Reviewed: July 29, 2002
Released: March 12, 2002
Warlords Battlecry II is the second real-time Warlords game to be released from SSG. It is not a revolutionary jump over the somewhat revolutionary first game, but it does refine the gameplay and is a worthy sequel, which should attract more RTS fans to the RPG/RTS hybrid of the series.
The game plays out similar to other standard fantasy RTS fare, but there are quite a few new features and RPG elements to give the Battlecry series it’s own unique style. SSG decided to drop any pretense of story in the single-player campaign for this game. Some players may herald that decision, while others will be disappointed that there isn’t a strong story to draw them into the Warlords universe.
The game doesn’t skimp on gameplay, however. There’s more than you can shake a mouse at here. Gamers who have an eye for replay value should take a close look at all that is offered by WLBC2. Serious RTS fans will be pleased with the variety and depth that the game offers. RPG fans who are interested in something different may appreciate the RPG elements while learning the strategic ropes.
Fans of the original Battlecry will notice the four new additional races: the Fey, Daemons, Barbarians, and the Dark Dwarves, in addition to the original 8 races of Humans, High Elves, Wood Elves, Dark Elves, Dwarves, Orcs, Minotaurs, and Undead.
Each race plays out very differently from the rest, and using the same tactics from one race to the next will likely yield disastrous results. For example, the Dark Dwarves specialize in powerful golem and siege machinery units, the Wood Elves concentrate on archery, while the Orcs have units that can disease or poison opponent units.
The core of the game is the hero. A player will build his hero as he plays out battles. Heroes gain experience the more you play. You can upgrade your heroes with new abilities and improve their statistics as they gain levels. Player involvement in the game is focused through their hero. By making the hero a central figure, and by allowing the player to customize and develop it as they see fit, SSG has added a significant RPG element to the RTS genre.
Your hero is a special unit during the battles as well. Heroes have the ability to convert mines to your side, increasing your resource production. Heroes can take on quests to gain items or special units and such. A hero also has a “command radius” which will increase the effectiveness of your units within that radius. Improving the hero’s Leadership ability can increase this radius. When you kill an enemy hero, a treasure chest appears with items that you can wear on your hero to increase his power and abilities.
Okay, but what happens if your hero dies? You can customize that gameplay option when you create your hero. You can pick everything from “normal”, where your hero can die and you can still gain experience, to Tinman where death means no experience, to Bronzeman where death means you lose all experience down to the start of your current level, to the ultimate Ironman, where death is the permanent end of your character. The higher the difficulty level, the more experience the hero gains per battle.
Units can also gain experience and levels along with the heroes. Every time a unit kills an enemy unit it gains an experience point. Other events can cause a unit to gain additional experience, sometimes a lot, such as killing an enemy hero. As units go up in experience and gain levels, you can chose to carry your best units along as part of your “retinue” from battle to battle. Special general and ally units can also perform some of the functions that heroes are capable of.
Each race also has a special “uber” unit called a “titan” which varies from race to race. It takes a long time and a bunch of resources to build a titan unit and you can only build one per battle, but they are extremely powerful. Unfortunately you cannot carry the titan unit over to battle in additional scenarios; it must be built every time.
The key to winning in WLBC2, like most RTS games, is controlling resources. Resources are required to build new structures and units or to upgrade structures or units. Heroes or generals are used to convert enemy or neutral resource sites over to your side. After a site has been captured it produces resources automatically. There is no need to use gatherer units like in Starcraft or Age of Empires, although a few of the races can place peon units in their resource sites to increase their output levels.
Some resources of the four types are more important to certain races than others. This adds strategic depth to the game, as controlling those important sites will be important if you’re playing that race, or denying it from enemies of that race will be critical to achieving victory.
The interface for WLBC2 is very streamlined and easy to use. Two features stand out the most. The first is a continuous production queue on your buildings, which lets you generate units continuously while still allowing you to go in and temporarily interrupt the queue with things like building upgrades or the odd unit. Another nice feature is that the waypoint system lets you queue up unit movement and actions. You can also pause the game to issue orders and have up to 12 orders stacked.
Friendly unit AI is excellent in WLBC2 compared to other RTS games. The game allows you to specify a custom “attitude” for each unit. There are 13 different attitudes you can give a unit, from Cowardly to Rampant, from Guardian to Scout. There’s even attitudes that allow unit spellcasters to use their spells automatically. You can also group your units into formations, which will be maintained as you move, moving at the speed of the slowest unit. By default, ranged units will gravitate to the rear of a formation while melee units go to the front.
Enemy AI is also very good, and customizable for the Skirmish games. There are 6 AI difficulty levels, from Squire to Emperor. During a skirmish game you can specify each enemy or friendly AI and their competency level. The enemy AI will expand aggressively and also attack early on, keeping you occupied. The difficulty level of the campaign mode adjusts according to the power level of your hero. You can play skirmish battles, which will contribute to your hero’s growth, as well as the campaign mode.
The campaign mode involves conquering 47 out of 67 territories. You can continue the game after the enemies have sued for peace; the reason for this would be to get one of the powerful artifacts called an Orb of Etheria. As you conquer each area of the map, you gain special abilities based on that territory. The campaign is not entirely linear, because you can attack any adjacent territory and expand your empire as you conquer Etheria.
Multiplayer works like the single player skirmish mode only with human opponents. You can play using TCP/IP direct, IPX over a LAN, or via Ubisoft’s ubi.com online multiplayer matching service. There is a large variety of multiplayer maps, and since the game ships with a map editor, a potentially unlimited supply. In multiplayer you are allowed to share resources with your allies. There are 13 different gameplay types, such as “Against the Horde” which pits one very strong opponent against several weaker players, or “Battle of the Titans” where each side begins the game with their titan unit already constructed. The same heroes used in the skirmish and campaign modes can be played in the multiplayer version.
WLBC2 uses a 2D graphics engine, which can make the game appear less “cutting edge” to some. Overall while the graphics engine feels somewhat dated, it’s pleasant enough and functional. The nice thing is that you can take the screen resolution all the way up to 1600x1200 if you want to (and if your monitor and CPU can handle it), which gives you a large battle view. Take care that higher resolutions require a lot more horsepower. Since the game is 2D, players used to being able to rotate the camera will get frustrated from time to time as units or objects get “hidden” behind something. Also there is no way to zoom in on the action.
Each of the 12 races has their own distinctive style and feel. A lot of effort went into making animations for the hundreds of units in this game. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of detail on individual units themselves. Each archer is the same as the next. There are some pretty good animations on some of the units but not enough variety in the animations.
The terrain itself is attractive but not overly detailed. There isn’t a lot of “ambient life” going on in the game world, although there is the occasional wandering neutral creature. More background animations could have really given each map a breath of life and not feel so static. The battle effects are nice, though. Spell effects and blood fly out and impress. The artists made good use of a variety of colors.
Each different unit in the game has their own speech effects when you select or order them to do things and in battle. Considering the large variety of units, that’s quite impressive. The quality of the sound effects is good, on par with most other games of the genre or better. The music, by Steve Fawkner is quite good, full of haunting Celtic tones.
The music has choral vocals and chanting, deep and haunting strings, and bold percussion. Nice touches, like the increasing heartbeat as your hero is damaged, or the victory chants as you win a scenario do a lot to round out an above average sound system for an RTS game.
First of all, I'd like to comment on the quality of the manual for WLBC2 as an added value. It appears that SSG is NOT one of those game developers using the excuse of the smaller boxes to even further slim down their already shrinking manual sizes. This manual covers all the basics, such as hero building, game options, and interface. Then it goes a step further by showing a tech tree for each of the 12 races, as well as a bestiary of all the game's units. Furthermore, the in-game information is much better than most, showing you the combat rating, hit points, speed, damage, range, view distance, armor rating versus each type of damage, and any special resistances or vulnerabilities. It also tells you about any temporary boosts to stats. No guessing about it!
WLBC2 has gobs and gobs of gameplay options. While it lacks a detailed single player story, the campaign mode does offer a distinctive gameplay experience that plain old skirmish mode lacks. The goal of gaining the all-powerful Orb of Etheria artifacts will keep you coming back for more with various hero types. With over 100 different possible hero types, 12 distinct races and hundreds of units, there’s a lot to do here.
Lets not forget that the game has several multiplayer options, as well as a good map editor. And there is even a random map generator if you want to play on a completely unknown map. Building up the power and equipment of your hero will draw you in again and again for more replay value, not to mention the large variety of difficulty levels, victory conditions, and gameplay modes.
WLBC2 is an above average entrant into the extremely crowded genre of real-time strategy games. There is a lot of gameplay here, but if you’re primarily interested in a compelling single player story, you won’t find it here. What you will find, however, is a very innovative RPG component to greatly enhance the RTS standard fare.
While the production values are not quite state of the art, they are still quite good and do not detract from the excellent gameplay. At its core, however, WLBC2 is still a fairly typical RTS game, albeit a very polished one. If you’re not a fan of the genre then this game isn’t going to make you a believer, but RTS lovers should definitely give this game a hard look; it ranks up there with the best of them.