Gotta have one more turn
Games like Eador: Masters of the Broken World are extremely bad for my health. Considering my tobacco and alcohol consumption, it's not a stretch to say I have something of an addictive personality. Thankfully, I live in Scotland, a land where being a chain-smoking sot is about as normal as breathing. Unfortunately, PC strategy games set in fantasy universes filled with hexes are not looked upon with such acceptance in my neck of the woods. Even less so is "One More Turn Syndrome." Still, it's my cross to bear, and I do so gladly.
Eador is coming out next month, but I've been dabbling in the beta version for a wee while now. I've crushed armies, told off extremely naughty wizards, and befriended the most foul and evil beasts in the land. Sometimes these friendships could be better described as enslavement. I do have a tendency to lean to the dark side in these types on romps, but I do it for you, because nobody wants to hear about the time I got chummy with some delightful elves and hosted a really lovely tea party.
Eador: Masters of the Broken World (PC)
The world of Eador is quite literally broken. I'm not talking about fractured societies, here. It's a bunch of floating shards, bobbing up and down in the middle of an abyss. What is a powerful magical being to do when faced with a world ripped apart? Why, take each tiny piece over, of course! Unrelenting conquest really is the best response in most situations.
The campaign map of Eador is filled with these shards, each differing in size and difficulty, and each in some serious need of a bloodthirsty conqueror. Selecting a shard shifts the perspective to the floating landmass, covered in hexagonal provinces, towns, dens, and strongholds. The goal here is crush the heroes of the opposing powers, take over their strongholds, and plant a flag in a mountain of corpses.
The first order of business is to select a hero -- either a mage, scout, or a warrior -- who will be your primary servant in the physical realm. These heroes can wander throughout the land, performing quests, getting into battles, recruiting troops, and generally just being really loyal pets. Through combat and questing they level up, learning new skills, attack abilities, and they can even become better at dealing with people through diplomacy, which is perfect if they ever want to quit the whole hero malarkey and work in the service industry.
With the hero selected, it's time to peruse your domain, which starts of as nothing more than a single stronghold. This capital is pretty important, however. Within its walls, most of your buildings will be constructed, from forges and taverns, to magical towers and shrines. Most buildings have a prerequisite, either a particular resource or another building, and once built they may provide more resources, troops or gear for outfitting your hero. Up to four construction projects can be queued, giving you some time to saunter around the map while your stronghold increases in usefulness.
Each shard is split up into provinces, and each province will have something of interest contained within it. Sometimes that might be a resource which can be harvested and used to make better weapons or buildings back at your stronghold, or it may contain treasures, special shops, or even new units. I went into one shop to buy some new pants, and came out with two gargoyles -- now that's a successful shopping trip.
Even small shards have a substantial number of provinces, and conquest is only the first step in fully exploiting them. Upon entering them for the first time, a battle will kick off to determine if you get control of the area. The difficulty of the battle is shown by some flavor text, and some of the combatants may also be described.
The battles themselves will be familiar to those who have played titles like Heroes of Might and Magic, Kings Bounty, or Masters of the Broken World's predecessor, Eador: Genesis, and take place on a hex grid, with each force starting at either end. The hero unit also participates in these battles, and damn are they powerful buggers. The broad range of units, and resources like spells, stamina, and morale keep these battles interesting, and there's a fair amount of tactical depth present right from the beginning. Karma also comes into play, as filling your ranks with evil beings will make it tough to introduce any do-gooders.
Initially, I was quite enamored with the scout hero, especially when I upgraded him to a marksman. He was able to traverse the campaign map quite quickly, but it was in combat where he really proved his worth. Being able to defeat most foes before they even reached my weaker units was a joy, and eventually I started to build a whole army of ranged warriors. When I started to get assaulted by preternaturally fast, flying vampires, that all fell apart, much to my embarrassment. Better than being dead, though, which is exactly what my army was.
So now I'm all about the wizard. Sure, he's squishy, but that's why I hide him behind giants and orcs, as he summons demons and rotting corpses to assail my foolish enemies. Many a province has fallen to his summoned legions of terror. After the battle for the province, there's a lot more to do, though. Having a province under your control is good, that cannot be denied, but just planting a flag and killing a bunch of monsters doesn't equate to getting to know your domain.
New provinces might not be big fans of evil god-like beings, or they might generally just be filled with really moody people. Exploring these lands, fighting more monsters, completing quests and uncovering ancient ruins goes a long way to fully bringing them under your power. To do this, heroes can be set to explore, and they will just hang around in that province until they are told to stop, or they completely explore the place, an act which confers a bunch of extra bonuses. It all plays out a lot like a role-playing text adventure.
It takes a bloody long time to fully explore these hexes, but it's worth attempting it, as magical equipment may be discovered, new units could be acquired, and challenging encounters might just crop up. I discovered a rather unfriendly dragon in one province, and foolishly sent my troops in to slay it. A lesser man may have told them to flee, but the promise of the dragon's hoard made the battle too hard to resist. While none of my units survived, I stand by my decision.
Although an all-powerful cosmic being might not always be inclined to listen to the concerns of mere mortals, requests for aid inevitably occur. Wizards are kidnapping children, goblins are eating livestock, nasty things are being summoned -- the people of Eador have a lot of problems. These pop-up text requests always have multiple options, and you can just tell them to bugger off, if you want. It might make them cry, but perhaps their tears sustain you.
Helping out usually has some sort of cost, and even good intentions can have unfortunate outcomes. I tried to help one village that was having some weather problems by sending in some mages. Mages, I should add, I paid a premium for. It didn't go well. Everyone died, in fact, when the stupid, old, robe-wearing buffoons just made the storm worse. Oh, well. You win some; you lose some.
I had to stomach the obtuse, sometimes unsightly menus, and admittedly struggled somewhat until the developer realized that it might be handy to send out manuals to the press, but I found myself quite taken with Eador: Masters of the Broken World. I look forward to spending more time with it upon release to see if it continues to hold my attention feed my addiction.