reviews\ Apr 16, 2002 at 8:00 pm

Warrior Kings - PC - Review

Beset by enemies on different fronts, you may actually question your own competence as a commander, as your troops valiantly try to hold off the attack, seek ground advantage or match up against opposing forces.

However, having a member of your company ask you, quite loudly, "are you sure you know what you are doing?" can be downright annoying.

Warrior Kings, a PC release from Microids and Black Cactus, is a real-time strategy game that traverses many fronts. It combines a bit of the medieval with fantasy, and technology with history. The combination works quite well, and the game ­ with a few setbacks ­ is not only challenging but also enjoyable.

The protagonist of the game is Artos, of the House of Cravant. He is just starting to come into his own, and has been given the task of guarding supply shipments from the outlying villages to manor house. But as he is fending off barbarians and clansmen, another army emerges from the woods. And this is an army Artos is not equipped to deal with.  Led by the powerful Bishop Lothar, this army is not only huge, but it represents the corrupt religious sect that rules the empire.

Lothar accuses Artos’ father of heresy, has him killed and the House of Cravant razed. Artos, with but a few retainers, flees to the docks and leaves the homeland. He lands at Jarlsford in Angland, when he must make a fresh start, gather power and followers before returning to seek his vengeance.

The going won’t be easy because Angland is controlled by another corrupt leader, Baron Ragnar. Artos’ first order of business will be to free the villages from Ragnar’s iron fist, then defeat Ragnar himself either through military might or diplomatic means. Once Artos is in charge of Angland, he can begin mustering the forces he will need back home.

That is the premise behind Warrior Kings.

While employing a variety of elements of strategic warfare, this game has its share of resource management. One of the first things that you will have to do in Jarlsford is free a village and begin planting and harvesting food supplies. You will encounter a village that has been devastated by barbarian raiders. The leader of that village promises that if you can supply them with 500 units of food, his village will join your cause. This is important.

Aside from a few Javelineers (mounted soldiers with range weapons, which falls into the category of light cavalry), Artos only has a few spearmen. One village will build him a barracks. The village needing the food will give him the technology to develop archers.

Range weapons can be invaluable in this game. Not only does the combat rely on Combined Arms theory (a rock-paper-scissors principle where it has been determined what units are most effective against others), but environments are also in play. A group of archers set up on a hilltop that cannot be assaulted from the front has a tremendous advantage.

However that also brings up one of the drawbacks to the game. If you explore and land and don’t emerge victorious over the enemy (and if you have saved the game prior to the encounter), you will know what you are facing, and what the terrain is like to better plan your attack.

Another small drawback is that seemingly you have to micromanage your units. Having them attack freely means they will move easily from one target to another; but they may also retreat freely. But if you have the ‘hold ground’ icon selected, you may have trouble convincing them, in the short time span you have as you see their health bars turn red (which means they are nearly dead), to click all the buttons and get them out of the line of fire. This is particularly true of Artos, who seems bent on disobeying player commands to retreat a safe distance and heal. Artos also has the power to heal units under his command, which is the beginning edge of the magical part of this game.

And forget the tutorial. It is not a hands-on application. It will tell you the basics of the program, but it won’t actually allow you to try any of it out. The only way to test what you’ve learned in either reading the tutorial or the manual is to jump into the game and go.

Warrior Kings presents players with five different paths to winning. They are the Imperial (religious fanatics, which is the best defense), Renaissance (banking and science ­ best for resource gathering and siege weapons), Pagan (druids ­ best attack), Imperial-Renaissance (the game calls this "Bishops with Gunpowder"), and Pagan-Renaissance ("Demons and War Machines"). The choices you make as you progress through the game will determine which path you are following.

For those who have played an RTS before, the interface and controls for Warrior Kings will be comfortable. Many of the same elements are in use here, such as grouping and the point and click commands.

The sound for this game is somewhat average. There are the typical cries of death, the clash of weapons and a nice musical background. There are sarcastic replies from those in your service, as well. Much of the dialogue between village leaders and Artos is in the form of type. This is a grab bag of modern colloquial phrases and a medieval fantasy dialogue. While a village leader may ‘talk’ in a higher form of English, you may also seen (as when Cravant was being razed) a phrase pop up that declares "the city is toast."

Graphically, this game is quite good. Unless you zoom in too close to the terrain, wherein you will be treated to a close-up of pixel color blocks, there is texture and a great use of lighting. Clouds passing overhead do leave shadow tracks across the ground. The animation is also very well done.

Because the game features a mixture of more modern technology (in the form of range weapons) and mythological magic, a variety of monsters, the designers have done a very good job at making it all fit together within the reality of this program.

The camera can be a little jerky at times, but this game also uses a map which players can click on to zip around the world. The special effects in the game, such as billowing flames and smoke, or explosions, are only average.

It would be easy to say that Warrior Kings didn’t know what it wanted to be when it grew up, so it decided to be many different styles encompassed in the RTS genre. But that’s not quite true. It does appear as though the designers had a clear vision of what this game would embrace, and then did a good job of combining the various elements. The storyline is quite good, the multiple paths for Artos and his army is also very nice. This is an enjoyable game that would be suitable for newcomers to the genre, while providing some variations for the veteran gamers.


Install: Easy
This game only requires 650 megs for a full install. The game goes on smoothly and easily.

Gameplay: 7.5
This game can be a little jerky at times, which may be because of minor stability problems. The game boards are quite large though.

Graphics: 8
The graphical elements look very good from a distance. The animation is also quite good. The moveable camera allows you to zoom into the action and enjoy what the developers have labored to create.

Sound: 7
This is an average element, completely on par with other RTS games.

Difficulty: 7.5
There is only one difficulty level. The player interface should not present a problem to those who have ventured into the genre before.

Concept: 8
A good storyline and a nice blend of time frames is realized very well in this program.

Multiplayer: 7
Up to eight players can participate in a king-of-the-hill type game. Connection types include LAN and Internet-based games.

Overall: 7.6
Warrior Kings features many typical RTS features, and some new elements that are quite welcomed. This game may be a touch linear in the way the combat is carried out (as in you face the same opposition presented in the same general manner if you fail to defeat it the first go-round) in the single-player campaign mode. However, the graphics of the game are well done, and the game is enjoyable.


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