This ambitious strategy title has a lot to offer, if you can put up with the bugs.
By Alex Walker on April 29, 2013 at 11:10 am
Eador: Masters of the Broken World (or just MOTBW for short) sounds like the kind of game a fan would dream of. Take all your favourite games of a particular genre, cherry-pick some of the best elements, put your own twist on it and voila! You have your own perfect game.
That’s what Eador: Genesis, envisioned from a prototype made by Alexey Bokulev, was anyway. But as the developer admitted, 2D games on their own just don’t sell anymore. So Bokulev teamed up with Snowbird Games to bring Eador into the modern age with Masters of the Broken World.
Bokulev’s favourite games included Civilization, Heroes of Might and Magic and Master of Magic, and that’s pretty much what you get: a broad turn-based strategy featuring paladins and demons, imps and elves, priests and minotaurs, castles and dungeons, resources and towns, vampires and ghosts while you battle to control the universe.
MOTBW just might be one of the most ambitious fantasy turn-based strategy titles in years.
Familiar, but different
Probably the biggest difference between MOTBW and other fantasy turn-based strategy games are the shards, which act like disconnected pieces of land (think the floating islands from Avatar, but in outer space instead of Pandora). Your megalomaniacal avatar (who hires mortals for the grunt work) battles for control of the Astral against other heroes, moving from one intergalactic shard to the next.
Each shard is a planet of its own, complete with enemy heroes, strongholds to be captured and provinces to be explored. Each conquered shard gives you additional resources and bonuses in combat, while unlocking more buildings.
Provinces are fortified as well, but their capture is essential early on since they generate gold and gems (used for spells, magical items and certain troops) for your empire. The trick is picking your battles and knowing which enemies to fight, since keeping experienced armies alive is crucial to victory.
The problems start with picking the right unit mix: the stronger the unit, the higher the upkeep. But stronger units have weaknesses too, and your army needs to be balanced enough to fight a wide range of opponents.
Managing provinces properly is equally important and it’s where you’ll spend most of your time. After bedding down your newly acquired citizens, you’ll be tasked with keeping them fed and happy. An unhappy populace tends to revolt, which you can quell by hiring some militia. Militia can be bribed though, and after a revolt they can also be easy pickings for an enterprising opponent.
A major influence on the happiness of your people, and your relationship with the AI, is determined by the choices you make throughout the game. Every now and again you’ll be faced with a random encounter, ranging from adventurers wandering through your lands to a giant spider attack to establishing trade routes.
The morality system is fairly simple, although its influence throughout the game, which includes determining whether certain provinces will allow you to move through their borders for free, add an impressive touch. It dovetails nicely with the alignment of the armies themselves, which relies on the good/neutral/evil mechanic seen in the HOMM series and others.
Morale isn’t something you’ll pay much attention to initially, but once the fights scale up it becomes an important influence. Troops gain or lose morale depending on the alignment of those they fight with, and they lose or gain morale during battle depending on what happens to the units around them. If a group of archers surrounded by a bevy of allies suddenly dies, the morale of all adjacent troops is lowered. It’s an important mechanic to master because some enemies are too powerful to kill directly, but you can win by demoralising them until they abandon the fight.
The battlefield itself influences your troops, with hills, swamps, forests, and mountains affecting the mobility, range, defence, attack of your units. There’s a little bit of luck in combat too, with the game giving you the option to arrange your battlefield formation before the fight starts. Occasionally the enemy formation is visible, but most of the time it’s hidden, which means you’ll have some fights where you accidentally put yourself on the back foot.
A universe of action
The tactical complexity is staggering, and you’ll quickly get absorbed in micromanaging your empire on several fronts. Random encounters begin appearing once your influence grows, and you’ll be asked whether you want to give gold to a local healer who saved a tribe, or whether you want to tax an incoming caravan. Bandits might take over a province and allow you free access — but doing so will reduce the province’s morale and prospective income.
Your income accumulates across shards as well. When you choose to invade a new shard, you can transfer gold, gems to the new world, and whether you want certain bonuses to apply, such as a particular starting building or something in your treasury. Transfers aren’t unlimited, but the extra touch is impressive.
One massive bonus is MOTBW’s favour is that the shards in each campaign are randomly generated. The difference this makes cannot be understated, since a cornerstone of the campaign relies on the way you deal with your fellow demigods. If you’re lacking the resources for a big fight, you might decide to remake yourself more in the image of your opponent to gain their trust. That influences how the provinces relate to you, which affects their mood, the random encounters generated and so on.
But ambition comes at a cost, and fans of the original Eador have cause for complaint. While all this scope is brilliant for players new to the series, it’s nothing different than what was in the original Eador: Genesis. The gameplay is unchanged and the interface, at least on a functional level, identical.
The wheel building menu for strongholds, for instance, is hardly the most user-friendly design. Games like this demand that you plan several steps ahead, and even the advanced building menu is visually convoluted.
Another bugbear is that combat takes too long to resolve due to the attack animations, which are slow and cumbersome even on the fastest game speed. One saving grace is that you can issue new commands from separate troops while the animation for the unit prior resolves, but you have to wait for the previous animation to resolve before you get updated info about the current attack.
Bugs, bugs and more bugs
My frustration with the attack animations, however, was nothing compared to the game-breaking bugs I experienced elsewhere. The day Eador was released, the game was virtually unplayable. The tutorial refused to progress beyond the second movement phase with most hero types.
Understandably, Snowbird released a patch to correct the issue, but… the updater was broken as well and wouldn’t install, stopping me from loading the game. By Wednesday — almost a full week after release — I was finally able to play the game. That is, until I decided to try the multiplayer. Your game is out of date, I was told. Fine, I’ll just download another patch.
Well, the patch downloaded just fine. It just doesn’t install properly. Luckily, I’m able to cancel the launcher and resume the campaign and custom game modes, which is nice, but still horrendously inept. Still, it means I wasn’t able to test the multiplayer, and hotseat games are currently disabled until another (probably broken) patch is released.
I couldn’t let this review pass without mentioning the sheer incompetence of this patching process. I wanted to spend the whole weekend playing Eador so the review would be ready by the middle of the week, except it took until the middle of the week before I could see the bloody menu screen.
Equally annoying was an email I received on Wednesday from a PR firm announcing MOTBW’s release and the availability of review codes. You know, after those major, game-breaking bugs. The ones that people who actually spent their hard-earned cash had to put up with.
An afternoon delight
Annoyances aside, I’ve quite enjoyed my time among MOTBW’s various shards. I was furious initially and was nit-picking to the extreme, enraged by a comedy of errors that should have been spotted by even the most moronic programmer.
But after several hours, I began uncovering the game’s complexity, morale system and the web of choices that go into every decision. What was promised was delivered: a combination of all the best turn-based strategy games you know and love from the past with an entertaining twist of its own.
The interface can certainly use some work. Fans of the original will probably upset at having to pay USD $20 for nothing more than a HD remake — although it’s a vast improvement on the original, and a fairly decent, although not spectacular, effort as far as graphics are concerned.
You could easily burn away hundreds of hours among the many shards of MOTBW, if you can forgive the mistakes above. They certainly won’t be the last errors to be corrected over the next few weeks. But underneath the cracked, ugly shell lies a rich, colourful and entertaining turn-based fantasy strategy that gamers should take the time to explore.
- Layer after layer after layer of decision making
- Solid tactical combat
- A level of complexity that old-school PC gamers will love
- Randomised campaigns!
- Bugs galore
- Combat animations occasionally out of sync, and they take too long
- Not as simple as some of the genre’s predecessors (King’s Bounty etc.)
- Nothing new for fans of Eador: Genesis
The reviewer purchased this copy of the game at their own expense.