Tzar: Burden of the Crown

A burden worth taking.

We’ve all seen this before. Peasants gather resources, build up towns, churn out military units and vanquish the opposition through sheer military might (well the soldiers do that, not the peasants). Battles occur with masses of troops hacking away in large, indiscriminate groups. From Dune to Warcraft to Age of Empires, these methods have evolved into the RTS genre, and Talonsoft’s Tzar continues the tried-and-tested tradition but without adding anything considerable into the mix.


Combat on this scale tends to get bewildering.

On first glance, Tzar seems to offer new horizons. Three different cultures are featured – European, Oriental and East Asian – each with unique units, buildings and technologies. Trade and diplomacy play a role. Heroes give your armies backbone (though they die off a bit too easily). The overall impression is that these elements will allow each culture to develop different ways of either conquering or cohabiting with the others, offering the prospect of a truly dynamic strategy game. But then you realize it’s just an illusion.

Somewhere in Azeroth

To a greater extend, the game looks and plays more like Warcraft II than Age of Empires – visually it is quite a rewarding top-down, two-dimensional treat. Yet gameplay is all standard fare with a few added curiosities, including a day-night cycle, weather effects and a few watered-down RPG flourishings. The differences in units, buildings, technology and magic between the sides are… well, not all that different.

A foot soldier is a foot soldier regardless of his name. Devastating magic is devastating magic whether flung by mages or priests. The delightful options of developing crop rotation and building different guilds must be passed over in favor of building up the military. Diplomacy could help hold off the hordes, but the default AI is not receptive to peaceful overtures. When combat does erupt, it’s usually a chaotic mess – neglecting to implement a formation AI, large bodies of units scramble and move around haphazardly, to the point where even Warcraft II looked much more organized. And the building menu interface is frustratingly unintuitive.

Solo play revolves around a scripted campaign, but also includes a skirmish mode. The campaign is the overworked “young, dispossessed prince gathers virtuous friends to overthrow evil usurper” theme, but there’s some charm to its simplicity, and some of the missions aren’t half bad. But alas, being an import RTS title, it comes with a painful translation and zero voice acting. Singleplayer is otherwise a good trainer, but it’s nothing new.

Tzar could have been a major improvement for its genre. Yet, it remains a mere military exercise. For real-time strategy games to continue to evolve from the Warcraft model, each new entry into genre should advance the concept of societal evolution. This evolution need not abandon action and conquest but rather place them in the context of furthering a civilization’s growth. Seven Kingdoms pointed the way for growth with minimum reliance on blood and massed rushes. Tzar reverts back to the blood-thirsty zero-sum format, and, in the end, it’s just a much better looking, somewhat smarter yet simultaneously dumbed-down Warcraft II clone.

System Requirements: Pentium II 200Mhz, 32 MB RAM, Windows 95/98/ME/2000

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