One of the first descriptive terms that comes to mind (my mind, anyway) while playing Warrior Kings (developed by Black Cactus, ported by Zonic, and released by Feral Interactive) is "eye candy". The game is simply beautiful, full of rolling hills, sheer cliffs, fertile valleys, secluded coves, and dense forests that make you just want to wander through them. Flocks of birds wheel around overhead, wind blows through fields of grain. Sigh. Oh yeah, there's also a game you can play in this minutely detailed world.
Warrior Kings is an RTS game very much in the tradition of the Myth and Warcraft lines, both genre-defining titles. Unlike Myth, however, the game is full 3D, and unlike Warcraft, Warrior Kings' units, buildings, and landscapes are sharp and less cartoonishly chunky. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
GameplayWarrior Kings takes place in a sort of alternate-reality medieval Europe, in which a benevolent king has fallen victim to a coup by Imperial zealots. The king's son, Artos, manages to escape across the sea, and begins his struggle to reclaim the lands that are rightfully his. The player controls young Artos, his armies, and his subjects, and guides them all through perilous battles and wrenching decisions that will determine the shape and character of the empire to come.
These decisions are at the heart of the game's branching storyline structure. Depending on your actions at a few key moments in the game, your growing empire will take one of three forms: Pagan, Imperial, or Renaissance. Each of these types has its own strengths and weaknesses, as well as special units and buildings that are not available to the other types. Choose the Pagan path, for example, and you will eventually be able to summon huge war demons to aid your cause. Or, if you'd like to lead a more "civilized" society to victory, choose the Renaissance route, where scientific advances will allow you to build huge siege engines and to use the mysterious "black powder" in crude, but effective firearms. The Imperials, followers of the One God, are able to call down acts of holy vengeance upon their enemies.
Your growing empire will be built on the back of your economy (read: your poor, pathetic peasants). These are the gatherer/builder units you'll use to plant farms, mine ore, chop wood, and trade for gold, as well as construct the buildings that make up your personal domain. Warrior Kings throws an interesting twist into the usual gather-and-spend economic models used by similar RTS games, the ability to build remote villages, which become satellites of your main base of operations, the manor (or keep or castle, depending on your advancement). Peasants gather resources and return them to the villages; these resources must then be transported by cart back to your manor/keep/castle, opening up the possibility of enemy ambush and theft. The good news is the enemy's supply lines are similarly vulnerable, and if you know where and when they run, you can save your peasants some legwork and just steal what you need.
There are dozens of different units to build in Warrior Kings, but they all basically break down into four categories: light infantry (archers), heavy infantry (spearmen, mercenaries), light cavalry (javelineers, mounted archers), and heavy cavalry (knights). Units of the same type may be grouped into squads, which may then be shaped into various formations, depending on the tactical situation. A column moves fastest over land, but is a lousy attack formation; a wedge is good for attacking, but is vulnerable in the flanks and rear; an orb is the ultimate defensive formation, but if you're using it, things must be looking pretty grim for you on the battlefield. In addition to combat units there are a smattering of special units, like monks, priestesses, scouts, and sappers, all with their own purposes abilities.