Battle Realms

At first, Battle Realms seems to have all of the ingredients of a true winner, including designers that previously worked at Westwood of Command and Conquer fame. Well, we can scratch the instant-classic status, because despite its best efforts to revolutionize the RTS genre, Battle Realms too often plays like every other RTS game on the market.

12The hero in Battle Realms is Kenji, who returns to a homeland torn astray by various factions. The setting is feudal Japan, but it leans more towards swords and sorcery than any real historical tapestry. Two campaigns are on offer — the Dragon Path and the Serpent Path — each featuring 20 possible scripted scenarios. You decide which path to follow at the beginning of the game when you encounter Serpent warriors killing peasants: defend the peasants and you play the Dragon campaign; kill the peasants and you’ll lead the Serpents. Either way, your ultimate goal is to obtain the Serpent’s Orb.

This story drags along at a decent pace, but I never found it all that interesting, and the cut-scenes are low quality. Some missions have great gameplay — like the scenario on the Serpent Path where, with a limited number of forces, you must battle your way to the top of a hill — but too often the game is nothing more than “build base, destroy opposition.†That simple format was fun in dawn years of Age of Empires and Red Alert 2, but it’s more of a grind here.

Despite the insipid mission design, Battle Realms’ unit creation and resource management are challenging. Instead of a specific building creating specialized military units, you train your peasants in individual buildings that give them specific abilities. By training peasants in multiple buildings — which can be automated with waypoints — you can generate highly specialized units.

Irritatingly, the game’s breakneck pace minimizes the advantages of these innovations. Combat is extremely fast, and often by the time you order a unit to use its Battle Gear, the combat situation has already changed. Battle Realms really chokes in combat. Friendly units will sometimes stab each other; other AI units will refuse to retreat, won’t attack specified targets, and won’t always automatically attack nearby enemy units.

5There’s an extensive multiplayer featuring 35 maps where you can play four sides via LAN. The skirmish mode is quite broad, featuring a nice selection of starting advantages, resources and unit options. The AI on the skirmish mode is really tough, however, working at a very high level of efficiency even on the lowest difficulty levels. None of it is enough to keep one’s interest peak very long, however. With merely average combat, a forgettable campaign and little innovation, Battle Realms doesn’t quite rise to the top of the RTS crowd.

System Requirements: Pentium II 233 MHz, 64 MB RAM, 600 MB HDD, Win98

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