but not necessarily better.

Battle Realms has the potential to be a long-running series, but it won't grow into its own by simply adding a new clan's perspective on the Battle Realms universe and letting the gameplay stagnate. It's encouraging that Liquid was given the go-ahead to make this expansion, and hopefully they will be given enough time and leeway to create a true sequel that fleshes out all the positives, and stamps out all the annoying design flaws that were allowed to continue onto Winter of the Wolf.

Graphics: 7/10
Back when it was released, Battle Realms was gorgeous. The textures were unreal, the detail was fantastic, and the soldiers were of a decent size and it complemented their animations extremely well. Cut to a few years later and the same game isn't looking as good as it used to. To be fair, from afar, it still looks good; birds fly through mist-laden forests, water ripples when stepped on, and troops still move well. The kinks in the armor come whenever the camera zooms up for cutscenes and shows atrocious character models that are only barely recognizable as humanoid. The animations, as stated, still look well, but they seem to be recycled with nothing new placed in to make it seem different, same for the character models from the standard view. Having the landscape still looking good is really what carried the day.


Sound: 5/10
Dramatic and classic are the best words to use when describing the music. They're in the same vein as so many other titles, but still a notch above them in terms of their clarity and quality. The voice-overs, on the other hand, are downright laughable. For the first few hours, I swore there were just two guys shoving things in their mouths to make the voices sound semi-different. The voices are so over-dramatized that they fail to be humorous in the Resident Evil way, and border on irritating.


Control: 5.5/10
Like the original, good luck in getting the troops to do more than run into combat. Formations are absent and the standing given to them is routinely ignored. All those cool troops that took an hour to cross-train and get suited up in the best armor won't last more than a few seconds once the enemy starts to attack as chaos takes over and it becomes luck over skill as to who will win. That's truly the decisive blow that marks Winter of the Wolf as a disappointing release and makes other things, like soldiers automatically waiting their turn to train or put on armor once queued, a mute point.

Overall: 5.5/10
Winter of the Wolf is a bittersweet release as it marks a return to a favored universe, but, in doing so, loses what personality it had in favor of keeping its negative traits. If you're a diehard fan and had no problems with the original, the later levels will suffice, but keep in mind that skipping the beginning levels is highly recommended. For those looking for this as the series taking the next step that it needed to take, sadly, this is not it.

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Related Links: Liquid Entertainment
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