Pity poor Dimitry Shalinakov. He was a unit artist in the RTS department of Ukrainian developer GSC Game World. For five solid years he did nothing but draw men with muskets. French chasseurs for Cossacks: European Wars, Swiss harquebusiers for Cossacks: Back to War, British redcoats for American Conquest, Dutch musketeers for American Conquest: Fight Back, Mexican cazadores for American Conquest: Divided Nation, French chasseurs (again) for Cossacks 2... the monotony drove him to the brink of madness. Then in the summer of 2005 he heard the wonderful news that the company were finally ditching historical strategy in favour of fantasy. His spirits soared, his imagination gamboled like a wild Don pony. He waited excitedly for his first job on the new project. When his boss came over with concept art for a Dwarven musket trooper, Dimitry rushed screaming from the office straight into the path of a passing tram.
If Dimitry had only hung onto his sanity for a day or two more he would have discovered that Heroes of Annihilated Empires is actually quite a departure for GSC. Though there are echoes of the studio's earlier work in the high headcount armies and modelling of broken morale, the design borrows as much from Warcraft 3 and Diablo as it does from Age of Empires 2 (Cossacks' primary inspiration). The borrowing is sometimes embarrassingly brazen, but the Ukrainians add just about enough of their own ideas to this RTS-RPG centaur to justify its existence.