Sunday, 6 May 2012

Battle Realms: Game Design Review

Battle Realms is an RTS created by Liquid Entertainment. From the get go, the focus and game design of Battle Realms is very specific. It is very clear that tell that the game is tactically focused and revolves around a fairly small number of units. A high level of micromanagement is encouraged and practically required.

There are low unit caps (you can only have a maximum of 50 units) and rather than building advanced units straight from your barracks you train existing units in different buildings to create different combinations.

For example, you train a peasant to become an archer by sending into the archery range. If you want a dragon warrior, you send it into the dojo. The combined training of the archery range and dojo turns it into a dragon warrior.

The reasearch is also conducted by spending yin or yang points which are gained through combat encouraging players to attack and continually go on the offensive!

So far so good. There are however a number of design issues that are worth mentioning.

High level of micromanagement required for building units; more so than required
- For example, to create a high level unit such as a samurai with a special ability, you first have to find an available peasant, hold down shift to queue the order, click on the dojo, archery range, alchemist Lab and then the spring. four buildings in total. This is quite a number of clicks. I'm sure there can could have been an easier way of doing this. Perhaps dragging and dropping the peasant into a build samurai slot so the peasant automatically sends himself to the right places perhaps?

Unit strengths and weaknesses are not obvious enough - While it is obvious that Cannoneer are strong against buildings, it's not so obvious how strong say archers and arrows are against what units. As I found out by reading a help file, Lotus units are terribly weak against arrows and therefore should best be countered with archers. You just can't tell with these units, what their strengths and weaknesses are. Its not in the manual either and I had to consult the Battle Realms website and the help file. They should have made the these strengths and weakness clear either in the unit description like in other games such as Dawn of War. This would have really helped.

Power activations are one at a time - Aside from healing, most of the power activations are manual and you have to activate powers individually. This can get really annoying when you want to for example have all your warriors to activate a shield ability.

Environment could play a more significant part in the game - For a game which promises a living world, the environment is well-detailed for its time but aside from forests blocking your view, birds scattering to warn you of enemies and the occasionally conveniently placed boulder I didn't really see much else. I would like to see more interaction with the environment. Maybe more wild animals or weather effects.

Final attacks seem a bit weak - I'm not sure about the other sides (as I haven't played them much) but the most powerful structure for the Dragon faction involves you sacrificing 3 Samurai to unleash an attack. But I didn't think the attack was that powerful at all compared to how much damage a fully powered Samurai could do.

Healer unit AI needs a bit of tweaking - Unfortunately the healer unit AI seems to be suicidal and loves running into battle and often gets a bit too aggressive.

Campaign is a little harder than necessary - I think the campaign battles are a little imbalanced and I found it quite hard to muster a force with enough power in many of the missions turning it into a real problem. The building limits of defensive buildings only compounded my issue.

Campaign benefits and disadvantages could be listed more clearly - Throughout the campaign, you'll very often have to make choices between two different missions. Depending on which mission you choose you may get an additional Hero to add to your party. To my surprise, I found that my choices meant I had actually missed neary all the optional Heroes! Very annoying as it made the campaign harder than necessary for me!

Overall, it still stands the test of time relatively speaking and will appeal to gamers who enjoy lots of micromanagement. I didn't enjoy it as much unfortunately, I prefer a less hands on squad-based approach similar to Dawn of War and something which is much less punishing but I can certainly see the appeal in it. Liquid Entertainment later used the same engine to create a Lord of the Rings game which did not fare as well unfortunately as Battle for the Middle Earth. It is still overshadowed by more modern games such as Warcraft III and Dawn of War II which provide similar experienced so in terms of money, you might be better off buying them.

I do wish that a sequel would be made as it would be interesting to see how the game mechanics could be updated.

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