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Publisher: Feral Interactive    Genre: Strategy & War
Min OS X: 10.1.3    CPU: G3 @ 500 MHz    RAM: 128 MB    Graphics: 8 MB VRAM

Warrior Kings
September 8, 2003 | Michael Yanovich

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For the past several years, real time strategy (RTS) games on the Mac have been heavily dominated by two heavyweight contenders: the War/Starcraft and the Age of Empires series. While running on vastly different engines, both series have nearly identical gaming styles: collect resources, build your village, amass an army, destroy your enemies. On the flip side of the genre is the fairly unique Myth trilogy which focuses on more detailed battles while ignoring the resource gathering/city building aspects. But the cornerstone of strategy, unit mixing and real time battles ties these games together in a fairly well defined genre.

Enter the new guy. Feral Interactiveís Warrior Kings is stepping up to the plate with a new engine and new twists, and the result is a really good game. Which is a shame, because the trappings of a GREAT game are here waiting to be released, making the downsides of this game that much more disappointing.

First off, the basics are fairly standard: peasants gather and build, military units fight, youíre in charge. But there are some new twists. First off, there is only one playable race -- humans (though there are some fire-breathing monsters that you can add to your army later in the game). But decisions you make along the way, usually at the start or end of a level in the single player game -- will have an effect on your alignment, and hence on a branching single player storyline. These branches -- pagan, imperial and Renaissance -- will lead you through totally different game missions, as well as allow you access to alignment-specific buildings and units that will utterly affect (and reflect) your style of gameplay.

But perhaps the most original feature is the introduction of supply lines. Instead of just controlling the typical single village, it is possible in this game to have several villages, each with its own group of peasants out farming materials for your use. But for the food and lumber to be of any value to a player, they have to be transported back to the playerís main castle. This means that carts, which carry the materials, are key targets in the game. Disrupt your opponentís supply lines -- or better yet, kill the cartís driver and hijack the materials for your own use -- and you can really throw a wrench into a previously smooth operation. I love this idea and imagine that it may well be incorporated into many future RTS games.

Also breaking new ground in RTS games is the structure of the single player campaign. Instead of just starting you out with the basic units and teaching you how to farm, build and attack, you are thrust into the midst of a government coupe and are expected to complete several story driven tasks at once.

This leads to an unavoidably steep learning curve. In fact, the so-called tutorials that are built into the game... simply arenít. They are actually just a few short in-game movies designed to teach you the basics of the different units and actions by telling you what each one does. There is zero hands-on gameplay in the tutorials, so when they are over you may know what units do, you just donít necessarily know how to get them to do it.

In fact the first playable level had me so lost and confused that I actually opened the manual -- something I havenít done in a game in a very long time. There I found the answer to my prayers: figuring that getting into this game is somewhat difficult, a step-by-step guide for the first one and half levels is written in clear instructions, which truly did help explain many of the basic elements of the game. Granted, by the end of the second level I had yet to build one structure other than a farm, which meant I still had very little idea what any of the buildings actually DID. I think that, unfortunately, the tried-and-true method of gradually adding units and abilities in a fairly linear single-game experience is a much easier way to learn. So while Warrior Kings is quite learnable with some trial and error, expect to put more effort into it than would normally be required.


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