Imagine for a minute that you've just walked into a futuristic car showroom. You've been driving your old manual geared car for quite some time now, and you want to buy an automatic. No one's really making cars where you have to change gear every time you want to move anymore, and that's why you've come here.
After browsing for a short time, you're spotted by a salesman. He slithers over to you, looking greasier than Michael Portillo rolled in chip fat, and nods knowingly as he looks outside. "Ah," he says, "I see you're still driving the old Warlord Mark III.
A great car for its time, but a bit dated now." You feel slightly embarrassed for being so retro, but assure him you're looking to buy a new vehicle today. Sensing a hefty commission, he gestures for you to follow him.
As you walk through the showroom, you learn about each of the cars. The EA Shogun, with its massive engine and state-of-the-art technology; the Westwood Conqueror, with its Hollywood image and easily accessible interior layout; the Microsoft Age II, with its host of features and precision workmanship.
Finally, you come to a car that looks somewhat familiar. The salesman turns and looks you in the eye. "Now this one I think you'll like. The Warlord Mark IV, the first ever automatic Warlord vehicle." You look at it dubiously. It's hardly the prettiest car in the showroom, and next to the other vehicles looks more out of place than a granny working a red-light district. However, it seems like a reliable car, and as you're feeling a little nostalgic, you think it wouldn't be such a bad choice after all. "So how much cheaper is this one?" The salesman laughs smugly. "All cars in this showroom cost practically the same." So here's your dilemma. Do you invest in the flashiest and most advanced car in the shop, or get all sentimental and go for the Warlord. Put that way, it would seem that the decision would be obvious. Or would it? As the salesman knows full well, familiarity and nostalgia can be powerful selling tools.
Looking Under The Bonnet
The Warlords games have always been firm favourites among strategists. Up until now they've all been turn-based affairs, but Warlords Battlecry is an attempt to translate everything that's good about the series into real-time.
On the surface it looks like just another standard RTS relying on an established brand name, destined to fade into obscurity after selling ten copies, half of which are bought by the development team. But take a closer look and you start to realise that this is an RTS of some quality, and it does justice to all that we know and love about the Warlords games. So the graphics aren't great, and they look about two years old, but like opening the bonnet of a crap-looking car and finding a turbo charged engine, WB has more to offer than its visuals might suggest.
Hero Of The Day
The game's background is set up by an atmospheric intro, in which two strange comet-like objects crash on the mystical land of Etheria. It's then up to you to uncover their mystery. The main campaign is divided into several chapters and, after the second one, the storyline branches out, offering you two choices. You can either keep fighting for the side of good, or indulge your darker side by defecting to evil. This gives you the perfect excuse to do fiendishly wicked things, such as enslaving the land, plunging it into eternal darkness and putting your toenail clippings into people's sandwiches.
As with previous games in the series, you get a hero to lead your troops. Due to plenty of RPG elements, there's a lot of scope for character development, and as the story progresses, your hero will gain ability points. These can then be used to improve his skills and attributes.
It becomes imperative in each mission that you preserve your hero, so that you can keep advancing him (oddly there are no female hero choices) throughout the campaign. He can influence the armies in his command, allowing them to move faster and fight better, while stopping them from being a bunch of cowardly wimps who run away at the first sight of a one-legged zombie armed with a blunt toothpick.
The hero development is one of the most engrossing parts of WB, especially as there are so many ways in which this can be done. You have to pick a profession for him, choosing from a selection of warrior, rogue, priest or wizard. These in turn influence your hero's skills, which range from physical prowess to spell-casting abilities.
Time To Pick A Fight
The actual missions are generally pretty entertaining and challenging. Although there are a couple of duds where you can literally leg it past hordes of enemies to get to your destination. There are few funnier sights than watching a geriatric wizard who complains he's tired all the time, outrunning an entire legion of skeletons. Resource management is kept simple, and constructing buildings is also very easy. Your hero doubles up as a builder, which is a bit strange, but it hardly ruins the n game. One annoying glitch we found was that if you build three buildings too close to each other in a triangular area, your hero can get boxed in and trapped, which is bloody annoying. There's a large selection of units to bolster your forces with, ranging from nancy-boy pikemen to hardcore cavalry. You can also research new technologies, units and unit upgrades.
Another nice touch is that your hero can learn and cast spells, which adds an extra dimension to every battle. There are numerous formations to put your troops into, and using the right ones at the right time can make a real difference to the outcome of an encounter, as they create some interesting tactical possibilities. Weather conditions and terrain also have an effect on combat, and very few units are immune to becoming overcome by fear and running for their lives when they come across a greatly superior enemy.
Completing each of the missions is made more difficult because of the limitation on the number of units you can build. This means that unlike in C&C: Tiberian Sun, where each mission could be won by sheer weight of numbers, you need to be careful and tactical about how and where to deploy your armies. After all, this is a strategy game, and cunning tactics are exactly what you need if you're going to get anywhere. It's unfortunate then, that sometimes the enemy AI shows about as much intelligence as David and Victoria Beckham trying to grapple with algebraic equations. You'll be firing at enemy armies, and they'll just stand there wondering why they suddenly don't feel all that well. Instead of going to find out who's shooting them, they just die.
After finishing the campaign, you can either play a skirmish mission or take on your friends in a multiplayer game, both of which are superb fun, as you can set your own victory conditions.
There are nine different races to choose from, all with their own strengths and weaknesses. And because of this, you'll need radically different approaches to tactics for each one. The longevity and multiplayer options of WB are two of its most alluring features, and you can even create your own maps with the editor provided. All in all, there's more than enough variation and fun to keep you occupied for months, and that's what makes Warlords Battlecry worth buying, despite its poor graphics and occasional quirks.
Why Buy A Clio When You Can Have A Ferrari?
OK, imagine you're back in the car showroom again. You've heard all about what each package has to offer. What's it going to be? The dated-looking but relatively well constructed and familiar Warlord, or the groundbreaking Shogurf?
If you go for the Warlord, you'll get a reliable if slightly glitched product, which will be fun to drive and will last you a long time. But if you go for a test drive in the Shogun, you'll soon realise just how inferior the Warlord actually is in comparison, and it's unlikely you'll ever want to go back. The Warlord doesn't offer anything particularly new. Saying that, though, some people just don't like the flashy things in life. So before spending your money on this game, just ask yourself one thing. If you're seriously considering buying a new car, would you buy a Renault Clio if you could have a Ferrari for virtually the same price? We'll leave you to work the rest out for yourselves.
Download Warlords: Battlecry
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
Warlords has been with us for years - since 1989 in fact, when the original was released. Improved versions have been rolling along regularly, although it was the 1998 release, Warlords III: Darklords Rising, that really earned it its reputation as one of the finest turn-based strategy combat games on offer. With a turn-based Warlords IV due out in 2001, developer SSG is currently putting the finishing touches to something similar, yet completely different - a real-time version called Warlords Battlecry.
Set in a fairly traditional fantasy universe, populated with dwarves, ogres, giants and goblins, Battlecry blends real-time combat in Age Of Empires fashion with a strong role-playing theme.
This RPG element is provided by the heroes, individual characters that fight as combat units, but which can grow in experience and skill as the game goes on. They can be one of eight different races (human, high elf, wood elf, dark elf, dwarf, minotaur, ore and barbarian) and one of four main character classes (warriors, wizards, thieves or priests, with 16 sub classes). Heroes can cast spells and use magic weapons to enhance their combat power. Player character heroes also have a command radius, which gives friendly units certain bonuses. The real time version of Warlords has a specially-developed graphics engine, which provides highly-detailed 3D effects, such as particle effects and real-time lighting to allow for day and night cycles and accurate dynamic weather modelling. This opens up all kinds of strategic possibilities -positioning your forces during the day and attacking under the cover of darkness for example.
Each Battlecry campaign is divided into six chapters, in which you can follow the path of good or evil. However, your heroes - in effect player characters - retain their characteristics and experience from one scenario to the next, and can even retain their associated armies. You can also import a player hero from a single-player game into a multiplayer game and pit him or her against up to five opponents across the Internet or LAN.
Other features of the real-time version include an improved magic system with eight different spheres and more than 90 spells, each with its own unique animation. You'll be able to give armies one of ten standard formation orders for more realistic combat. Now that the turn-based element has gone, resource management has been simplified and resources, such as gold, metal, stone and crystals are collected automatically.
The game's detailed scenario editor allows you to create your own lands, units and stories thanks to the built-in event editor. Any game can be given up to ten different single and multiplayer victory conditions. For more variety, challenges and in-game quests allow your heroes to collect magical items and gain experience and allies.
Combat is beautifully animated and some strong units can actually pick up objects from the landscape, such as sheep and cows, and throw them at their enemies. Apparently a sheep does more widespread damage than a rock, but hey, this is a fantasy world...
The game features non cheating AI, which provides a robust opponent in single-player mode. Minimum requirements look set to be a 233MHz processor, 64Mb of RAM and DirectX-compatible video and sound cards. Up to six players will be able to play over an IPX network or across the Net.
Warlords Battlecry brings hero-based strategy into the world of realtime games. If first looks are anything to go by, it has changed enough to make the game challenging, but has kept enough of the Warlords essence to make it instantly recognisable. If you're an Age Of Empires or Warcraft fan, or one of the many Warlords devotees, keep a good look out for this one.