It’s a real treat when we get to take an early look at a game. Sometimes it’s a look that comes so early we couldn’t review it even if we wanted to. Game previews have become very popular on Xbox Live. Pay half the sum of the game to own an unfinished version of it right up till it’s official launch when you just simply keep the full game? Seems a decent bit of risk and reward to me. I very much enjoy the chance to take full advantage of this Xbox feature, and many great titles from Ark to Subnautica have all been available to play in game preview, at a fraction of the full retail release price. And today, a shadowy new take on the turn-based strategy genre bares her fangs and entices us towards our doom. Or at least, the death of our perception of time.
I got a bit of flack for another of my reviews regarding a turn-based strategy. That’s completely fair, and everybody is free to their opinion. To say I didn’t understand the game is however untrue. Grand strategy games that cost you time, effort, and commitment are often the games that you play the longest. But sometimes a game can be a bit overwhelming because of its ambition. Give me too many options, and I won’t be able to enjoy myself. Seems silly, I’m sure, but a game that has too much complexity can be off-putting for people like me. That’s not to say strategic challenge is beyond me, as I love tactical games, and depth is wonderful, but please don’t over do it. And this brings us nicely into today’s turn-based strategy. I won’t spoil the campaign, partly because I wouldn’t want to, and partly because at the time of writing this, the campaign remains a one-way ticket to your dashboard. But I’m sure this will be patched before launch. There are a few other bugs like the enticing skirmish mode often loading without your opponents and then declaring you a victor when you start the first turn, but again, I suspect patches in the near future.
What I was able to play is the sandbox mode. A nice mix of all the gameplay, minus the darker elements of story. You recruit units, fortify positions, upgrade buildings, train your leading lords, and then you duke it out with the AI for supremacy. All too familiar I’m sure, but the new card system is what interested me in the game and proves to be a strong point. Cards with various effects such as enemy hindering curses that skip their turn or leave them weakened before you attack can simply be played from your hand. These cards can also boost your unit veterancy, increase your blood count, make your projects and recruitment’s a lot cheaper, and even reveal parts of the map you’ve not been to. Special cards are rewarded for victory in battle, and we’ll get to the battles shortly. Taking certain buildings allows you to recruit special units like Dire wolves, bats, and gargoyles. These buildings can even be upgraded for even more units.
There are also your villages to think of. These supply you with your blood, and blood is everything from playing cards to recruiting new troops. Villages earn you a certain amount of blood each new turn and can also be upgraded to yield more blood. You can also cash in with certain cards that allow you to get a massive blood pay-out by ‘consuming’ your nearest village or city’s inhabitants. The map in the tutorial will not prepare you for the shock you’ll feel when you realise that after a few hours of fighting back enemies and upgrading your troops, thinking you’ve got your enemies pinned back, you accidentally pan out and realise you occupy a tenth of the map, and several other armies are out there, doing exactly what you are. The win conditions and map size can be edited before creating the match, but it still truly leaves you stunned when you realise how little you’ve actually accomplished for your time. But because everything is streamlined and focused, you never feel lie you’re losing track of what’s actually happening, and that was a huge plus for me.
Moving on to the battles, they play out in much the same standard you’d expect for the genre. Attacking from behind does more damage, units have special moves, trained units fight better and do more damage… yada yada yada. But in comes the battle version of the card system to make sure you stay on your toes. Your lord can only do a certain number of special card abilities per battle, so time your moves wisely. The game is punishing, and even if you play out a battle that says you’ll likely win, you can still be beaten by better tactics. Auto-resolve is fairly reliable, but the game is punishing, and you may find that you’re still recovering from narrow victory when another faction’s army comes steamrolling in, fully upgraded and fully stocked. The game does this a lot, but if you’re patient and don’t allow yourself to be easily discouraged, you’ll keep getting yourself back in the game by respawning your lord and the special faction structures. Keep an eye on that blood income though. While you’re rebuilding, they might be stealing your villages and cities, destroying your economy. What should you prioritise?
And that’ll do for now! This is but a taste of the tactical bloody splendour that awaits. I hope you’ve enjoyed this first look at it. We’re sure to spend a lot more time in the near future with Immortal Realms Vampire Wars, but for now, despite some bugs, this looks promising!