The latest game in the long-running Warlords series, Battlecry has broken from the turn-based days of yore and gone real time. EuroGamer takes a hands-on look at a beta version of the game to see how it's shaping up...
Battlecry is set in a fantasy world of magic and heroes, complete with the requisite elves, dwarves and orcs. The developers have plundered legends and fiction to come up with an impressive array of eight playable races, ranging from high elves and humans to orcs and the shambling undead.
In fact the sheer scale of the game is the first thing that impresses you when you play it. To get you started there are no less than seven tutorial missions, teaching you some of the fundamentals of real time strategy gaming and the key new features of Battlecry. And then there are another eight specialist tutorials, each teaching you how to make the most of one of the playable races.
Once you have ploughed through the relevant tutorials it is time to get stuck into the campaign game, which equally comprehensive. Half way through the campaign the game splits, giving you two entirely seperate ways to complete it, depending on whether you want to fight for justice or revenge.
There are also side-quests, dozens of stand-alone scenarios, support for up to four players to fight it out over a LAN or the internet, and a full scenario editor so you can "roll your own". You could lose yourself for months in this game without running out of possibilities.
Central to the whole game is the idea of the hero, your character in Battlecry and the leader of your armies. Lose your hero and you lose the battle.
It brings a role-playing element to the game, with your hero specialising and gaining experience as he or she wins battles. At the start of the game your hero will be of one of four basic classes, the now traditional choice of warrior, priest, thief, or wizard. But soon you will have to choose a sub-class - for example, a warrior might choose to become a ranger or a barbarian, which will again effect their abilities and statistics, and so their strengths and weaknesses in battle.
And the hero is not only carried over from one battle to another throughout the campaign, they can also be used in single scenario skirmishes and in online battles, as you work to develop the ultimate killing machine to lead your army.
It all gives Battlecry a much more human face than most strategy games, where mass production and wholesale slaughter are the order of the day.
Of course, wholesale slaughter has its place in Battlecry as well, and battles tend to be fast and furious, with dozens of units fighting it out on screen as you struggle to keep up.
You have a wide range of units to research and construct throughout the game, from basic infantry to cavalry, airborne, siege and other special units. And with eight races available, that means a lot of variety on the battlefield.
The game also allows you to group your men into a range of formations for battle, including all the usual lines, columns and squares. Unfortunately this feature didn't seem to be working properly in the beta version of the game I was playing. Either that or my men need to go back to boot camp for some more drill practice... Still, in the final game this feature should make your armies a little more manageable, and stop battles from devolving into chaotic free for alls.
Although the developers have chosen to stick to the familiar sprites and pre-rendered backgrounds rather than going for a new-fangled 3D spinny-rotatey™ graphics engine, that doesn't mean that the game suffers in the graphics department.
The units are beautifully drawn and full of character, from the lowliest foot soldiers and goblins to the vast dragons and ogres, and the game can effortlessly throw dozens of them around on screen at once. The buildings are also well designed, and again the sheer range is a treat for the eye.
There are more than eighty different spells available in the game as well, and although your hero only has a handful at the start of the game, towards the end you will regularly see lightning, tornados and magical fires exploding across the screen during battles.
Add to that day and night lighting and weather effects, and the game is certainly no disappointment when it comes to the visuals.
Battlecry might not be the most technically advanced game out there, but then the Warlords series has never been about graphics. Instead solid gameplay and a staggering wealth of options are the order of the day, and Battlecry looks set to continue that tradition.
Warlords Battlecry is due out in the UK this June, but in the meantime why not check out the bonus page of eye candy following this preview?