Warrior Kings: Battles

4_1WKB is cursed by a medieval interface.

Warrior Kings: Battles has a very quirky feudalistic setting, or a medieval fantasy dominated by never-ending strife among pagan gods, undead legions, and Judeo-Christian sorcerers. It also includes the requisite archers, mounted knights, catapults, and now fire boats. (Note: naval units are only available in multiplayer) You choose your tech tree by what buildings you make, some of which preclude each other, which is an innovative concept that is handled thoughtfully.

The three basic paths are Imperial (heretic-burning religious fanatics), Renaissance (bank-loving tech-heads), and Pagan (druidic tree-hugging demon hordes), plus two hybrid routes, Imperial-Renaissance and Pagan-Renaissance. New additions include rocket-launching siege towers, gold/wood/stone elementals, war elephants, and boats ranging in size from the modest cog to the less modest galley.
The flavorful but cumbersome economy model of carts, warehouses, and shops remains the same, but you now have the option of playing in Valhalla mode, where you buy your armies up front with a few predetermined lives apiece and simply duke it out (strangely, it’s less satisfying than earning them). The single-player campaign, with a nod to Rise of Nations and Medieval, has you conquering a color-coded map of fake Europe one province at a time, earning tech trees, AI generals for skirmish mode, and other bribes along the way. It’s a mode that meshes with the RTS format better than any awkwardly shoehorned “story†campaign. There are nice visual touches: fire arrows trail searing parabolas in their wake and behemoths knock down trees in their clumsy passage.

7_1Unfortunately, the game is cursed by a bad interface. Where in most games, the mouse-wheel zooms in and out, here it’s raised and lowered vertically. The minimap still scrolls you to wherever you left-click. This, coupled with inability to rally newly created units to a member of your army, make governance of multiple battlegrounds and rallying reinforcements across long distances more troublesome than it needs to be. It doesn’t help that the mountainous terrain you cruise past along the way also affects your camera’s altitude. At the strategically optimum height, individual units are so indistinguishable it’s virtually impossible to tell different types of infantry.

The AI behaves inconsistently, sometimes ignoring nearby comrades under attack, on occasion fleeing even though morale isn’t mentioned as a game concept. Peculiar omissions abound. You can’t tell how many archers are inside a tower except by the length of a blue bar or by kicking them all out. You have to disband a formation to add units to it. You can’t tell how much gold or stone is in an outcropping. And, amazingly, you can’t tell how large an army is except by counting their individual health-circles on the main screen.

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Modern RTS conveniences like patrol routes, formations, and skirmishes occurred to the designers, but not a simple handy panel indicating the quantity or health of more than one selected unit at a time—there’s no quick easy way to size up a “rack.†This is hardly a frill but a critical military overview that’s been part and parcel of every game since Dune II.

Those for whom such vagaries mean little or nothing will find plenty to keep them occupied: new maps, new units, new spell effects, and new ships sinking. For all its familiar ground, Warrior Kings: Battles sure doesn’t feel like any other game on the market. Yet the awkward interface does much to ruin what otherwise could have been an excellent RTS experience.

System Requirements: Pentium III 700 MHz, 256 MB RAM, 570 MB HDD, Win95

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