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Review: Champions of Anteria

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I Don't Champion Anteria, I Ain't Got No Crystal Ball

Champions of Anteria has an interesting history.

Originally intended to be a different type of game, Champions takes the art assets created for The Settlers: Kingdoms of Anteria and melds them with a combination of Real Time Strategy (RTS) and base-building mechanics to cobble together something that ends up being more than the sum of its parts.

Champions of Anteria (PC)
Developer: Ubisoft Blue Byte
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release: August 30, 2016
MSRP: $29.99

Champions of Anteria (CoA) blends together several genres into a single experience, simplifying most of them to make things easier for the player. There are sections that allow you to rebuild a city using the resources you've collected, and other sections that play out more like a level in Warcraft 3, where you move your heroes from point to point on a map, hunting down bandits and beasts. Once you progress a bit in the city building section, you can unlock equipment and consumables that will help your heroes in the RTS sections. On top of this, there's also a world map that you need to conquer, expanding your influence territory by territory until you become the undisputed ruler of this land.

These different sections are interdependent, but they never meet. It's sort of like ActRaiser, where you had to clear out the monster lairs in the sidescrolling sections before you could start expanding your town. Every day you receive resources based on what buildings you've constructed in your village, and these can be exchanged to create more buildings and expand your town, or to upgrade your heroes' equipment. There are bonuses to the amount collected if you place a building in an appropriate section of the map, putting a woodcutter near the forest, for example. You can also gain these resources by defeating monsters in the RTS sections, but the resources gained are dependent on what monsters you face, so it's best to have a diverse town for consistency's sake. 

The base building unlocks new abilities and equipment for the heroes in the RTS section, and the RTS section awards your heroes Renown, which draws new townsfolk to your village. Spending Renown by exploring upgrades on the skill tree is how you unlock better buildings and gain access to new territory. There are a LOT of interconnected systems, and it could easily become overwhelming, but CoA manages the impressive trick of making all your various tasks feel manageable. 

Each in-game day allows you to do some base building in your village, and also to attack or defend one of the sectors on the map in the RTS section. Your ultimate goal is to conquer the entire surrounding area, but you need to work up to that by managing your base and upgrading your heroes for the RTS sections. Limiting both of these types of gameplay forces you to switch between them frequently, keeping either kind from becoming stale. It also prevents the player from becoming overwhelmed by the options available to them, since there's always just a few options to choose from and a pretty clear goal to work towards.

CoA's RTS section features a fairly robust elemental damage system, and players will do well to memorize which elements deal extra damage to the different types of enemies. There are five elements arranged in a circle: Water, Fire, Metal, Nature, and Lightning. The element earlier in the ring deals 35% more damage to the next type, and takes 35% less damage from enemies of that type. For example, Water takes extra damage from Lightning and deals extra damage to Fire enemies, while taking less damage from Fire attacks and dealing less to Lightning. If you don't have an advantage or a disadvantage against a certain type, or attack with the same element, each deals normal damage to the other.

Each hero has their own elemental affinity, though most can attack with two element types in case they run into an unfavorable matchup. While you're limited to three Heroes out of the five that become available, there's a chart that lets you get an idea of what you'll be facing before an RTS mission begins so that you aren't caught flatfooted.

Real-Time Strategy may be a bit of a misnomer in this game, since you can pause the action at any point to make the best use of your heroes' various abilities. It's possible to play without pausing, but your heroes will take a lot more damage and you'll have to craft a lot more consumable potions to make it through the various maps. On the other hand, there is some strategy here, and all of the heroes have some synergy with one another. For example, the Lightning attuned hero can force enemies to become Lightning attuned themselves, setting the table for your Nature attuned huntress to mop them up.

The RTS sections have several different types of goals, ranging from escorting a caravan to simply clearing all of the bandits out of an area. There are always bonus goals in these RTS sections, and achieving them grants your heroes a boon like a damage bonus or a non-elementally aligned ally that will follow them around on the current map. There's usually a monetary reward as well, so it can be worth seeking out the bonus challenges in the RTS levels.

The first thing that jumped out at me when I started the game was the visuals. Champions of Anteria puts its best foot forward early on, as all of its introduction and cutscenes are told with gorgeous, apparently hand-painted art. The opening in particular was very impressive, and the moving paintings caught my attention immediately. There's a little bit less animation in the later cutscenes, but still enough to imply the living world CoA wants you to inhabit. 

The in-game artwork is less visually stunning, but still quite pretty. It's clear that CoA takes its visual cues from Warcraft 3, favoring easily identifiable, stylized silhouettes to realistically proportioned characters. The maps for the RTS portions of the game are similar to Warcraft 3's as well, though not nearly as complicated since there's no resource gathering or base building to worry about in these sections. Equipment you unlock shows up on your character models, so there's a nice sense of progression given by the visual feedback. Finally, the base building section shows off clean, attractive models for the buildings you place, though some tend not to feel distinct at a glance. 

CoA's voice work is worth a mention, and both the narrator and the heroes's voices are well acted with reasonable comic timing. I never laughed out loud, but the story hooks and the cutscenes were humorous. I did catch myself chuckling from time to time, particularly at the story of Brother Anslem, a thunder-slinging monk who was kicked out of his order because he became a vegetarian.

The music is pleasant, if predictable. Vaguely Celtic music informs the backgrounds of the town building sections, and more aggressive drum-heavy tracks ramp up when you get into combat in the RTS parts. It's not bad, but it feels like the music was cribbed from the Lord of the Rings movies.

While I enjoyed my time with Champions of Anteria for the most part, I did run into some issues in the RTS sections. Pathfinding was the biggest issue, as your heroes tend to get stuck on geometry or lose their way if you tell them to go very far with a single command. This odd behavior extends to the enemy AI as well, and I watched a bandit walk clear around a long section of map to attack one of my heroes rather than moving in a straight line to attack directly. I thought that this might be an attempt to flank my heroes and was ready to praise the AI, but then one of my non-player assist characters began chasing after the bandit using the same path. There are encounters every few feet on the RTS map so this isn't usually an issue, but if you want to backtrack for some reason, the cracks really start to show.

Another issue I had was the necessity of micromanagement. The heroes you control all begin with two abilities and will unlock more the longer you play. To get the most out of these, you need to use these abilities whenever they're not on cooldown, and this usually involves moving into position to set up a line that intersects multiple enemies, or getting a ranged character in close to make use of a damaging area of effect ability. While there is an action queue for each hero that should theoretically allow you to prepare multiple actions, I could never figure out how to get it to work. Even if I had been able to use this queue, I'm not sure I would have trusted it, since my attack commands were frequently ignored with no explanation given. It wasn't a big deal since I could just re-issue the command, but I felt like I had to baby my heroes along one tiny step at a time just to make sure no one wandered off.

Overall, I enjoyed my time with Champions of Anteria. The visuals are beautiful, and it's easy to see why someone high up at Ubisoft might have wanted to save the work their artists did. The game is a unique blend of genres that I haven't seen attempted anywhere else, and it gets more right than it does wrong. I don't think it's necessarily for everyone, but there's a free demo available if you'd like to try it out and see if it's something you'd enjoy.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]

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Champions of Anteria reviewed by Kevin McClusky

7.5

GOOD

Solid and definitely has an audience. There could be some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.
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Kevin McClusky
Kevin McClusky   gamer profile

I'm a longtime member of Destructoid, and you may have known me in a prior life as Qalamari. ... more + disclosures


 


 


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