Reviewed: May 5, 2004
Released: May 7, 2004
You know the drill by now, run up the hill and survey the forces arrayed against you before smashing them under your iron shod boot heel. Something seems different this time though. The smell of slaughter in the morning, the war drums, itís all the same, but you donít remember ever seeing quite so many armies before. Barbarian hordes; orcish, elven and dwarven forces; minotaurs, undead, and snake men; golems and titans and dragons, oh my! Itís all back in Warlords Battlecry III.
Warlords Battlecry III Features:
If the previous didnít tip you off, Warlords Battlecry III is one of the largest RTS games Iíve ever played in terms of available species and tech trees; but letís start from the beginning. Whether you play the campaign, skirmish mode, or multiplayer you first have to choose a hero. This only locks your starting species in the campaign mode Ė more on that later.
You have one of sixteen species to choose from, each of which have their own beginning statistics (Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, and Charisma, and it explains the effects of each so donít worry). Alright, so youíve got your species, now look at what kind of character class youíd like to run. There are twenty-eight of these, and they all affect your stats as well. Oh, did I forget to mention that each species and class have specific skills that can be improved?
Sounds confusing, but it is pretty simple in interface, and no problem to learn. For example, I created a Snakeman (Ssrathi in game) Deathknight. This gave me pretty good stats for a beginning fighter type character. Additionally, I got skills allowing me to cast certain kinds of magic (look for ten spells in each of about 12 different schools), do more damage to good characters, run faster, hit more often, and have better armor. Other classes give you the ability to make your buildings stronger, produce resources on your own, and assassinate other characters (one hit has a chance of killing).
Ok, so weíve got a hero. If youíre heading off to the campaign mode then your characterís race determines your starting race for the campaign. For those of you familiar with the series, you may have noticed some alterations already, but this is where things get very different, because while the hero and leveling interface has been streamlined, it works pretty much the same, but here there are definite changes.
First, there is a plot. It is up to you how fast the plot progresses, despite the time keeping there is no dated sequence of events. Second, the world map is arranged a la Indiana Jones, with significant places marked on the map and specific paths marked between them. You travel from place to place beating the stuffings out of all arrayed against you, but no conquest anymore itís all about saving the world.
Differences aside though (and there are more, like the ability to sell your excess equipment) the actual game functions much the same. Each ďhot spotĒ has a battle to be fought, sometimes more than one, and victory gets you money, xp, and other bonuses. The individual battle interface is exactly the same as the original sequel. Your hero converts mines so you can collect resources from them, you build a citadel, and troop training buildings, and you destroy your enemies.
They even kept the alternate victory conditions like first one to build a level 5 citadel wins, or he who kills the most or razes the most in 30 minutes wins, etc. For those of you wondering, yes there are still titans, and they still destroy everything in their paths. Dragons are also still here, and they added plenty of new ones, so itís no longer "everybody gets a fire dragon"; there are storm, swamp, celestial, and ice ones too.
So the basics are easy, and not only can you lead your original species, but as you progress through the game you can gain the ability to lead other species under the same hero. So if you donít like your first choice you can always change, although this doesnít change the difficulty as it did in the last game. Everything else is pretty much standard for this type of game with a nice spin on it. Look at retinues, starting army points for every battle, etc.
Iíll admit that the graphics arenít 3D and you canít rotate the view at all, but somethingís got to give right? Those little things aside, the game is beautiful. While the graphics are largely the same as in the last installment, there are some definite improvements. The buildings are much more detailed, in addition to some of them getting a total overhaul for the better (the daemons look soooo good now).
Overall the graphic design on the characters is fairly simplistic for the most part, but again there is a vast array of units at your disposal in this game. The only troops that overlap are some flying units and some undead and the human builders. Otherwise there are distinctions with everything. Like the elves, dark elves, and wood elves. Most games you would think you would get a difference in color scheme, maybe some buildings that were different. Here, you have three separate races, with the elves relying on archers, healing and dragonslayers; dark elves using assassins, spiders and demons; and the wood elves on archers and ancient treants. The differences are of course more than just cosmetic, but it gives you an idea about how much detail was put into the game.
There is plenty of variety in the terrain you fight on as well. From grassy plains, rocky hills, and desert to caverns, lava fields, wastelands and snow fields. While there is not actually 3D to the game there are different heights build onto the field, which is maybe a bit of forced perspective but adds a degree ofÖ depth to strategy and atmosphere. Also there is more artwork than you can shake a stick at in here. While some of it is, well, bad. I mean really bad. Bad like having to pee ten minutes into a two hour movie. Bad like most dubbing of foreign films. Bad like a Derek Smart game. Bad likeÖ well you get the idea. A lot of the art is very good though, like the daemon thatís tearing open its own chest. Yes, those are what you think they are.
While nothing in the game has quite the same pizzazz as a lot of the more recent games, they did pull out as many stops as they could on special effects. The lightening tossed by spells and dragons nearly sizzles, night and day shifts as does the rain and clear skies. Overall the graphics are limited, but within the limits they push the edges as far out as they can go.
ďDie now and please me!Ē
ďUnleash the weapons of doom!Ē
ďI AM INVINCIBLE!!Ē
The voices of the heroes and other units are half the reason to keep playing. Few things are more satisfying than to make a dozen doom knights or so and hear that last phrase from them all. Even more fun is the goblin shaman, who insists you bow down and pay homage, when heís this scrawny little thing among an army of giants (literally if you produced enough of them).
The music and effects are a little less impressive, with there being only one or two discernable tracks and some slightly overused effects. The music is very good though, because even after playing the game for several hours it doesnít get to you. It has a bit of a generic fantasy feel to it, but the vocals are usually soothing and it can fade into the background quickly.
Effects are another matter, in general they are good, but in some cases (especially with the minotaur) clicking on a building sounds the same as if something is standing there attacking it and that takes a little getting used to. Otherwise there isnít anything to complain about.
Thirty hours and I havenít finished the campaign mode yet, and Iím not sure, but I only have about four more fights before I complete it. Thatís probably two more hours at least, and thatís not counting all the side fights, so one campaign could be about forty hours all told. Of course, this doesnít include the more than twenty skirmish missions, and endless random maps to give you plenty of replay value, especially if you start up more than one hero.
That not being enough for your average gamer there is of course a multiplayer mode for those who like to trash talk anonymously. That not being enough, if this is anything like the last game there will be more skirmish maps released as time goes by, and there is included the nearly required editor mode so you can make your own levels. All this for $39? Yeah I think thatís a good deal.
If youíre a fan of Warlords Battlecry II then this sequel will most likely will be right up you alley, though it will take some getting used to the changes. For those of you new to the series Warlords Battlecry III has a lot to offer that you wonít find in any other RTS title, and if you like RTS games, thereís a lot to like here. A traditional RPG fan will find lots to love too with the hero driven game play.
This is a solid title that deserves a look. Most likely it will be overshadowed by the next big thing, or expansion set, or whatever. Itís not the flashiest car on the block, but the engine under the hood is more than worth the asking price.