By Todd Allen
Among strategy games Warlords Battlecry II is a gem. SSG and Ubi Soft have come together to give us a deep, entertaining, and addictive game. You can tell whether a strategy game is going to suck or shine in about two minutes. By the time you send your first thrall off to work you'll know if you're going to be playing this game or moving on. Warlords had me hooked inside of a minute folks. So let's count the reasons why I had to rip myself away from this game to write a review.
Warlords' main quest comprises a campaign mode. Your objective is to subjugate the land of Etheria one territory at a time. To lead your armies you choose a hero from the 12 races available. Yes, that's 12 glorious choices. Races include Humans, Dwarves, Minotaurs, Undead, High Elves, Dark Elves, Wood Elves, Barbarians, Orcs, Fey, Dark Dwarves, and Daemons. Each race has its own strong and week attributes, which are broken up into four areas: Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, and Charisma. Humans are average in all four areas whereas Minotaurs are very strong and yet quite stupid. No two races will handle exactly alike. As you gain battle experience, you'll be able to choose a one of four professions: Warrior, Priest, Wizard, or Rogue. As you progress within a profession you can gain new skills unique to that job. Some races can do any job while others can only choose certain ones. Not much sense in an Undead Priest, eh?
As you take Etheria piece by piece you will have the opportunity to recruit new and unusual troops. Sometimes all you'll have to do is pay them to join, while others are offer a greater challenge such as riddles or duels to test your worth. Each region is worth a certain amount of gold and stat bonuses as well. For instance a region may be worth 25 gold crowns and add one point to your troops piercing armor. Right clicking on a territory will give you this information. Conquering a territory with a race's stronghold on it grants you the ability to lead them into battle as well. Your opponents are not idle, either. As you progress you will notice them acquiring territories in battle as well.
Along with a map editor Warlords Battlecry II also offers a skirmish mode where you can tailor a single battle to your own tastes. The catch is that Warlords tracks your progress from battle to battle even in skirmish mode. Your victories and defeats are added onto your campaign stats. This certainly adds more weight to these "exhibition" matches. Any whom you recruit will also be available in campaign mode. Indeed this game seems hell bent on not allowing gamers to abuse the system as easily. If a kick butt soldier you've recruited dies, he's gone forever. Even if you quit that casualty will stand. This will definitely make you a little bit more protective of your heroes. "How exactly do you make a hero besides the one you start with?" you ask.
Warlords incorporates some great role playing elements into your units. Your troops gain experience in battle just like your main hero/commander. If they gain enough by the end of the battle, then they get their own name and become potential heroes that can compliment your commander. It's pretty cool to see a lowly archer rise through the ranks to become a heroic leader. Now you're starting to see why this game is so addictive. It definitely offers a lot more depth than your average strategy title, but how smooth is the game play?
Warlords offers a very attractive and functional interface that doesn't drown out the action taking place in real time. The developers have really taken every opportunity to make Warlords beautiful by infusing lots of artwork, even on the upgrade tabs. I would have liked to see more detail put into the battle formation options, though. Being able to create your own formation is par these days, but I only saw the option to rotate between some generic ones. While that is not a problem to worry about, it is a surprising absence. The interface is top notch, though, by all accounts.
Graphically Warlords is beautiful, but a bit dated. The animation is superb, though, and the units are well detailed. The environments are inviting visually and nice touches like day/night cycles and changing weather are included. The areas where you gather resources (gold mines, rock quarries, crystal mines, and ore mines) are represented especially well. The third dimension is knocking, though, and we better see some graphical overhauling for Warlords 3.
One thing I really don't get is with this game's rich isometric graphics, why are the buildings so small? The architecture is very conservative. When I build a level five stronghold I want it to be grand and fear inspiring, not a level one keep with some extra towers sticking out of it. Games like Age of Empires let you build military communities. While the buildings are quite pretty in Warlords, they do not look like they always belong together. It's a small point, but hey that fifth star is really tough to get. These small shortcomings may have been overlooked, though if one glaring error had not been made. There is no naval activity in this game. There are no ships or water monsters. It took awhile for the thought to register.
If that can be made up for, though, Warlords Battlecry II should get a gold medal for trying. The sound is great and the music is very impressive. Some of the rustic tracks made me feel like I was swinging swords with Val Kilmer in Willow. The units are not static either. The Barbarian commander is hilarious. Each time you click him you get a very Schwarzeneggerish "I'll be back" or "Look at these biceps." I was cracking up.
Except for the lack of a navy, my gripes with Warlords are quite superficial. This is a fun and extremely addictive title. When you talk about depth in a strategy game one would assume you're talking about how many different units are at your disposal. Warlords Battlecry II gives that term new meaning in the strategy genre. My hat is off to SSG and Ubi Soft. This title is definitely worth your buck.