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Warlords Battlecry III

Developer: Infinite Interactive
Publisher: Enlight Software
Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Players: 1-6
Similar To: Warlords Battlecry III, WarCraft III
Rating: Teen
Published: 08 :03 : 04
Reviewed By: Ryan Newman

Overall: 7.5 = Good

Minimum Req.: P3 450Mhz, 128MB RAM, basic video card (16-bit colour and 800x600 minimum)
Reviewed On: P4 2.5 GHz, 512 Meg RAM, ATI Radeon 9800 Pro

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Ever have a great idea or joke that you shared with your friends, only to have your thunder stolen by someone else with a similar scheme? Yours may very well be a great idea, but someone else catches on and does something similar, and maybe does it even better. I have a feeling that's what happened with the Warlords: Battlecry series and WarCraft III. Both released in 2002, Battlecry II and WarCraft III were real-time strategy games that focused on a hero's quest, with everything else revolving around that. While they were in the same vein, Battlecry II was a bit slower paced, more open-ended, and had more variety; Blizzard's ace took micromanagement to the nth degree and had such polish and high production that the rough-around-the-edges Battlecry sequel had a hard time getting noticed.

Jump ahead two years, and now Enlight releases Infinite's Warlords: Battlecry III. What has changed in that time? Not a whole lot. While having a bit of a graphical update, it still mostly looks and controls like a title past its prime. Although it has a nice sense of scale, with levels looking much larger than their actual size, the rigidly animated units form mounds of pixels when fights break out, making it difficult to select particular units and generally looking unattractive. The sounds aren't much better, largely made up of good music mixed with generic effects, though to be fair, the voice work wasn't bad, considering how many units there are. The game is also in the 'Why in the world would we use the escape key to bring up the menu? That's lunacy!' school of control schemes. That means that something nearly standard, like Esc for bringing up the menu or a quickcast bar for spells, isn't used. Instead, spells have to be mapped to the F(#) keys, meaning people with poor memory, like myself, will be relegated to using the same four or five spells. The game just looks and feels archaic, and is uninviting to newcomers, which isn't what I would hope to see in the third release of a series.

But going beyond the controls and graphics, the game is a resounding












 

success as a mix of a role-playing game and a real-time strategy game. Although the real-time part was too difficult for my Elementalist to cope with at first - adjustable game speed option saved the day here - I rediscovered the richness of the series once I got back into the flow of the game, although it isn't as impressive the third time around, considering the minimal changes.

Players will be able to play as one of sixteen different races and participate in one of twenty-eight different classes for a mind-boggling amount of variety. For my Empire-aligned Elementalist, there were even more options as I had numerous spell books to draw from (Illusion, Ice, Fire, Necromancy, etc). There are a few ways to optimize appearance to give the avatar more personality: a custom name, portrait, and on-screen model, giving the game a more personal feel than most strategy game. The optimization accentuates the main difference between this series and other games like it: the player doesn't just control the hero…they are the hero.

The biggest change from part two is that the world map has changed from a Risk-style to one of branching paths. This spiderweb approach allows for great ambush sequences and an amazing amount of things to do. There will be some places where there are rumors to hear and goods to buy; others offer replayable quests in form of surviving a skirmish with nomadic tribes or a joust with the player's cavalry vs. others; and other, story-oriented maps that continue the campaign. The replayable levels are important because of the experience gained by killing enemies and completing the mission, and also for earning crowns. Crowns is the game's currency and it is how players can deck themselves out in swank gear and hire mercenaries to fight alongside their troops. Whenever a hero levels up, they can assign some points to allow for more spaces in their retinue - this is where troops can be placed after a successful mission and used at a later time. Crowns can also purchase additional points to be added to the allotted handful before missions begin, which acts as a way of limiting how many units can be recruited before a mission starts. This is more involved than in most games.

At the recruiting screen, the original points can be used to buy any number of basic units, but veteran units cost more; however, they offer much more than the standard troop. For example, I have a Minotaur soldier that I recruited and leveled up so high that he can single-handedly destroy a town. The problem is that he is so high up that I can't always use him, and sometimes I can't buy enough points, either. This creates a careful mix of how and when to use troops. Also, there is the fact that those who opt not to level up their hero in this aspect won't have this option. Option is really what this game is all about.

Through the map, the hero can also meet with diplomats from other races (though merely via text screens) and form alliances. Afterwards, allies can be used on any of the levels; the pre-confirmation screen will show a drop-down menu box of what races the player can pool from and how difficult the level will be with that particular race. As an example, I made allies with the Dwarves early on. When combining them with my Minotaur, I was tearing through every level like there was no tomorrow. Then I hit a wall. That wall was only a problem until I then allied with High Elves, which eased me through a rough spot on the map. I could also betray these allies and help other races they aren't friendly with. It's a simple but very effective diplomatic system as it offers immediate and noticeable results.

By choosing allies carefully, players can really save themselves a lot of headaches during play. With the optimum race to fight against the enemy, the hero can level up relatively quickly, allowing them to have a larger command radius and shorter conversion time. When allied units are in the command radius, their attributes are increased and they are affected by the hero's spells. This area is also where the hero can convert resources from neutrality to their side - lesser, trained heroes can do this as well - and, if they want to be sneaky bastards, they can sneak into enemy territory and convert their buildings, which doesn't allow them to train enemy units but it does make them inaccessible to their original owners. Since the mines have such vast amounts of resources - the game only has four resources to keep track of - it isn't so much a rush to drain resources as it is to have a monopoly on them. It's a bit different, and something that needs to be adjusted to, because 14,000 of each resource in every mine is only mined as quickly as how many are owned and workers in them, so a player with a relatively small workforce can still be pulling in decent resources by simply adventuring out and converting them. This certainly isn't a new system (most turn-based games like Disciples and Heroes of Might and Magic have a variation of this), but it is effective in maintaining the momentum.

There are also little in-level quests that can be completed. These typically involve giving some resources or killing a number of enemies for whatever is in the shrine, with the reward typically being a summoned unit. They are timed and can be tricky to complete if accepted at the beginning of the round, but generally tend to be worth it.

With so many races, there is bound to be a bit of a balancing problem, and there is. But with each race having such distinct advantages, going through the single player campaign as any of them will provide a unique and enjoyable experience, with the overall difficulty being tempered by wise ally choices. The rewards for making such choices are undeniable, and the sheer possibilities they present are outstanding. Variety is really the game's strongest suit, so fans will have plenty to play, not including the lengthy single player campaign.

There is, unfortunately, a fair amount of babysitting if one expects to have a stable of high-level units to pick from. Despite several attitudes available, none worked how I wanted them to: defensive units would go way too far to chase an enemy, causing weaker units, like mages, to be killed easily, and it also made the formations and any sort of group combat discombobulated, while others were had the same 'good enough' kind of system. Spell effects are also only displayed with specific spells, with others showing something happening graphically, but no explanation in-game as to what is actually going on. It is disappointing that more hasn't been done since part two to address these issues to make this the refined experience it should've been.


Overall: 7.5/10
For those who enjoyed Warlords: Battlecry II, I would still suggest checking out this most recent release even though the changes aren't that significant or numerous. Newcomers will find many of the design decisions, particularly the controls, needlessly superfluous, and may be somewhat dismayed at the seemingly aged look and feel. It is worth sticking with however, because the game does a great job of emphasizing the player as the hero and has so many options that every one feels unique to the individual player. The core of the strategy element won't knock your socks off, but the combination of both genres creates a solid, if not déjà vu-ish title.

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