reviews\ Apr 8, 2002 at 8:00 pm

Dragon Throne: Battle of Red Cliffs - PC - Review

“Surging on and one, the Great River …
Where have all those heroes gone?
All will go for naught, failure or victory!”

The ruling house is in decline; three of the more prominent heroes of the day, each with established kingdoms, are setting out to reunite the country under one banner – their own.

Dragon Throne, a PC release from Object Software and Strategy First, is a real-time strategy game set in a classic period of Chinese history – 220 A.D. to 280 A.D. Rich in graphical details, and sporting a classic player interface, Dragon Throne is a solid addition to the lineup of strategy games.

In the age referred to as the Three Kingdoms period, Cao Cao, Liu Bei and Sun Quan vied for the emperor’s throne. Taking pieces of actual events from the time frame portrayed, this program challenges players to change history. And like most games of this type, combat is not the end-all. You will also have to develop laborers (and build houses so you can have more laborers), collect resources, build a national academy for research purposes, build a workshop to develop the equipment you have researched, appoint officers to upgrade your technology and civilization.

And, of course, battle is not necessarily the answer to everything. Sometimes diplomacy is the way to go.

When you first boot up a single player campaign, you will be tasked with choosing one of the three heroes as your character. Though the goal is to, ultimately, dominate the country, early on there are other objectives. You may be asked to take a city, but save a certain individual within that city.

Some of the game features also include a multi-map system, an array of management factors which include domestic policies, diplomacy, science and trade, a tech tree with approximately 100 technological advancements, warriors can choose from 40 different skills.

One of the more unique elements is the profession-transference system. Your army won’t always be at war, and when peace reigns, you don’t have to allow the sergeants of your military to simply stand around. A click of the sergeant in the player interface will send him on temporary assignment, performing is original laborer’s duties.

There are also bonuses available within the game. Scattered across the game board are statues or the heads of Buddhas. If your laborers can collect them, you will receive in-game rewards, which may help your kingdom advance faster.

The game board is enveloped in the fog of war; meaning most of the map is shrouded in a black cloud waiting to be revealed through exploration. However, once revealed, you will see an environment that is rich in detail. This is a very nice game to look at – easily on par with games like Age of Empires and Civilization.

The animations are also very well done. It is unfortunate that this game lacks a camera that can rotate, or zoom in on the action. The game looks wonderful from the perspective given, but being able to move in a little closer to the action would have been nice.

The sound is rather remarkable in its own right. Though the game is subtitled, the storyline and missions are driven by pictures of characters with the voice-over commands in Chinese. This provides a nice authenticity to the game. The sound effects are rather typical of the genre. The musical score is full and rich, though somewhat redundant.

The controls are keyboard and mouse driven, and may take up to 15-20 minutes to become accustomed to. However, most of the essential elements are common to other RTS games, so if you’ve had any experience in the genre before, you will pick this up fast.

Dragon Throne is rich in historical fact. It does tread new ground in terms of some features, though overall it can be viewed as typical for the genre. It is a game that will appeal to veterans of RTS campaigns, as well as being a nice starting ground for newcomers to this style of gaming.

This game is rated Teen for blood and violence.

And in case you were wondering about what really happened in the past: Cao Cao died in 220 A.D., and his eldest son, Cao Pi took over the quest. Each of the principle participants in the drama either declared himself an emperor or king and established kingdoms. One of the nice features of this program is there is a history folder on the CD that chronicles the time. It is an Adobe Acrobat PDF and can be opened with Acrobat Reader.

Install: Easy
This game only requires 300 megs of hard-drive space and installs quickly.

Gameplay: 7.4
The options package is small, but the game boards are quite large. The single-player missions move flawlessly from beginning to end.

Graphics: 7.8
The environments are well rendered, and the animations are well done.

Sound: 7.5
The voice-overs in Chinese are a nice change, the music is very good, and the battle/building effects are merely typical.

Difficulty: 7
There are three difficulty levels, which should challenge players of any skill type. The controls are essentially the same as for any game in this genre so players will any previous experience will be able to jump right in and get on with the game.

Concept: 7.6
Focusing on such a complex period of Chinese history is a nice touch. If not for the richness of the time, this might just be an ordinary RTS.

Multiplayer: 7.5
Because this is a game of superiority over other kingdoms, the multiplayer game differs very little from the single player game, except that there are actual objectives in the single player campaign (such as rescuing a certain character). You still need to build up your kingdom and attack those about you. Connectivity is through a LAN, Serial Interface or the Internet

Overall: 7.6
Dragon Throne has presented some innovations, such as the profession-transference system, and the rewards for collecting Buddha statues is an added bonus. There are some graphical elements that are generic to the genre, but Dragon Throne manages to make its own mark by focusing on a specific era, and including players in the intrigue and drama of those times.


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