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Warrior Kings

Preview - the 3D real time strategy genre goes medieval

While a lot of the attention surrounding Sierra's line-up at the ECTS 2000 trade show was focused on the first person shooters "Tribes 2" and "Gunman Chronicles", one of the most interesting titles in attendance was "Warrior Kings", a brand new 3D fantasy strategy game which made its debut at the show. Developed by Black Cactus, a new developer based in the south of London, it made such an impression on us that we spent the next few months hassling the Sierra PR team trying to get hold of more information and some screenshots...

Now, after months of secrecy, Sierra have finally sent out a press disc with the first pictures of the game, and we can tell you all about what we saw last September. Are you sitting comfortably?

Castle

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A medieval town, yesterday

At first sight Warrior Kings looked rather like an "Age of Empires 3D". You start the game with a medieval manor surrounded by a simple stockade, but as things progress this will transform into a full-scale castle with stone keep and walls.

Meanwhile a village springs up around your castle, and you will build farms, wood-cutters and other buildings to supply you with the resources that you need to expand. All the time you can see peasants wandering around farming the fields, chopping down trees, constructing new buildings and going about their every day business. For example, once you have a church in your little town the people will go to congregate there every Sunday morning to pray.

But Warrior Kings is far more than an Age of Empires clone. For starters the world in which you find yourself is, in the single player campaign at least, huge. The game uses a limited number of very large maps instead of lots of smaller ones, with objectives and sub-quests all provided in-game. Instead of going to a seperate briefing screen at the beginning of a mission, you will meet other characters and stumble across sub-plots yourself within the game world, more like a role-playing game than a typical strategy game.

Are You Experienced

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Under Siege?

And like in a role-playing game your men will gain experience as they fight. Troops can also be trained to improve their skills before battle, and this combined with the longer missions means that keeping your men alive is more important than in most strategy games.

To help you with this the game offers a range of different formations which you can place your men in, including all the usual lines, wedges and columns you would expect. These allow troops to share damage and experience within a formation, making them much more effective than if they were simply running around in a disorganised gaggle. Each of the formation types also has its own strengths and weaknesses, and knowing which to use in which situation and with which troop types is important.

You will have at your disposal a mixture mostly of archers, cavalry and pikemen, although in all there are around thirty different types of unit available to you, as well as several unique troop types for each of the game's factions. But as in the classic strategy game "Castles", a lot of the focus seems to be on siege-craft, and you will have to destroy your enemy's palace to defeat them. To aid you there will be a whole range of siege artillery on offer, including cannons and trebuchets to breach the enemy defences, and you can even scramble your men over the walls with ladders.

Choose Your Warrior

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Summoning a demon

Although all of the players start out much the same, you can follow any of three different paths through the game, choosing between technological, holy and demonic paths. These will provide you with different unique units, such as cannons, knights and giant demons. The latter are summoned in a Celtic-style ritual sacrifice, which involves building a giant man-shaped cage, filling it with hapless peasants, and then setting it ablaze. Garnish with thyme, add a sprinkle of brimstone, and voila, you have a demon. Probably.

The game should provide you with a wealth of strategic options when it comes to facing down your enemies and developing your own economy, with a . For example, when you build a church your peasants will work harder after going to prayer there every week, but if you are feeling evil you could always just hire a group of overseers to (quite literally) whip the workers into shape instead.

And if a full-frontal attack or drawn-out siege isn't quite your cup of tea, you can try the Trojan Horse approach, sneaking a small group of troops into an enemy city in the back of a cart and then setting them loose to unbolt the gates for the rest of your army. Or you could break into the enemy's grain stores and poison them, weakening their forces before a critical battle. You are never short on options, and with five possible endings for the game and three different sides to choose between there should be plenty of replay value.

Hey Good Lookin'

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A medieval city, yesterday

Although the lighting system was still missing in the early version of the game which we saw at ECTS, even then the game was already looking rather impressive, with the medieval world lovingly recreated in all its polygonal 3D accelerated glory.

The buildings were particularly intricate and looked very authentic, while characters were also nicely detailed, with high resolution skins and a range of smooth combat and movement animations. The landscape was very open, with a mixture of towering mountains, rolling hills and valleys covered with patches of woodland. The developers were even promising a full seasonal model which will see leaves falling from the trees in autumn, as well as the usual selection of weather effects we have come to expect from this kind of game.

Battles should be epic affairs with up to four hundred units per side, and a dynamic level of detail system will try to keep the frame rate at a playable level even in the midst of the largest siege or pitched battle. Meanwhile full client-server multiplayer support and a map editor should help give the game some longevity once it is released.

Conclusion

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A rather nifty painting of a demonic army

Amongst the horde of 3D real-time strategy games under development at the moment, Warrior Kings stands out as one of the most innovative that we have seen so far, and the brief glimpse we got at ECTS left us rather impressed by the sheer scope of the game and the wealth of strategic options likely to be on offer. Details are still a little scarce at this early stage, but what we have seen so far certainly looks promising. Expect to hear more about this game as it nears release later in the year...

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