Warlords IV: Heroes of Etheria is a game that I must admit, took me by surprise. This fantasy turn-based strategy game has gameplay that I had never experienced before. I was skeptical about this title all along. The screenshots I took a look at had nothing impressive to offer, I found the graphics looked dull and really behind on the current market; probably why I never bothered with any of the past titles. After sitting down and playing the game, I quickly found out the gameplay was nothing but excellent. I found the game to be very simple, but not neccesarily easy. It's fun, fast paced action with strategy, but unfortunately, the game left too much to desire when it came to graphics and sound.
The game begins by creating your own Warlord. This warlord will gain experience and skill points by slugging it out in wars as you start conquering towns early in the game. The warlord plays a major role in the game, as he will help defend your early towns and win wars. The creation itself is loaded with options ranging from race to many different skills and magic abilities. The number of different things you can pick from to create your warlord is quite impressive and gives plenty to play around with.
This game is unlike others in many good ways. Your priority is to build armies, explore the map while completing quests and conquering nearby land. Every town you conquer has the capability to produce certain troops for your army, therefore no resources are needed to build troops (unless summoning spells are used); but every war unit costs a certain amount of gold at the end of each turn (maintenance), therefore size is not always the answer, as you might encounter difficulties supporting your armies. Ten different factions are available in the game. Some get along, others do not, and this affects some things in the game that I will come to later on. Resources in this game have been made simple. I keep on coming back on how simple the game concept really is, and the resource management is one of the big simplified differences in this game. Unlike most popular titles of its genre, Warlords IV focuses on a fast pased game with non stop action, and therefore erases most of the time that is usually needed to collect resources in other games. Two resources are available: gold and mana. Gold, of course, is used to raise, maintain and upgrade your armies, and mana is used for magic spells. Gold is generated by every town you aquire, and mana is generated by heros and artifacts. How simple is that? At first it might look like a disadvantage, as some gamers apply resource management as strategy very strongly in turn based strategy games, but I must say it greatly improved the game.
The way battles are fought in this game, is another unique trait. Coming back to keeping it simple, battles consist of choosing an army and then picking which unit of that army will fight. All of your troops can be separated into armies, which can be split into eight units. Then, both sides pick one troop at a time, and let them get it on until one is killed, the losing side then picks which unit he wishes to send in combat until one side has been depleted of troops. Although the concept is simple, strategy plays a major role. The way you play your troops is completely up to you. This freedom allows you to have different combat approaches, as you might decide to play your best units at the start, or keep them for the end. Your warlord can play an important role during battles, as you can aquire certain spells that can influence the outcome. If a battle is won, your troops are awarded experience. When a unit gains enough experience, you can pick which attributes to award.
Conquering land from a different race will sometimes permit you to build some weaker units of that race (or none at all). Each race has its own set of six troops or heroes. All races and units have different advantages, therefore it would be wise to use other races to your advantage. Good troop combination is key to creating strong army units. For example, having mixed troops from factions that do not get along will bring disadvantages.
As you explore the map, conquering is a priority, and taking the shortest routes available is a must if you want to be ahead of your opponents. You can find yourself having trouble later on in the game, falling behind the computer rivals due to picking longer paths in the map and wasting time. As I mentioned before, the game is fast paced and prompts you to more action instead of implying more time to building troops and collecting resources.
The images in the game are horrible, very poor indeed. I must admit the graphics and understanding of the game are very clear, but completely unimpressive. I would even say that I do not remember playing a game that looked like this in years. The graphics during combat have no depth and very little detail. Maps look a little better but are still way too far behind current games, People will overlook the game and judge it by it's cover. Although I found the game looked bad, it did not affect the playing itself much, yet I think it's too bad the graphics do not stand up to the gameplay. Little attention was given to how the game looks and I hope that is something they plan to improve on in future titles.
Not much can be said here, I felt the same way about the sound effects and music in the game. I have trouble understanding how they can create such a fun game to play and have really bad voices and boring tracks. It really sounds bad. They could have done a much better job on that side aswell. The voices simply sound crappy. If more time and work would have been applied just in sound, the game could have had a better depth to it. I was forced to listen to music while playing, that is how bad I found it to be.
A variety of multiplayer options are offered. I did not have a chance to try much of them, but lots has been offered on that side. No lag / disconnection issues have been noticed by me during the few times I've tried multiplayer.
Warlords IV was for sure a discovery to me. I found myself loving this game and playing until the sunset. The gameplay has few flaws and is packed with action and strategy. The game's simplicity should not fool you into thinking the game is easy. Strategy still plays a major role and the game brings much challenge, especially in higher difficulty levels. All in all, the game looks and sounds bad, but if you actually play it, you will find yourself having a great time. This is a great fantasy title, but it is too bad it does not look and sound as good as it really is.