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Black Cactus



T (Teen)



April 2002



- Innovation in 3D view for RTS

- Good attempt at interactive story elements

- Good graphics and effects

- Good strategy elements for battles

- Wide selection of units



- Unintuitive interface

- Slow pacing of campaigns

- Unchallenging enemy AI

- Some unit AI problems

- No skirmish mode

- Excruciatingly long load times

- Nice try at 3D view but ultimately, no cigar

- Buildings and units not easily differentiable

- Lack of a good tutorial



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Warrior Kings

Score: 7.0 / 10


After the high that was the playing of Warlords: Battlecry II, I was looking forward to trying another real time strategy game.  I had heard a little about Warrior Kings (WK), but not so much as to pique my interest.  With an open mind and heeding the voices in my head telling me that the majority of new RTS games are good, I delved into WK.

warrior-kings-2.jpg (225314 bytes)         warrior-kings-1.jpg (131015 bytes)

The first thing that I was treated to was a glaringly long load time.  With subsequent loading screens, the pain became more and more intense as I had to wait something in the order of 3 minutes to begin my campaign.  I did some investigation on the troubleshooting end of things and found that WK does not run well with antivirus software or any other types of programs that run in the background. With my taskbar and system tray empty, I tired again to play the game without falling asleep at the load screen but was not successful.  With todayís technology, load times should not and do not need to be this long. Hopefully, this will be addressed in future patches to the game.

Another strange omission I first noticed was the lack of a skirmish mode.  I ejected the cd-rom to make sure that I did indeed have a gold copy of the game, and as was clearly printed on the disc: GOLD COPY.  Well, no problem, I thought; I tend to prefer campaign play anyhow as I like to be involved in the story of a game.




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After watching a video tutorial, I thought I was ready to go.  Assuming the role of young Artos, the first campaign helps set the tone of the game as Artosí father is murdered and his kingdom ravaged by an evil mage sent from a corrupt king.  After fleeing across the ocean to regroup and rebuild an army, the next mission sees Artos beached on a foreign shore with a small contigent of units with which to rebuild a force.



While I donít consider myself a pro when it comes to getting down a new interface, I do think I am a pretty quick study when it comes to most games.  WK however has a strange interface at times with perhaps too little information that is too hard to find.  After watching the tutorial, I thought that navigating the game would be easy, but because of the lack of a more in depth tutorial and the innovative aspects of the game, gathering resources and setting up a base does not occur the way most gamers will be used to.

Warrior Kingsí approach to resource gathering and the overall advancement of the technology tree is perhaps one of its stronger suits.  While being different from other RTS games does not automatically make it better, the use of carts to transport resources from gathering points (villages) to warehouses or your manor does add new interesting strategic elements to the game. There are still peasants which gather resources and farm but carts need to transport resources from villages to warehouses. Waylaying carts with your troops, you can steal resources and the cart unit itself from an opponent.

Unit creation is for the most part not time restricted like in most other RTS games as units are created extremely fast.  Rather, units must be properly supplied and created with a distinct battle purpose in mind.  Thus, the limiting factor in unit creation had more to do with resources, than with time and a linear technology tree.  As WK has a heavy emphasis on battle, different units are most effective against a certain type of unit while being weakest against another.  There is a circular strategic element purposely created here that make for some great strategic battles.  Terrain also plays an important part in battles.  The landscape is created in true 3D and high ground affects not only ranged units such as archers, but will also speed up melee units charging downhill, adding to their attack power.

The viewpoint of WK is not entirely new, but is another attempt to break away from the standard angled downward view of most RTS games.  The view is fully adjustable, and the camera can be rotated around, and zoomed in and out.  The terrain is excellently sculpted, and is very detailed.  The environmental graphics are excellent too, as there are birds flying in the air when you zoom out, and the wheat fields sway in the wind when you zoom in.

The viewpoint coupled with the graphics, does however present some problems.  When zoomed out, the buildings tend to be hard to differentiate.  Units can also be difficult to differentiate at the higher zoomed views.  This can be especially annoying in large battles.

During the campaign, Artos will be forced to make moral choices usually at the end of his campaign.  This will decide which faction, or race, Artos will become, and ultimately, what units will be available to you.  The three factions are, Pagan, Imperial and Renaissance.  The Imperial faction has powerful, expensive units, while the Pagan faction allows you to summon demons and monsters.  The renaissance faction allows you to use a wide range of technological units.  Depending on the choices you make, you can also end up with a mix of the different factions.

While the idea of integrating the story elements in to the decision of the factions, the lack of a skirmish mode really only leaves the multiplayer option as a way of fully exploring the different factions.  The slow pacing and non-aggressive AI in the campaigns does not aid in the desirability to replay the single player missions in an attempt to see the different factions either.  Most of the time, enemy towns will just stay back and not attack you or produce many more units than they begin with.  Also, with a few horse archers, it is possible to take down almost any AI force from high ground, which completely defeats the big battle mentality of the game.

Building bases is also not satisfying in the single player campaign, as most of the time, you will not need to build many buildings.  Rather, Artos will perform a favour for a town and receive the loyalty of the town in return.  This is unfortunate as it is really quite satisfying to see the large cities that can be created in the game.  Walls get rebuilt automatically as the city grows with more buildings, and it is great to see as your territory expands and sprawls over the countryside.

The last real problem to mention is the inconsistent unit AI for some of the troop units.  Troops are easy selected by unit type with a single click highlighting all nearby units of that type.  When selecting multiple different unit types, issuing orders can be a problem.  Giving the order to attack will lead to only some unit types attacking while the others just stand around.  Put them into a formation, and only some of them will form up.

I understand what Black Cactus was trying to do with WK.  Beneath a bunch of minor problems, there really is a decent, innovative RTS game that is streamlined to create monumental battles.  The emphasis placed on formations, and the advantages and disadvantages of troops against certain units really highlights this.  The only problem is that the pace before you can reach such huge battles is often very slow, and tedious.

While Warrior Kings is an original and fairly entertaining game, I canít recommend it to the majority of gamers out there as there are a wealth of other titles that are more deserving of our time.  Of course, the developers at Black Cactus would have us believe that WK cannot be compared to other RTS games as it has many innovations that set it apart.  While I do agree that the game is innovative and original, I donít think that it has succeeded in being more fun than other titles out there today.

While Warrior Kings is by no means bad, it doesnít have the playability to make it essential in todayís gaming market.  With so many titles competing for the time and money of gamers, it is simply not up to par.  If you have exhausted other avenues of gaming give WK a try; itís worth that much of a look but not more.

Postlude:  As an aside, I have a really weird anecdote to relate to you, my faithful reader about the strange workings of this game.  While I was attempting to play an online multiplayer game, the game appeared to become stuck on a load screen for what seemed like forever.  After some foul-mouthed mutterings, I was able to get back to my desktop with what I thought was the old Crtl-Alt-Del end task trick.  My task bar was all neat and tidy and Warrior Kings was all closed, or so I thought.  About four hours later (no exaggeration), while I was working on this review no less, Warrior Kings pops back onto my task bar, and so I click on it.  Apparently, the whole time, the game was still loading, and after about four hours, it was able to negotiate the difficult loading process that it had set out to do.  Now while I thought I had closed the game, I guess I had not.  Now howís that for a long load time.  If anyone of you has any idea how to explain this one to me, please do so.

- Mark Leung


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