Available: late August 2002

Celtic Kings - Rage of War © Strategy First
Article by Don 'Beaver' R.

Before playing this Haemimont Games beta title, I had never heard of it before. I installed it with an open mind and only the knowledge that it was an RTS similar to Age of Empires. I admit, I (as a newer contributor to the site) have little background on this company or their games, but was pleasantly surprised.

The beta I played didn't have much storyline or plot, so this preview will be strictly based on my experiences with the game and not the mood or anything (along with some other small nitpickings I found).

The graphics were closer to Age of Empires than the impressive Warcraft III. But that doesn't mean they were bad. Amazing graphics in real time strategy games are generally a bonus and not a necessity. I found the darker areas (not the "fog of war" but the areas already explored that have no characters present) to be a bit tough to see, which made it a little tough to remember where you want go. This is a very small problem, and may have more to do with the poor level design and difficult navigation (which I will get into in the gameplay section). The heads up display looked good and used icons that were easy to remember what they did. The mini map isn't gorgeous either, but it very effectively showed where action took place. Like I said earlier, although the graphics aren't flashy, I don't think it will hold this game back.

The sound was excellent and informative. When playing an RTS, each sound effect should easily let the player know what is going on. This game pulls it off very well. When I was using characters to explore an undiscovered area of the map I could easily tell when problems or battles arose elsewhere. The players talk to you and each other much like Warcraft ("what'd you want me kill"), which makes it seem more like soldiers awaiting orders instead of robots responding to point and clicks. Swords clashing, wizards casting spells, and dogs barking all sounded realistic and accurate.

The gameplay was very similar to Age of Empires. At first it seemed too similar, until you notice the small yet significant differences. Most noticeable were the Heroes that you could "build" to lead your army into battle. Not only did the heroes make your army more effective, but they also gained experience through battles. I liked this feature because it gave you a reason to keep at least some of your characters alive, rather than using them as disposable resources like most RTS games.

Two things I couldn't quite figure out were the wizards and towns people. Whenever I went into battles with the wizards, they seemed to run in headfirst instead of standing back and using their powers from afar. I'd like to see them made a little more self-reliant as well. If one runs into battle and gets hurt, it'd be nice if another healed him while the others cast damage-dealing spells from a safe distance. Also their spells seemed relatively weak compared to the wizards of Warcraft. After a little while I just stopped creating them.

The towns people seemingly did everything on their own, which wasn't really a problem it was just kind of puzzling. I couldn't figure out where they got gold or food, they just did. Admittedly, I got bored and did not play through the entire tutorial (which was riddled with spelling errors) that may have helped me with these problems.

The gameplay experience itself was surprisingly good, especially from a smaller company. However, I did find a few things that hopefully will get worked out before the otherwise solid game is released. In Warcraft, if you have to move far distances across the map you can click on the mini map to tell your characters where to move. In Celtic Kings however, the map can't be used to direct your army to different locations, which made scrolling across a huge map very tedious. The other problem I had was the level I played itself. It was enormous. The environment was not particularly exciting either, which made the level seem to take forever to complete. I wouldn't hold that against them too much though. The game is only a beta so the developers were probably trying to show of as much of the unfinished game as they could.

Multiplayer will be included in the final release, however at the time of writing this article I had yet to play it. I'm sure it will be similar to the "destroy the other guys' stuff" multiplayer action of most other RTS games.

This game showed a lot of promise. The heroes add an interesting (almost RPG) aspect of play. Hopefully the spelling errors will be corrected before the game's final release as it makes the tutorial look less professional. Otherwise, with a solid storyline, more detailed maps and a little luck this could be a surprise success that makes Haemimont Games a more recognizable name in the gaming world.