Sunday, June 08, 2008

Review - XIII Century Death or Glory

Released almost the exact same time as Crusaders: Thy Kingdom Come, I was left to wonder at the coincidence of TWO medieval RTSes being released at the same time by two different companies covering the same rough time period. Because I also had the misfortune to try Crusaders first (review here), I went into this game suspicious of it. It's been a rollercoaster since then.

Put out by 1C Publishing (Formerly Cenega) of the Czech Republic, this game actually would be pretty decent and interesting... if not for a game-crippling bug.

Graphics -
While the interface buttons and panels are a little nonintuitive and look slightly dated, the game elements themselves are rendered very well and the game overall is very pretty to look at. You're going to need a computer with some horsepower for this one, as every little foot soldier and knight is rendered fairly detailed. I did have some problems with the camera angles and controls, but they're not the worst I've ever seen.

Audio -
The game audio lives up to par, though not much of it is something to write home about. On the plus side, the game makes good use of voiceovers in the tutorial, but on the down... every army you can command uses the same "you clicked me" or "you gave me an order" set of sound files... so every army, be it English or German or whatever, sounds English. A small nit, but I'm going to pick it.

Gameplay -
XIII Century is all about battlefield tactics, in a way that really made me feel like I was playing chess only in real time instead of turns. There's a lot going on and a lot of variables. You have units of various type (Archers, Swordsmen, Pike, and there are mounted and foot varieties), a selection of different formations that can then also be packed tightly for bonuses in melee combat or spaced wide for bonuses defending against archers, etc. Certain unit types are at large advantage over others (Pikemen are best at defending against cavalry charges, but archers tear the closely packed pikemen apart, but widely spaced swordsmen charging into the archers defeat them easily, etc), but just as important is use of formations and terrain. Putting your archers up on hills makes them much more accurate. Packing multiple units of pikemen together gives them bonuses, and you want to have their flanks guarded by cliffs or deep forest. Swamps slow down everybody who tries to traverse them, making them easier to pick off with archers.

The campaign consists of historical battles from the 13th century, ranging from England to Mongolia, Russia to the Holy Land. There is no base building and there are no reinforcements to be had.. what you start each battle with is what you get, and it does force you to strategize more carefully.

There are some dynamics to the game, however, I don't agree with. Archers are nearly impotent against each other for some reason. I had 5 squads of my archers attack one squad of enemy archers and my archer squads all ran out of ammo before the enemy squad was half dead. Which reminds me, it may be realistic and all to limit the ammunition of archer units, but I don't think it makes the game any funner and in many situations (such as the one above) it can frustrate the player.

Also, once your carefully arranged formations of troops finally gets into the mix with the enemy, often you won't be able to tell what the hell is going on in the swirling mass of humanity. Sure, there are symbols overhead (one per unit) denoting you've got a unit there, and he's got a unit there too, but most of the time you'll find yourself completely unable to distinguish who is who and which side is winning. The game's refusal to show you any sort of number or health statistics for enemy units adds to this, and is just irritating in general.

But the final killer for this game comes thusly - the game has a bug that breaks it. Flat out breaks it. The devs of the game have acknowledged this problem since April and have promised a patch but as of June there's still no word, because apparently they're busy working on an expansion. Hello? If you're not going to fix the broken software you already sold, why would we want to buy more from you? It also doesn't help that their support forum workers speak in broken, pidgin english (though I must admit, their english is better than my Czechoslovakian... though since there isn't a Czechoslovakia any more, are we supposed to call the language CzechoRepublican?). The bug is this: Every time a unit which has been ordered into a circle formation tries to move, the game gets an "access violation" error which crashes the engine, but not to desktop, so you're forced to end task on the process. It becomes especially gamebreaking because the second battle of the campaign has the enemy AI starting with his pikemen in circle formation, and as soon as you give him reason to move them, game over.

The Verdict-
As I said, it was a rollercoaster. I went in with low expectations, was pleasantly surprised, started cresting high enjoying the game, and then had the rug pulled out from under me by the circle-formation bug (which you can't get around other than by not playing the english campaign at all), and the final nail in the coffin was the misplaced priorities of the developer wanting an expansion before a bug fix.

Grade: F

If they ever get that patch out (and I manage to hear about it and can be bothered to go back and apply it and try again), I may regrade this title, but as it is, they might as well be selling an empty box. Too bad, too, because otherwise it would have merited at least a B.

And that's the word from Bandit camp.

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