Chariots of War

It never comes as a surprise that follow-ups to successful strategy games tend to jump around a bit in history. Rather than move forward, game developers often look further in the past for inspiration for a “sequel.†Such is the case with Chariots of War, the follow-up to Legion, which focuses on the ancient wars in the Middle East where the key players of Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, and Judea battled for a thousand years.

16Set in the time of great Biblical strife, this Chariots of War places you in charge of one of more than 50 mini-nations, including the aforementioned “famous†powers, as well as some that didn’t exactly stand the test of time. Each nation has its own unique unit of sorts to help balance things out. Because it starts at the dawn of time, it forces you to rely on a collection of peasant rabble and poorly trained auxiliary troops anyway in your early conquests, but as you successfully conquer nearby lands various special troops will soon be available to fill your ranks.

The gameplay is similar to Medieval: Total War, where you control your nation’s development and progress in a turn-based fashion on a grand strategic scale. Additionally, it seems that the developer took a page from Sid Meier’s own Civilization bible, giving you the opportunity to individually upgrade and expand each city. You can trade goods and sell off those items you have in great abundance, or purchase what you need to keep your society growing. The economic model is simplistic at best, so you can’t flood the market to lower prices drastically or horde important resources.

Keeping your civilian population happy is also crucial. The better you feed and less you tax your people the happier, and thus more productive they will become and the less likely to revolt. With the diverse powers to play, a growing empire to manage and armies to build, Chariots of War should be a great historical epic. However the lack of interface polish, rather flat graphics, and limited unit animation result in a “made for TV†style appearance rather than a big screen blockbuster. This would be acceptable except for the fact that the combat mode is utterly problematic.

The quasi-real-time combat of Legion was that game’s biggest downside, and nothing has changed with Chariots of War. Unlike the Total War series, where you control your units on a grand and lush battlefield, Chariots of War utilizes a flat 2D battlefield to set up your forces. You can choose where units are placed and give them a few brief orders, such as to charge or engulf their enemies, but precious little else. At times you don’t even know the size of the enemy’s strength or their exact position. While this is there to no doubt add challenge to the game, it isn’t close to tactically realistic.

The action combat takes place in an equally flat 3D setting where it is virtually impossible to tell who is who. As you watch the battle play out in real-time, you have absolutely no control over any of your units. Obviously, in this era, commands weren’t relayed effectively to the battlefield, but generals still had ways of pulling their forces back to avoid a total rout, and armies could adapt as necessary. In this game your armies follow orders to the letter even if it means marching straight into disaster.

12Worse still, you don’t even have the option to hold the line or wait for the enemy to come to you. Instead both sides walk out to the middle of the map and fight until one side’s forces finally flee and retire from the battle. The losing force is completely destroyed, no matter its size or how many men fled rather than be killed. A close and hard-fought battle can certainly change the entire course of the game, and this turns Chariots of War into yet another exercise where you’ll all but forced to save before every big battle.

Other problems include diplomats that essentially do nothing except tell you which nations hate each other. There are no treaties and no declarations of war—at any point you can expect to be attacked. You can’t make agreements with other nations to gang up on powerful nations or even bribe attackers into leaving you alone. Instead you have to build up and hope that you aren’t attacked from every direction. While this sounds like it should be fun, it’s just tedious.

System Requirements: Pentium III 750 MHz, 256 MB RAM, Win98SE

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