|Publisher: Freeverse Genre: Strategy & War|
|Min OS X: Any Version CPU: G3 @ 500 MHz RAM: 192 MB Hard Disk: 375 MB 2x CD-ROM Graphics: 8 MB VRAM|
8th Wonder of the World is a real-time strategy game with RPG elements. Its most recent predecessor, reviewed by IMG last year, is Northland, and 8th Wonder is set a few years after that game. It's very much in the same mold, and if you were a fan of Northland, 8th Wonder will give you more of the same in every department, from graphics to basic gameplay style. If you weren't a fan of Northland, though, 8th Wonder offers nothing to win you over.
8th Wonder is a game developed by Funatics, published by e.p.i.c. interactive and distributed by Freeverse in the US. Funatics is a German company, and the non-English-speaking origins of the game are sometimes apparent. This isn't a criticism, and in fact the slightly "out of the ordinary" flavor associated with a game that started life in Europe gives it a certain appeal. It has an atmosphere all its own, which sets it apart from the usual run of US-born games, and it doesn't feel like a carbon copy of anything else (except its own predecessors). On the other hand, there are times when the use of English in the game sounds like a translation, and unexpected bits of German also pop up accidentally here and there in the documentation. Its heritage is also made very clear by the step that you must perform between installing the game and running it for the first time: you must launch a language setup application to determine whether to run the game in German or English.
Like its predecessors in the series, 8th Wonder follows the adventures of Bjarni the Viking, and his wife, son and friends. Its back-story is decidedly vague, though: those naughty old Powers of Darkness and Evil (whoever or whatever they may be) are up to their old tricks once again, and are spreading slowly and inexorably over the world, causing a return to suspicion, hatred and war. World leaders gather together in an attempt to avert disaster and eternal damnation, and discover that the only way to proceed is to recreate the Eight Wonders of the World. It falls to Bjarni to progress through seven missions involving the seven known Wonders of the World, and then solve the mystery surrounding the unknown Eighth Wonder in a final mission to banish the darkness and save humanity.
Gameplay: Manage, Manage, Manage!The gameplay in 8th Wonder is very much like an interactive story, and centers around a strongly scripted series of events concerning each of the Wonders of the World, starting with the Lighthouse of Pharos. There are eight campaign missions in total (one for each Wonder), and you must guide Bjarni and his family and friends through each one to play out the story. Although the campaigns vary greatly in terms of what you have to do, the elements that you would expect in a game of this sort are all present: create a settlement, build structures, collect resources, develop the skills of your little population, defend against attacks and natural disasters, and generally get on in the world.
The great difference between this game and other RTS titles is the degree to which each of your characters is an individual. With most RTS titles, you tend to concentrate on building up your settlements by creating new structures, upgrading existing ones, starting the production of new soldiers, archers, workers and the like from the structures that generate them, and you don't think about your little people all that much in terms of their lives. They're just homunculi, to be deployed as you see fit, and the construction process is much more concerned with the buildings themselves.
8th Wonder is significantly different because your characters are "people" to a much stronger degree than usual. Each has a name, a unique appearance, a profession and family relationships, and you will have to take care of his or her needs to a considerable degree, including telling individuals who to marry and when to have children. In other words, whilst the broad process of constructing a settlement may be similar to other games, in 8th Wonder the focus is on the people rather than on the buildings.
Actually, the degree to which micromanagement of the characters is necessary does depend on the scenario and the difficulty level you have selected. When you are playing the campaigns you will have specific goals to work towards at all times, and if you're playing at the easiest skill level, your collection of little people will refrain from needing anything (which is very considerate of them!) and just let you get on with the mission at hand. That's good if you're not into too much micromanagement, but it does remove a significant element of the game. Normally, though, you have to pay a lot of attention to the needs of the characters in your charge.
The emphasis on individual characters does give 8th Wonder something of a role-playing game element, so that it's about more than just strategy. Each of your little Vikings will have a status, a set of needs and a profession, though the profession can be changed after the acquisition of suitable experience, so your characters will grow in stature (if not in size!) as time goes by. There are many possible professions: extractors gather resources (stone, clay and wood); carriers transport the goods; scouts explore the countryside and plant signs so that others can find their way around; builders construct vital structures in the settlement; and then a range of other worker types, such as bakers and potters, do their jobs within them.
The character-based approach to the game means that it's not easy to amass vast numbers of troops. On the other hand, this is a good thing because it can be hard enough to keep track of the individual status and needs of each Viking that you already have to manage; you wouldn't be able to cope with hundreds of them! In order to expand your population you must find a single male, an available female, and instruct them to fall in love with each other. (If only real life were so straightforward!) Romances are whirlwind affairs in this game, and it's not so much a case of "love at first sight" as "instant marriage and procreation." The newlywed couple must have a place to live, and this can be a single house for one married couple or, more commonly, it can be shared with other families or individuals. Although several males can live in one dwelling, only a single female is needed there; being a woman, she will look after all the helpless males in the vicinity. In other words, she will act as general cook, bottle-washer and dogsbody to all the people living within a single house, feeding them and stocking up with food automatically, which is very useful. Of course, the married women have the babies, so once you have married a couple and assigned them a house, you can put in a request for a baby, and the sex of your choice will be forthcoming in due course. (The ability of the Vikings to choose the sex of their offspring in advance is a pretty neat trick.)
Overall, the game revolves around managing your little people, building things up and conducting trade. There is a certain amount of fighting to be done, and defense of settlements or structures from attack is an important aspect, especially later on in the game. However, the handling of battles isn't nearly as demanding as the overall micromanagement of other aspects of characters' lives. You need to have sufficient troops, of course, and to have built the appropriate structures with which to give them their training and weapons, but as long as you don't do anything silly (like allowing your range-attacking troops to be surrounded and slaughtered by short-range fighters), you can let your Vikings look after themselves to some extent. Fighting is not the primary focus of this game, and battles are generally not too difficult.