Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Warlords BattleCry III

Genre: RPG/RTS hybrid
Developer: Infinity Interactive
Publisher: Enlight Studios
Released: 2004

Zolgar paid: $9.99
Beaten: No
Zolgar's rating: 8/10
Replayability: High

Did you ever play a game that you were like "This would be so awesome if you could just combine it with X game!"? Well, Warlords Battlecry III (WBC3) is at once both one of those games, and one that is often the X.

If you could combined WBC3 and Warhammer 40K: Dark Crusade, you would have the bestest, most awesome RPG/RTS hybrid ever. As it is, WBC3 is kind of like what you would get if you combined Warcraft III and Dark Crusade. If that means something to you, you probably already know if you're going to like this game or not. If it means nothing to you, read on!

WBC3 released at the height of the 'Hero-Driven RTS' run, and it was unfortunately competing with some really heavy hitters in the RTS genre. Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War had just come out, Warcraft III's expansion was still fairly fresh, Age of Empires III was just about released, and that's just the heavy hitters.

To most people, myself included at the time, Warlords Battlecry III was just another game jumping on the RTS craze. Amazing what marketing and name recognition does for the industry, isn't it? In truth, it's probably the best RPG/RTS hybrid on the market, and it definitely was back in 2004.

Like any good RTS, you start off by choosing if you want to play the campaign, or a Skirmish. Either way you go, you're presented with selecting or making a hero first. When you make your hero, you will be blown away by the options. 16 races and 28 classes, which equates to 448 potential heroes! Four Hundred and Forty Eight! I'm sorry, there's such a thing as 'too many options'. And no, all (insert class) are not the same regardless of race. An Undead necromancer will be vastly different from an Orc Necromancer, for example.

Your hero playstyle will be determined by your race and class, letting you play the game how you want to. Want to tuck your hero in a corner and leave them there getting passive buffs from them? You can do that. Want to charge in to the fray and attack your opponents head on? You can do that. Want to stand with your army and support them? You can do that. Want to be a diplomatic merchant who doesn't care what's going on in the world and just has an army to protect him as he hunts down valuable stuff? You can even do that.

Unlike other games, the race of your hero doesn't determine the race of the army you're going to be playing.

If you go for a Skirmish, you choose your hero, and then you choose the race you're controlling, plus of course picking a map, special rules, etc.

If you're playing the campaign, while you start out playing the race of your hero, but as the campaign goes on you will be able to choose other races.

It's noteworthy that you can use the same hero, with the same progression in a Skirmish or campaign.

The campaign seems a classic Fantasy RTS campaign of "OMG DEAMONS!!!111one" when you fire it up, however it progresses much differently than that, and is a bit of a sandbox in where you go and what you do. The campaign itself does not change much by what race you're playing, a few missions will be different, and your diplomatic relations with X race will be different.

To understand the campaign's gameplay, you need to imagine an overworld map. There are points on the map we will call 'locations'. Each location will have 1 or more missions, and possibly merchants and mercenaries.

Some missions are 'optional side quests', giving magic items, changing diplomatic relationships, offering money, anything like that. Others, of course, exist to tell the main campaign story. In a given location, you are likely to find that the competition of one mission opens up another mission at that location. Occasionally you get a repeatable mission, allowing you to run it multiple times for extra XP/money.

There are two main kinds of missions, both give you a set amount of points (which can be boosted by your hero's stats) which can be used to bring regular units or units from your Retinue along:
"Hero missions" which you take your hero and a small band of soldiers to complete a task. Hello, I'm playing a frelling RTS, not Diablo. I wanna build shit.

"War missions" which are what we play RTS for. You know, building fortresses and smashing your enemies under your army.

WBC3 does an excellent job of giving us a true 'war' feeling, as opposed to so many modern RTS which feel more like a tactical assault. The hard unit cap is 250, most units take 1 maybe 2 points, and the highest is 5 I believe. While the unit cap is increased by buildings, it's not some worthless building that just adds +5 or something. Every building you build ups your army cap, even towers.

It also doesn't needlessly restrict the number of any building you can build, or arbitrarily make buildings cost more, the more of them you build.

Given the time to build up, you can create a massive force to sweep in and crush your foes without them standing a chance. The problem is, your foes are building the same force! The AI is actually intelligent enough to send small strikes against you, while amassing a larger force to crush your assault with.

It's also interesting that not only does your hero gain XP and level up.. so, too, do your units. Each kill grants your units XP, leading to them getting better, making healers much more valuable, especially when the mission ends. Units which have surpassed a certain level may become available to select as part of your retinue.

This is the part where for a normal RTS I would break down the differences between the races. I'm sorry, I don't love you guys enough to break down the similarities/differences between 16 races. Especially when not one of them is a complete re-skin.

Due to it's age, some of the races do share a few units or buildings, and of course with that many races, there's some that share playstyles. Every race however, has enough unique about it to make it not seem like you're playing a carbon copy of another race.

Until you start dealing with the air units. I swear, the developers got lazy when it came to the air units. Almost every race uses one of the same two air unit buildings, and some of the air units are barely even re-skinned. 16 races, all of them with fairly unique buildings, and even the races that have similarities (Dwarf and Dark Dwarf) have slightly different skins on all their buildings.. and then you get the air buildings. It's like they just stopped bloody caring.

Anyways, aside from the air units, every race has it's own strengths and weaknesses. Just for some examples: Fey have an extremely high demand for Crystal, and are fairly heavy on the use of all resources but if they hold out for a good amount of time they are epic. Undead use a hefty amount of crystal and iron, but have the ability to create a massive standing army and change it to what you need. Wood Elves have limited resource needs, but their builders can't increase resource production. Empire has a high demand for gold and with time and resource expenditure is actually able to surpass the 250 hard cap.

Simply put, there is a playstyle for you. With 16 races to play, and 28 classes for your hero, you are bound to find something that fits your playstyle. Unless your playstyle is a sampling of everything, at which point your head will probably explode.

"Orc Necromancer? Fey Paladin? Imperial Deamonslayer? Demon Warrior?Knightpriest?swarmdefilerbarbarianchief..... Graaaaah *head explode*"

Availability and price:
GOG: $9.99 (note: GOGs edition has the unofficial patch that fixes a lot of problems with the game.)
Amazon (physical): $7.91
Amazon (Digital): $19.99 (Seriously Amazon?)

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