[UPDATE: It has been brought to our attention that factual errors have been made with regards to this preview, and that only one of 1C's titles, Royal Quest, will be free to play, whereas the other two mentioned titles will be retail. We apologize for any confusion this may have caused readers, and for any trouble this may have caused 1C Company. For more information on the titles mentioned, please visit 1C Company's website.]
Unless you're a fan of the Red Orchestra series, I'd be willing to bet that most of you have never heard of 1C. In fact, most people haven't even had many opportunities to play games from its country of origin ... with the exception of Tetris. Yes, 1C is based out of Russia, that mystical land where most of us Americans assume bears run rampant and nobody ever smiles.
One amazing fact about Russia is that people there actually play video games -- even the ones that involve them foaming at the mouth. I had the chance to check out a few of these so-called "Russian games," one of which will be completely free to play.
So if you feel like trying something different, and, heck, aren't against the idea of potentially gaining a bit of culture in the process, then see what games are coming out of that country where you don't play videogame, videogame plays you.
Men of War: Condemned Heroes
It seems like everyone with a gun is "of" something these days. The interesting thing about this particular WW2 strategy game is that your troops are members of what were known as "penal battalions." Apparently, whenever Russian soldiers faced a court-martial, they were aften relocated into these particular battalions and sent on some of the most hazardous missions that our Russian allies had ever seen. Admirably enough, even members of these arguably punishing squads were deemed heroes within the war.
So Men of War surprisingly features a controversial subject from Russian WW2 history. I've read about strapping bombs to dogs and training them to "find food" beneath tanks, but this one certainly tops my list of intriguing WW2 trivia. All of the missions players embark on are based on historical reference, which should make some of these soldiers' no-win scenarios even more interesting and inspirational. Too few games feature this sort of attention to non-fiction, so titles like Men of War: Condemned Heroes have their own appeal over the competition, from my point of view.
As for the gameplay: It's what you'd expect from a tactical strategy game. Players are given a set amount of troops, and are tasked with accomplishing particular goals and objectives. The graphics are on par with most other games in the genre, and the combat has some admirable depth to it (even giving players the choice between context-specific squad formations). The Men of War series is a pretty successful franchise for 1C, so check out Condemned Heroes if you dig strategy and are curious about the Russian side of the Great Patriotic War.
King's Bounty: Warriors of the North
I can't say I've had many chances in my life to play strategy-based RPGs. The genre doesn't exactly top the charts, after all. That hasn't stopped companies like 1C from trying to grasp a bit of that audience with the King's Bounty series, which is actually one of their top-selling franchises.
Warriors of the North takes the genre into a European direction, featuring Nordic and Saxon-based armies -- everything from Vikings to, well, more Vikings. Players build armies that move around the continent (map) independently and engage in turn-based battles with other armies. Each battle consists of a grid where combatants move their units around to destroy each other.
It's that simple. Those who are fans of strategic RPGs will feel right at home with King's Bounty. You build bases, upgrade troops, maintain morale, and basically wipe the other player off the map. Considering the raping and pillaging that Vikings often did, some might consider this a "game for the whole family." One thing grandma would definitely like is how you can summon a valykrie to destroy your enemies. A f*ckin' valkyrie!
If there's one genre that the free-to-play market has plenty of, it's MMOs. They are easy to monetize and last about as long as people are willing to play them. For companies that are anxious to make some decent profit, never-ending games with microtransactions are like foreclosed homes to a Wall Street banker. I present to you: Royal Quest.
To be fair, Royal Quest may look a bit on the cheap side, but it features plenty of variety that often make these F2P games worth trying out. Players choose one of three class types (melee, ranged gunman, or magic user) and embark on a journey of leveling, looting and lollygagging with other players. If you're at all familiar with MMOs and point-and-click RPGs -- I'm assuming most of you are -- then Royal Quest will be familiar territory.
The game is simple, but it does have a decent emount of content that keeps it interesting. Players can expect no shortage of items and gear to add to their characters. Even gameplay has some nifty elements to it, such as certain enemies requiring specific element-based attacks to be defeated (i.e. fire monsters requiring water). Overall, Royal Quest seems like a decent diversion, wrapped up in a friendly, free-to-play package.
1C games might not be the topic of most conversations among gamers, but they do retain enough fun to generate an audience worth noting. 1C is technically the largest publishing company in the world (by product volume), and the company even has its own retail chain in Russia.
So if you're curious about how these games have retained such a substancial constituency, try them out for yourself when they release later this year.