Don’t call it an RTS
Last year, I went hands-on with Grand Ages: Medieval, a civilization builder set during the Medieval era. Coming from the developers of Port Royale 3 and Rise of Venice, they’ve moved onto a bigger stage of Europe. During a time of mass suffering and bloodshed, only a few were able to take charge and forge their own kingdoms — either through diplomacy and negotiation, or through brute force and conquest.
Just before gamescom, I spent some quality time with the PS4 release of this sim title, and I was impressed with its complexity and breadth of content. I also got to take a peak at the upcoming campaign mode, which will familiarize players with the new setting while also showing the trials and tribulations of an up-and-coming ruler as he leads his kingdom to prominence.
Grand Ages: Medieval (PC, PS4 [previewed])
Developer: Gaming Minds
Publisher: Kalypso Media
Release Date: PC September 25, 2015 / PS4 September 29
Much like its predecessor, Grand Ages: Rome, Medieval allows for total freedom in how you build your empire and expand your reach. Though Rome itself was a major player during its heyday, the empire’s time has passed, and now the kingdoms throughout Europe, the British Isles, Northern Africa, and the Middle East aim to leave their mark on the world. With both a narrative campaign and free mode to tackle, players can build their kingdom in any way they see fit.
Dubbed as an “open world grand strategy economy’ game by the developers, they were very adamant about this title being something more than a traditional RTS game. With the freedom in how you engage with allies, tackle challenges, initiate trade and wartime agreements, and eliminate the opposition all up to your own playstyle, you’re given an enormous amount of leeway in how you stake your claim throughout the land.
In the campaign mode, players take on the role of Leon Versselios, a young ruler in central Europe who must take over his kingdom after the death of his father. Essentially, this campaign serves as the tutorial and teaches players how to establish towns, trade with neighboring cities, gather resources, scout nearby lands to expand reach, negotiate alliances, and prepare for war against foes when negotiation fails. As you build your nation, Leon will encounter many allies that seek alliances with him and his kingdom, but over time, many events could sour relations and turn neighboring kingdoms to seek out what is yours.
As you expand, you’re treated to animated cutscenes showing recent relations with allies and the morale of family members and citizens of the kingdom. While there is freedom to be had, you are guided along to an extent in the campaign. According to the developers, the narrative mode can take upwards to 10-15 hours to complete, and features many twists and turns that will keep you guessing. However, once you’ve reached a certain point in the campaign, which concludes Leon’s core story, you’re allowed to continue his rise to power at your leisure and continue with your expansion. This also serves as a great segue into where the true game begins.
In the open world mode, you can choose a custom character and starting location, and begin your expansion as you see fit. This mode is where most players will spend their time in Grand Ages, as it allows for your to create your story and show the neighboring civilizations how your empire will shape the known world. During my session, I was dropped into a 20+ hour save file. I was initially a bit overwhelmed by how much data there was to keep track of. With many different kingdoms, many of which were allies, and some neutral or hostile, you’ll have to keep a close eye on which ones need assistance or require swift action against. But it’s not just people you’ll have to worry about — the kingdoms will have to contend with mother nature as well. Earthquakes, thunderstorms, volcanoes, famine, and even the bubonic plague are major threats that will call for immediate action.
While these sorts of games are home on PC, the PS4 was able to hand everything quite well. The user interface has been slightly modified to accommodate the controller setup, but overall it’s largely the same game as its PC counterpart. While it’s very menu intensive, I found it easy to get into once I went through the motions and learned all the tricks needed to engage. There’s truly no other game like this on PS4, and it’ll definitely please the more hardcore-minded strategy gamers looking for a new title on console.