|Crossing Over: A GOG Update And Eador - Genesis|
August 6, 2013 | Justin Ancheta
A Valentine for the TBS genre
There are some games out there that are love letters to the genres they represent. Painkiller was arguably a symbol of affection for a seemingly extinct breed of First Person Shooter, drowned among the torrent of what some have now semi-disparagingly called "Modern Military Shooters". The absolutely hilarious Retro City Rampage was a box full of Ferrero Rochers addressed to the classic 80's games and culture of yore. Torchlight was a big wet sloppy Valentine's Day kiss for long-suffering fans of Diablo II (who would arguably end up suffering even more with the release of Diablo III), and Freespace 2 would be the last hot roll in the hay for lovers of space combat sims.
Compared to all of these, Eador: Genesis is like an antique copy of the Kama Sutra wrapped up in a bow with a frilly, lacy heart-shaped card filled with sweet nothings for Turn-Based Strategy fans; a game which seems to be a mashed-up collection of some of the greatest strategy games, and gameplay elements ever made, from Disciples/Disciples 2, to Age of Wonders, Master of Magic, Sid Meier's Civilization, and all the way to Heroes of Might and Magic. Chances are high that just about every major Turn-Based Strategy franchise has been referenced here in one way or another through the game's mechanics. It's because of this, that the game has been often described as a labour of love by its sole developer, Alexei Bokulev; that level of commitment has also extended to his fans, with Bokulev known for taking the effort to engage Eador's playerbase through online fora. The press and attention that Eador's English release gained went a long way to raising the profile of Genesis' much-anticipated sequel/remake, Eador: Masters of the Broken World. While that game hasn't seen a Mac port yet, its albeit buggy release was met with some degree of positive reviews.
"Something, something, Soviet Russia, game something something you."
Eador: Genesis' plot is well traversed territory for TBS and fantasy fans: a massive cataclysm has ripped the world apart, turning it into magical islands floating in space, called shards. Naturally, enterprising individuals have taken it upon themselves to assert their authority on these shards through calm, peaceful negotiations and reasoned, rational discussion...the kind of discussion where what's being said is usually expressed through the liberal application of swords, arrows and magical spells with the offensive capability of a small armored division. Usually the other party is the orc, thief, skeleton, or whatever else happens to be on the recieving end of your "reasoned discourse".
So the general idea is that you are a "hero", or perhaps a child of destiny, brought into the tutelage of an elder wizard and thrust into this world. From there, you have to raise an army, build cities, advance your civilization, and conquer the shard (and everyone else's shards), while at the same time trying to prevent other rival Lords from doing the same to you. Combat takes place within a tactical hex-based system that's almost a throwback to the Heroes of Might and Magic series; terrain and positioning are key elements to winning difficult fights. Much like your own hero unit, your regular units level up and gain new abilities as you progress, with progression often coming through sidequests where you can battle all manner of monters, to acquire better items, more experience, and more resources to build your cities. Tied into the development of your army is the advancement of your cities, with city building taking on a flavour that resembles both Disciples: Sacred Lands and the Heroes of Might and Magic games. Magical research is key as well.
Taken together, the game provides a staggering amount of depth and breadth in gameplay; in addition to the 80 spells and 70 units available to the player, the shards themselves are huge, with randomly generated provinces populating them. It's difficult to say if anyone's actually verified Snowbird Studio's claim that the game provides 120+ hours of gameplay, but it's not too hard to see that it's a reasonable claim to make. I myself can definitely attest to the game having that pesky "one more turn" appeal, that can quickly escalate to an alarming level of addiction.
While a lot can be said in Eador: Genesis' favor, there are of course some glaring flaws that need to be mentioned; the UI can at times be very confusing, unnecessarily complicating simple tasks like organizing and hiring units for your army. The game also, in my experience, can be very unforgiving early on if you've unknowingly made sub-optimal choices in how you've built up your forces. Going beyond those concerns are the obvious complaints from discerning gamers with an eye for eye candy - if you're a fan of Spiderweb Software, as I am, this will be all too familar. Needless to say, one need only look at screenshots of Eador: Genesis in action to know that that this game isn't exactly the most graphically fancy game in the world. In some places the in-game graphics bear more than a passing resemblance to those in another classic TBS title, Battle for Wesnoth, and during battles, the graphics are simply static sprites; both in and out of battle, the sprites actually have no animations. The sound design is equally minimalist. Taken as a whole, even by the standards of modern "retro" titles, Eador: Genesis can be seen as a barebones graphical effort, in spite of some truly stunning 2D artwork such as those in the loading screens and the menu screen (reminiscent of yet another TBS classic, Age of Wonders).
In an time where gamers can expect the single-player element of modern AAA games to last a scant, precious few hours, Eador: Genesis delivers a compelling gameplay experience. It may be one that comes at the price of significant graphical and audible beauty, but for the price its a value that's hard to deny, in spite of its flaws. In the end, perhaps Bokulev's game is more than just Valentine for TBS fans, but in fact a warm Valentine for anyone who appreciates and longs for rich and fulfilling games.