Here’s an attention grabber: -
‘You may not have requested it, but I’m going to go ahead and send you a copy of Snowbird Games’ Eador: Genesis. I’ll call it, say, Master of Magic in Russia. The game is the labor of love for one Russian developer, Alexey Bokulev, and the game’s recent launch on GOG.com marks the first time it’s really been widely available… but if you’re a fan of turn-based strategy games with a bit of RPG flair, I think you’ll dig it.
Hit me up if you have any questions!’
Sure thing, PR guy! I’ll hit you right up! Hitting PR guys is so totally my thing, I really dig that!
I’m a crushing cynic. According to my instinctive reactions, the only thing I’ll dig is a trench. Then I fill it with petrol, throw my childhood dreams into it followed by a match, and stand a couple of metres away in the flickering shadows, slugging back vodka from an unmarked bottle and snarling bitterly to myself. I’m not exaggerating. So imagine my disappointment on downloading Eador and booting it up to discover that the enthusiasm is well-founded, that this is a little gem of a game about which I’m hard-pressed to say much that’s mean.
The campaign starts with you in the shoes of a young apprentice type, being taken on his first tour of duty by a cheery older magician. He’s picked you out to learn the arts of magic and leadership, so off you trot to the nearest hexagonal tile to begin your training for world conquest. You must learn to explore the world, pick your fights, recruit your troops and arm your hero if you are to become all that he intends.
And so begins a saga of turn-based, fantasy 4X strategy. Sure, it’s a little generic. If you know classics like the Age of Wonders, Heroes of Might and Magic or even King’s Bounty, you’ll be in peaceful and familiar territory. Nobody has reinvented the wheel to create the shattered world of Eador. You strive against other immortal masters to conquer the many shards of Eador. On each, you have a central stronghold with an upgradable set of buildings to generate income, troops and more upgrades. And your armies are led by heroes of various standard templates, from the skeleton-raising necromancer to the sword-swinging warrior.
Tile by tile, you must conquer the land whilst gaining gold and experience, that your mighty heroes may be able to crush your rivals and hear the lamentation of their women. If lamentating women floats your boat, anyway. Personally, I can’t think of anything more likely to raise my hackles. A slower approach is to bribe your way across the map. Or use spells. Or all sorts, really – this game loves giving you options. Millions of them. There is a deep deep strategy game here, more than I’ll ever get round to coming to terms with.
The interface is nicely animated, albeit pretty old fashioned. Colourful panels give you quick and easy information with cheerful artwork. It’s fairly instinctive, but the campaign tutorial is also excellent. It lays out information at a user-friendly pace without getting too slow or preachy. The tutorial, the campaign and even the game are also full of well-written, tongue-in-cheek humour. I really like it that if I try to send my hero to an inaccessible tile, I have an option of two dialogue boxes to close the panel. One says ‘typical, just my luck’, the other says ‘Damn loafer!’
You can buy out most new tiles if you want to avoid combat. You can instead train you hero up by exploring each tile, gradually revealing a number of tiny dungeon instances full of loot and monsters, or new shops you can spend in or loot. Once a tile is fully explored, which takes a while, it grants a bonus to income. Turn by turn, little moral dilemmas often crop up – help an influx of new immigrants with new gold, or enslave them all as workers. Or send them packing. You want to play as UKIP? You can.
Combat is also hex-based, but also full of detail. Plenty of different troops and abilities to tinker with, from poisonous spiders to deadly fiends to armoured swordsmen. All very D&D, again there’s nothing startlingly original, but it’s comfortable, friendly and fun. I crushed my first opponent’s vastly superior army by trapping them in a bottleneck where they could only fight my harpy queen a few at a time. She’d been boosted with a couple of spells, making her extra tough, but I knew she’d never last. Which is why I’d made a dark pact with evil powers, so that when she died, she was replaced by a terrible fiend. What the harpy started, the fiend finished, along with the army of skeletons I raised from the bodies of the foe.
It may be old graphically, and maybe the sounds are nothing to write home about, but that means it runs fast and smooth. You can get through hundreds of turns quickly and enjoyably. The humour lifts and lightens the game, and there’s great forum support over at Snowbird, the developer. They’ve got funding for a graphically up-to-date sequel through Steam’s Greenlight program, which is about to enter beta now.
The only gripe I have is that I couldn’t take screenshots with FRAPS. That’s really it. It’s not an easy game, either, come to think of it, it takes patience and thought. That’s very much a plus to my way of thinking, though. I don’t like an easy win, even on ‘easy’ settings.
I like this a lot. Simple yet deep, with strong writing and a clearly avid fan base. It’s been a while since we got sent something so unexpectedly good. And it’s very affordable, at a mere $4.79 on GOG. Obviously I’m bitter that I can’t froth and rant while I savage the game, but that probably makes me a better person. Damn you, trendy PR guy, for improving my mood and making me once more face the sunlit realms with renewed optimism. I both salute you and this work, and I’ll be looking forward to seeing how the sequel shapes up!