Available : Q2 2003

Knightshift © Reality Pump
Previewed by Bucky

Knightshift Preview

Knightshift is an interesting hybrid game soon to be released by Reality Pump. Reality Pump is attempting to break out of the pack of also-ran RTS games by combining the role playing aspects of the latest breed of RTS games with a stand alone RPG campaign. At first glance, this would seem to be a logical step. (Sorry for the flurry of acronymns, won't do it again, promise!)

After downloading and installing the game, I was eager to see what this game had to offer. Installation was a painless process, and it wasn't long before I was watching a very nicely executed (and hilarious) CGI movie of a bumbling evil wizard capturing the handsome prince, and then through ineptitude teleporting his victim away.

Unfortunately, this is the last we see of that tongue-in-cheek humor.

The menus are well planned and intuitive. We are presented with options for a Campaign game, RPG, Skirmish, or Online play. The background atmospheric music was pleasant without being intrusive. I would also note that the game was stable and bug free, even for a press release. Kudus to Reality Pump!

I expected that most of the effort was centered on the campaign game, so I followed my intuition and clicked! A nice introduction/tutorial, delivered by a wizened old wizard, explained why I was here, what I should accomplish in life (defeat the evil wizard!) and what I needed to do next. I actually thought the voice of the old wizard was nicely done.

Graphically, the game is very appealing! All of the action is shown through an isometric overhead display, and you can zoom in to very close range to see an impressive level of detail. Although the environment isn't completely dynamic, there are some nice touches like night/day cycles (and the night can definitely be creepy), the moon reflects off of the water, and moves depending on your POV, flickering torchlight, etc. Areas of the map that you haven't seen yet are fogged in with a very convincing smoky looking fog, which is a nice change from the black void we have all grown accustomed to. There are rolling hills, trees, cliffs and oceans and more. However, other than outright blocking movement, terrain doesn't actually effect your characters. Hills are climbed at the same rate as roads are traversed, and what appears to be loose gravel (or shale) hillsides offer no impediment to normal movement.

Back to my campaign (already underway), I completed the small tutorial, equipped myself and set out into the wilds. Stepping through a teleport, I was confronted with a small boy manning a gate. Seeing as how I was the Prince of the land returning from an absence, his response was not very satisfying. I was sent on an errand to gather my gear to "prove" I was really the Prince. By a little boy. Where is the button that lets me slap him silly?

I must warn you that if you hold this game dear to your heart, and intend to buy it the moment it comes out, reading further may spoil your attitude. I have pretty much exhausted the positive things I have to say about this game.

My campaign then devolved into playing "fetch" for a variety of NPCs until I could prove my worth to the little boy manning the gate. In one particularly humiliating mission I was actually forced to escort a cowherd and his cows to pasture. I felt so very heroic after that. Completing those missions I triumphantly stepped through the gate (not really, what I actually wanted to do was smash the little snot, but there was no option for that) for the next phase of the game. It is worth mentioning that at no point are you actually free to interact with NPCs in a manner of your own choosing. Everything is on rails here. Hope you like being Mr. GoodGuy!

Here I was introduced to the RTS side of the game. A brief rundown of the essentials:
There is only one resource, milk. Yes, milk from cows. What you do is build cow sheds near a pasture and buy cows who then eat the grass and return to the shed to be milked. You can also buy a cowherd (who looks exactly like that snotty little brat at the gate) who speeds up the rate at which your cows eat the grass.

Your builders are called woodbutchers, who are capable of putting up the disappointingly few buildings. There are a grand total of six main buildings to be built, so it is a good thing that your woodbutchers are capable of fighting, given they spend most of their time standing around. These six buildings allow you to spawn different characters. They are: the Knight (an essential guy, he leads troops into battle), a mother-in-law (her presence encourages the woodbutchers to work harder, another touch of humor), archers, swordsmen, wizards, priests, witches, and preistesses. In addition, you can also build towers, gates and walls.

Sadly, there is no technology to be researched, or ages to advance through, so these pathetically few buildings are all you will ever see. As you can imagine, this severely restricts the strategies available to you. Enhancements to your troops are handled through equipment that mysteriously spawns at random locations on the map. Whoever gets to it first gets the item, and in a nice touch characters that are buffed in this manner drop the gear when they die. This allows for the joy of looting enemy troops. Your troops also gain in experience with battles, so there is a vested interest in keeping them alive, and the loss of a particularly buffed high level soldier can be painful.

From here on the campaign devovled into a cycle of build a town up to fight off the next wave of baddies, then gathering up a handful of troops and teleporting to another map to explore/run errands until I'm told to return to town. Rinse and repeat. Frankly, whether we defeated the evil wizard was of little care or concern to me anymore. Incidentally, the bumbling evil wizard we are show in the intro movie is replaced in-game by a very powerful, competent evil wizard.

I decided to try the pure RTS aspect of the game, so I fired up the skirmish mode to see how that played. Exactly like the campaign. What team you played on was determined by the colors you displayed, but the buildings and units available are identical to each side.

One note about the camera here: while the amount of viewable area is fine for the RPG part of the game, where you are only worried about one guy and a small area around him, trying to manage a fair sized village with this little viewable area became an exercise in frustration.

The only thing left to try out was the RPG, so I took the plunge, and got cold and wet. My heroic guy wandered up to the first NPC who wanted to talk and was asked to fetch a pail of milk!! I flat refused to lower myself to that and went adventuring across the countryside looking for something to do. Well, I could kill things, but that was it. I couldn't even talk to different NPCs until I got that jerk his pail of milk. So here we are back to playing fetch. The rest of my experience with the RPG mode was pretty much identical, unless you count escorting an NPC across the map variety. Although I don't know why the NPC needs an escort considering the monsters don't bother looking at them.

I was unable to investigate the multi player, since the matching service isn't implemented yet. Frankly I felt relieved by that fact.