Preview by Erin Ellis.
I claim this site! Enlight Software is poised to release the third installment of the best RTS game you’ve probably never played. Warlords Battlecry III is an RTS/RPG hybrid that easily rivals and even surpasses Warcraft III in gameplay if not in storyline and appearance.
Big words, I know, and I’m sure they may not be all that popular, but it’s a fact that Warlords Battlecry II was one hell of a deep and entertaining game. Warlords III has sacrificed some of the non-linear, wide-open campaign play of its predecessor in favor of presenting a more coherent story. The result proves to be a brilliant move and makes this latest sequel even more compelling.
Set in the world of Etheria and containing an additional 4 races, for a total of 16, Warlords III tells the story of the subjugation and subsequent revenge of a race of reptilian people called the Ssrathi. If it helps to get your RTS juices flowing, their higher end tank unit is a Tyrannosaurus Rex.
The humans have been split up into the Knights and the Empire, so I guess there’s technically another race there. In addition, there are the Ssrathi, the insect race known as The Swarm and The Plaguelords, who appear to be some malicious branch of the undead. Replay value is very high. All of the races possess unique attributes that make the strategic approach to any campaign or skirmish different.
For those who are unfamiliar with the Warlords franchise, it features persistent heroes who benefit from an experience system, manual statistic increases and all kinds of items to enhance their skills. Each hero also has their own retinue that includes elite units that are also persistent, and who also accrue experience. These elements produce a very personal and engaging game. Losing a knight that you’ve groomed and grown for a dozen missions will make you wail. While the heroes will regenerate after the end of the mission, the persistent units are gone for good.
The missions within the campaign of Warlords III seem to be structured to fit into a linear narrative. Don’t panic. That word ‘linear’ is a big turn off to gamers these days, but the new campaign set-up works very well. As an example, in the first mission, you lead a group of troops around a small island to try to find the source of a mysterious storm. Ultimately, you find some tantalizing clues but no real answers.
Once back on the campaign’s world map, you find you’ve been given a choice of a few new geographic points. Within each of these points, you may find multiple types of missions. For instance, in the example above, you can choose to move to the mainland of Etheria and explore a province, or you can stay on the isle where you started and try to retake a portal that is held by the Daemons.
This new approach to the campaign works very well and increases the player’s investment in the game. In Warlords II, despite its depth and rich variety of conventional RTS gameplay, you could get bored with trying to conquer all 69 provinces. In Warlords III, there’s more than a simple mandate to conquer the world.
There has been no significant graphical change in Warlords III. From what I could tell, the races that have carried over from Warlords II possess all of the same unit models, animations and building models. There are some new sound bytes and a few new pieces of music, but for the most part, the wrapping is much the same.
Likewise, the interface and gameplay feel almost exactly the same. This is a bit unfortunate, for while the interface is fine as it is, there was definitely room for improvement. The seemingly random grouping of units in your assigned hotkey groups can be frustrating. The icon pictures on the menu bar are so small that it takes a second to find that healer you need to try to salvage your ailing troops in the middle of a heavy battle.
The gameplay seems to have been shifted just a bit. I felt like it was no longer as easy to destroy buildings. In Warlords II, a large group of upgraded units could mow through a town pretty fast. Now, I feel like the balance has been shifted to make the siege units more necessary. In order to destroy an enemy town without paying a huge price, you’re going to need to invest in a few siege weapons.
Other nice additions include a storage area for items that you cannot or do not want to equip. If your hero dies in battle, they will retain all of their equipped items for the next battle, but they will lose any items in their backpack. The new storage feature allows the player to save those backpack items at the world map level and salvage them in the event that your hero happens to die during a battle.
The biggest and most appreciated addition to gameplay lies in the ability to level up your hero during a mission. Previously, you had to wait until afterwards. Now, as you attain a new level, you can bump up your stats at any time. Needless to say, this can have a subtle yet significant impact on your mission.
There are an awful lot of games released these days. Many of those games are plain awful. Many more are just mediocre. Once in a while, a high-quality game still comes out to little fanfare. Based upon an early version of Warlords Battlecry III, it promises to add some small, dynamic features that will make it even more of a devourer of time than its forebear. If you’re an RTS fan, you should definitely keep tabs on this title.