Warlords (Mac) review
"A lone hero stands in the city his people call home. He feels an immense amount of pressure weigh upon his broad shoulders, as his death would be a crippling blow to his people in their attempts to unite the 80 cities scattered throughout the land. Seven other heroes representing seven other factions all have their own dreams of conquest and glory. Letting any of them obtain a tactical advantage could easily become a fatal mistake. For no matter how adept with the blade his people become, there ..."
A lone hero stands in the city his people call home. He feels an immense amount of pressure weigh upon his broad shoulders, as his death would be a crippling blow to his people in their attempts to unite the 80 cities scattered throughout the land. Seven other heroes representing seven other factions all have their own dreams of conquest and glory. Letting any of them obtain a tactical advantage could easily become a fatal mistake. For no matter how adept with the blade his people become, there is no way they could ever hope to singlehandedly ward off unending hordes of wizards, dragons and giants while being outnumbered five-to-one. Such is the life of a warlord....
Warlords is a thing of beauty in many ways. Essentially, it’s Civilization without piddly concerns like diplomacy and keeping your subjects happy. You start with one city under your control and one hero at your disposal. Order that home base to crank out military units, send your hero out to conquer distant cities and start praying.
You see, the beauty of Warlords is that you can’t take ANYTHING for granted. While the majority of this 1992 offering’s castles are uninhabited by organized forces, they all have a skeleton crew of weak defenders. Most of the time, one solitary hero is sufficient to overcome this meager opposition, but sometimes the unthinkable happens and you lose. Now your hero is dead and you have to rely on the home-grown troops your base city is generating to get you on the road to recovery.
While not necessarily a fatal blow, this isn’t good. Seven other factions all have their sights set on being the dominant military power and you can bet that they won’t all stumble during those initial attempts to expand their empires. If you have too much trouble building your kingdom early in the game, you’ll find yourself helplessly watching two or three of your opponents get stronger and stronger until you’re overwhelmed and swallowed. For, as you’ll realize, the more cities you conquer, the more money you make. The more money you make, the more troops you can produce and send out. The more troops you have, the easier it will be to spread out and take over other lands WHILE keeping your core cities secure.
It’s a simple formula, but one that works beautifully as you start a game of Warlords. Initially, you pick which of the eight warring groups you wish to control. Some, such as Lord Bane and the Orcs of Kor, are isolated, allowing you to build a strong foundation without being threatened by others. Picking other factions will place you closer to unfriendly neighbors, forcing you to utilize strategy early in the game. The other seven tribes can either be manned by other human players or by the computer. If you hand control to the computer, you can pick one of four difficulty levels for each tribe. “Knight” countries tend to be pretty easy to overwhelm, while “Warlord” groups can provide a stern test for just about any player.
Once the preliminaries are out of the way, it’s time to get down to the business of expanding your fledgling empire. While conquest is your main goal, you’ll eventually want your hero unit to do its fair share of exploration. Strewn throughout the land are a slew of ruins, temples and libraries that only heroes can enter. In these places, you can gain powerful allies, hero-enhancing equipment, gold and information. Of course, as with any task you give a hero, there is a risk. Many treasures are guarded by monsters, which means there is a very real possibility your hero could get slain in the attempt to gain a potent artifact. So, why risk death in going to these places? Let’s just say that an item-boosted hero with some combination of dragons, demons and wizards following him is a far more potent force than the average city-generated party.
Each band of men (and monsters) under your employ can total up to eight units grouped together. While this sounds like a powerful force, as a game progresses, odds are you’ll wish for a larger platoon more than once. In trying to conquer a heavily-guarded city, you’ll likely find yourself sacrificing at least a couple of eight-unit parties just to weaken the foe enough to give yourself a fighting chance at victory.
That might be a minor flaw, but the game’s small number of unit types is somewhat more serious. Most cities offer some combination of light infantry (a.k.a. cannon fodder), heavy infantry and cavalry. Depending on their location (and what tribe they’re close to), other cities offer a handful of other units, such as giant warriors, wolf riders, pegasi, elven archers, dwarven legions and a couple more. And then, you have the powerful monsters that may join you if a hero goes to the ruins they call home. While I didn’t mind the absence of many of the more cerebral aspects of Civilization, I really found myself nostalgically remembering the vast number of military units you could command in that game as I took the reins of my 50th legion consisting of some combination of infantry, wolf riders and cavalry.
Fortunately, Warlords averts another potential problem with skill (at least in a one-player game). After you’ve developed a powerful empire, the final stages of this game could become quite boring, as you overwhelm each and every one of your opponents with dramatically superior numbers. Luckily, after the computer determines victory is in the cards for you, it forces the remaining factions to attempt surrendering. Accept that offer and you win the game WITHOUT having to expend hours conquering each and every city on the map.
To me, Warlords is a truly special game. I liked Civilization, but it didn’t take long for me to get tired of constantly walking the fine line between keeping a strong military presence and maintaining the happiness of my subjects. Warlords simplifies things to the bare minimum. All you have to do is take over cities, manufacture as many fighting units as you can afford, take over more cities and protect whatever you conquer. Instead of worrying about your subjects revolting because you’re more interested in developing high-tech military equipment than enriching the quality of their lives, all you have to be cautious of is either a hero dying an untimely death or the enemy sneaking behind your lines and taking over a couple of your strongholds before you can get into a defensive position.
Warlords is not a particularly deep game, but it is addicting. The random nature in which events unfold make every game a mystery. In one game, you might find the Storm Giants to be a powerful opponent, as they expand throughout the entire southern part of the map with next-to-no difficulty. The next time you play, their hero might die immediately and by the time they recover, their elven neighbors will have taken control of the region. That sort of unpredictability makes every game a new experience. You might find yourself under attack from a numerically superior foe early in the game or you could create a powerful kingdom for yourself before confronted by anything remotely resembling serious opposition.
And when you consider that a solo player can customize the skill levels of all seven of his computer opponents, this game has a near-infinite amount of replay value. Warlords is simplistic and has been outdone on a technological level by many other strategy games over the years, but I’d be hard-pressed to name one that is easier to get into or more addictive.
Community review by overdrive (July 28, 2005)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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