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by UbiSoft

25_warmagic.jpg (6684 bytes)To start out, Battle Realms is probably one of the prettiest RTS games I have ever seen, and that would include such titles as Starcraft, Warcraft, Age of Empires, or any of the other classics in this genre. The sheer beauty of the graphics, when combined with challenging gameplay, an engaging story line and overall superior programming combine to make Battle Realms a realistic candidate for classic-status in the RTS gaming genre.

7_archers.jpg (6907 bytes)The premise of the game focuses on an Oriental-style dimension where competing Clans battle for supremacy. The actual gaming plot allows for several different mission paths based on decisions made by the player at key points between scenarios. The single player missions limit gaming choices to either the venerable Dragon Clan or the powerful and vicious Serpent Clan. Players are controlling the destiny of their individual clan, fighting for control of magical forces that could provide the key for supremacy and eventual peace.

29_battleinthericefields.jpg (7313 bytes)Gameplay itself is relatively easy to understand; Battle Realms does not try to reinvent the wheel in terms of game atmosphere, though I would have preferred alternative mission goals rather than simply razing all of the enemy units in a particular region. Players control the production of villagers which can then develop into more complex character classes through the acquisition of more advanced technologies. While all of this is pretty much part and parcel of the RTS genre, Battle Realms does find a way to maintain a continuity of environment throughout the game. All the character classes are created along traditional Oriental lines, though there seems to be a level of authenticity taking place in Battle Realms that really appeals to me.

22_whenpeasantsattack.jpg (7991 bytes)Controls are also pretty basic, though there is one point that I had a little difficulty overcoming. I am accustomed to having graphic interfaces that would allow me to control group activity which is an essential aspect of this game. Battle Realms allows for hot-key control and also uses Ctrl key commands to order units to guard, attack, and other basic actions. I was surprised that these options were not also included in the basic control menu, however. I found that many of my units demonstrated a peculiarly aggressive AI and without the ability to quickly reorder specific units, entire assault groups could be quickly wiped out without constant supervision. The lack of these graphic controls didn’t really impede my gaming experience, but they did cause me to have to spend more time learning to use keyboard commands than I would have liked.

27_morebuildings.jpg (8260 bytes)The character AI was also quite interesting. I have never seen units so willing to actively attack or search after enemy units once detected. Though I would often use passive guarding commands to try and control awaiting assault groups, I would often note one or two units that would still stray off if enemy units came within reach. This was not so bad, (I mean, personality is always a plus), but it made discipline difficult to enforce and I often found myself having to rebuild a group if any enemy units passed by and I wasn’t expecting them, which tends to be the case in this game.

2_dragon.jpg (8624 bytes)As I said in the beginning, the graphics are what probably distinguish this game from the get-go. Even though the video requirements themselves are relatively low (only 16 MB), the game displays a sophisticated combination of map rendering, characterization, and general environmental effects. A lot of times, I found myself letting the game play itself as I just roamed the map, looking at the various effects, such as absolutely breathtaking waterfalls, forests, and even grassy plains. When it becomes obvious that the game designers put as much effort into planning and presenting the background effects such as wind effects on the grass and clouds, it heightens the immersive nature of the game.

34_duel2.jpg (9001 bytes)This attention to detail is especially noteworthy when dealing with the characters within the game. Each and every character class demonstrates a life-like quality that proves to be incredibly entertaining. For example, the basic unit, the peasant, will stand around for a few moments if left with nothing to do. If still left alone, the peasant sits down and begins to fan himself with a hat. Admittedly, it is a small thing, but the appeal of any game can be found in the details. The same applies for each and every character class; they all demonstrate small idiosyncrasies like Archers that clean their leggings or test their bows while awaiting orders, mighty Dragon Warriors that test the edges of their blades prior to entering into battle, and a host of other small niceties that just make watching the actual game itself a joy. It seems unfortunately rare for games to pay so much attention to simple player units; more often than not, the graphics focus on special explosion effects, etc. Battle Realms has thankfully instead turned its attention to personality and plot, which creates a much more enjoyable gaming experience.

3_lotusbuildings.jpg (9383 bytes)Battle Realms, like other RTS games, has tried to follow in the steps of early RTS giants like Starcraft in using vocalizations to create some form of interaction with the onscreen characters, although the lack of variety or comedy in these responses is a bit disappointing, especially in light of the attention paid to so many other small details throughout the game. It seems amazing to see that so much thought was given to the way a ponytail would fall on an archer’s back from various perspectives, yet when selected, an archer would only make two or three different acknowledgements.

44_deadwolf-01.jpg (8495 bytes)Otherwise, the sound effects were quite enjoyable. There is something so very enjoyable about hearing the ‘thunk’ of an arrow striking a wooden post, or the clash of spears in the midst of battle. The background music was also enjoyable, though it did tend to be a bit monotonous after a while. However, it did serve to help build the atmosphere that Battle Realms was seeking to create, and that ambiance proved to be very impressive.

14_towerattack.jpg (4825 bytes)Overall, the game meets all the requirements for a classic RTS game: beautiful graphics, challenging and interesting gameplay, decent sound, and a unique take on the gaming environment itself. Battle Realms weaves a fascinating web of Oriental mystery and lets the player feel for a moment that they have found themselves transported into an Akira Kurusawa film, where massive armies swell and ebb in a mystical swirl of death and glory. Definitely, this is not a game to miss.

Clayn D. Lambert   (02/18/2002)


Ups: Very pretty; great story; excellent gameplay.

Downs: Standard mission goals; forced to use keyboard commands means steeper learning curve.

Platform: PC