Monday, October 27, 2008

Warlords: Call to Arms

This review is going to be a little awkward, because I really wanted to write it before Warlords: Heroes (review here), which is partially based on this game. However, since I ended up finishing Warlords: Heroes first, this is the order in which you're getting them. Sorry about that.

Anyway, Warlords: Call to Arms is a fast-paced strategy game; you could call it "real-time strategy" if that term didn't already mean something quite specific which this game isn't. You engage your enemy on a battlefield eight rows deep; units are deployed using the same timed-release mechanism as in Warfare: 1917 -- each unit type is on a timer, you can deploy a unit when its timer is full, more powerful units have longer timers, and deploying a unit will reset the timer for all units. Each unit stays in the row in which it is deployed, so you're kind of fighting on eight mini-battlefields. A unit advances until it engages an enemy, or exits off the other side of the screen. When a unit successfully leaves the enemy's side of the screen, the territory bar at the top moves towards that side; if you get the territory bar all the way over to your side, you have conquered the region! There's also a time limit; if you run out of time, then whoever has more control at the moment is declared the victor. This is nice to prevent battles from lasting forever, and also often adds some exciting tension to the final moments ("just need to get one more unit through!"). To encourage you to be aggressive, there's also a charge feature -- for every 20 enemies you kill, you can deploy a charge, using any unit whose timer is currently filled, which places one of that unit in each of the eight rows. As you might expect, a well-timed charge can have quite a significant impact on the battlefield.

If you've played Warlords: Heroes, then the world of Warlords: Call to Arms should look familiar, since it's the same. The world is divided into nine races, each of which controls a few regions on the overall map. Between battles, you can upgrade your units' abilities and unlock new types of units, and then you choose which region to attack and conquer next; not surprisingly, your goal is to conquer the whole world. You can play as eight of the nine races, and each of them has its own unique advantage and disadvantage -- for instance, the Night Elves have superior archery skills but are weak with swords. (The ninth race, the Demons, becomes playable when you win the game with one of the other eight races.) Each region on the map has its own intrinsic difficulty (which seems to be determined by the unit types the enemy in that region has available), so if you're having trouble winning a particular battle, you can always try attacking a different region. However, as you conquer regions, the difficulty of all remaining regions on the map rises accordingly, so the game remains challenging all the way through.

There's an impressive array of units available, and each side has their own special unit, so there's quite a wide variety of strategies available. As I played the game, I experimented with a bunch of them -- trying to get a bunch of archers protected by some stronger units, trying to clear a path with some powerful units and then follow it up with some light units to make some quick gains, etc. Some of them worked well, and some of them didn't work so well. Unfortunately, when it came to the endgame, Warlords: Call to Arms fell prey to the same problem as similar games. For instance, in Epic War or Warfare: 1917, it's pretty much always best to send out your best unit (angels and tanks, respectively). Warlords: Call to Arms is the opposite way around: in the endgame, it's pretty much best to always send out your cheapest unit (in this case, spearmen). If you've played Achilles or Warlords: Heroes, it's easy to figure out why: because of the way the battle mechanics work, one unit, no matter how powerful, is easily overwhelmed by a large pack of units, no matter how weak, so if you can get groups of spearmen for every single unit your enemy deploys, you should win easily.

Anyway, like Warlords: Heroes, the graphical detail in Warlords: Call to Arms is quite impressive. Each race has its own distinctive appearance, and each unit is very detailed; the animations are also high-quality. The backgrounds are a little drab, but they're not terrible, either. The interface is simple but effective, allowing you to get units out quickly with a minimum of bother. The sound effects are your standard slashes and clangs; the music isn't bad, although it does get a little repetitive eventually. Still, it's a nice complement to the battle action.

Overall, Warlords: Call to Arms is not a bad game, but it's a little too long and repetitive, especially if you find yourself just using the same strategy over and over again. If you're willing to try to change up your strategy, it's somewhat more entertaining, except, of course, if your new strategy causes you to lose. It's solidly designed, but ultimately I'm not convinced that the timed-release mechanic in general has enough strategy to it to make for a really good game.

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