loading up Seven Kingdoms II: The Fryhtan Wars--and not having played the first Seven
Kingdoms--I promptly said to myself, "great, another RTS for middle management
types." Not a terrific first impression in my book. So I grudgingly launched into the
tutorial missions and after a while, Ill admit a rather long while, I found myself
starting to enjoy the more mundane tasks that are an integral part of this game: kingdom
management, trade, diplomacy--and particularly political backstabbing. Dont get me
wrong; this game has plenty of killing and looting and besieging, but it took me a while
to learn the delicate balance between warfare and other social matters. Now Im a
convert; Trevor Chan and Enlight Software have put together one heck of a game that has so
many facets that its initially daunting.
Seven Kingdoms II is a game of conquest where the player doesnt have to rely on military domination to win, as financial and diplomatic mastery can lead to success in many scenarios. Most of the time, your route to conquest is up to you. Thats why this game is considerably more complex than Age of Empires or any of the other contenders in this years deluge of RTSs. Its still an empire-building game, but with unusual depth and enough unique twists and to distinguish itself from the rest of the pack.
You can choose to play any one of twelve human races or one of seven Fryhtan strains. The strategies of the humans and Fryhtans are very dissimilar. For example, human players must constantly worry about pampering their soldiers and civilians or mass defections will ensue. You are also severely penalized for killing civilians; in contrast, the Fryhtans can gain favor for the slaughter of the friendly populace. Fryhtans get all-important life-points, which are needed to breed more warriors, whereas humans can only recruit from exhaustible supplies in friendly towns. These differences balance out quite nicely. There are also differences between each human and Frythan race. Each has special attributes that makes them useful for particular strategies. You can, however, play one race and control towns and heroes of another race, thus gaining their special attributes, units, and buildings for your use. You can also form diplomatic alliances with other races and join forces in defeating the Fryhtans, only later betraying your allies and rustling all their good stuff.
What would any fantasy game be without heros? Heres one of the most unique features of Seven Kingdoms II; Chan and gang have rifled the history books to assemble the biggest and baddest posse of antiquitys thugsforty-five in all. To list the whole batch would be fun, but let's just note a few of the highlights: from the Greeks we get Alexander the Great and Jason, the Chinese have the literate Sun Tsu, the Romans have poor old Julius Caesar, the Japanese have Minamoto, the Vikings have Ragnar Lothbrok and the appropriately named Svein Forkbeard, the Mongols front with Ghengis and Khubalai Khan, and the Carthaginians have Hannibal-you can even acquire an Elephant Training Center and have a lot of fun taking him on a long, long march. Plus you get races and heroes from the Celts, Normans, Egyptians, Persians, and Indians.
Building is important, and the Tower of Science is one of the key structures that you need in your arsenal. There you can research new technology and strategies, gaining advantage over your foes. Also, there are special buildings specific to each race: The Chinese have a Shao Lin Temple, the Japanese have a Ninja Dojo, the Celts have a Sacred Grove and so on. On top of all that war factories can provide catapults, ballistas, cannons, spitfires and such. Everything a good fight needs.
One of the game's real highlights is its spies-either soldiers or civilians-who can really go out and stick a rod in your enemies clockwork. They can steal stuff, like information and technology that you could not have gained in any other way. They can also sow dissent among your enemys troops, counterspy, bribe, and assassinate. You also need to train leaders for your troops--otherwise they are virtually useless. Formations are also integrated into the game that allow you to attack whilst protecting your leaders and heroes.
Using the hotkeys is to be necessary if you want to keep up with the game, which ticks along at lightning pace. At first this frustrated me a great deal; I had only just checked out my setup and a couple of years had passed. But given the context of the game it makes sense, providing some realism in a world where ninjas, Vikings and some really ugly monsters are duke it out near an ancient Egyptian cityscape. After all, Frythan warriors cant really have a gestation period of fifteen seconds, can they?
The graphics, though unimpressive outside of the RTS genre, are at the forefront of the forty-five-degree-angle-top-down standard so familiar in these games. The lowest resolution is 800x600 so everything looks good, and the effects are way better than par.
To keep the game manageable for beginners there are also plenty of options for setting up stand-alone scenarios. You can even turn off many of the more distressing proceedings that make the game so difficult to start. For someone like myself, who never played the first Seven Kingdoms, jumping right into the campaigns is certain and quick death. I highly recommend taking the time to finish all of the tutorials before getting cocky.
In conclusion--and I haven't even started to scrape the surface of what Seven Kingdoms II offers--this game sets a standard for complexity and originality in the RTS world. It boasts an amazing mix of history and mythology, distilling them into fast and furious strategy gamplay that doesnt necessarily rely on military maneuvering. Yeah, the learning curve is rather steep, but once you get there you will be duly rewarded with a dynamic and more than mildly amusing gaming experience. Where else can you beat up on the Greeks with Shao Lin Monks and a guy named Forkbeard? Give it a try, and dont get upset if you loose the first few rounds-in no time youll be backstabbing Julius Caesar. As if he didnt get enough the first time.