It was with a sense of withered trepidation that I approached Liquid Entertainment’s Battle Realms. The premise wasn’t an inspirational one: a fantasy-world RTS game, with an oriental flavour. I feared that I was about to fall victim to a most shameful clone, devoid of originality, flair, and generally anything else, like so many recent strategy titles seem to suffer from. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised by a game that appears to have been blessed with loving and thoughtful developers, who have created something that stands out from the usual dross.
Upon launching the game, the first element of merit was the plot, that served as far more than a mere premise, instead pervading the single-player experience, and adding richly to the atmosphere and sense of reality. A good start. Not entirely an original one however, but at least Liquid have thrown themselves into it entirely, creating a world far more cohesive and realistic than most thanks to the degree to which the setting has been embraced. If only many other developers would realise that a whole plot is better than half-a-plot, even if it isn’t the most original ever written.
This loving attention to detail has been maintained in the environments and setting of the game, which is what first struck me upon launching into my first battle. The world is simply stunning, easily the most rich, diverse and realistic RTS environment I’ve witnessed, thanks to a minute attention to detail. The world is just so vivid; alive with trees, lakes, hills, mountains and creatures (including tiny Dragonflies). All of which added to the oriental ambience, creating a truly immersive and intriguing realm in which to wage battle. If you’ll pardon my play on words. This is perhaps the game’s strongest element, as it helps add to the sense of importance in battles, because of the strength of the plot tied in with the world and it’s inhabitants.
The units (or perhaps ‘characters’ is a better word) of the game are more original and interesting than most too, with the various types being brought to live with some delightful animation, and a style unique to the particular clan they belong to. Once again the attention to detail is wondrous.
It is from here-on however that matters take a turn towards the norm, as the very basics of gameplay remain very much the usual for titles in the genre. No real diversions on theme present themselves, with the style and visuals of the buildings, units and resources being the major difference with other games. You harvest the resources of rice, water, etc. You build an infrastructure which presents further options as you progress, you train units, and then you attack, or defend; as the case may be. It all feels very much the same, which isn’t such a bad thing, just that none of it’s done any differently or any better than any other game in the last couple of years. Which is a slight disappointment.
The AI of the game is nothing special either, with your minions occasionally not behaving themselves in a rather annoying fashion; there is also a lack of strategic depth on this front as no formations are available; as in rival oriental RTS Shogun.
That isn’t to say that I can’t recommend Battle Realms, in fact fans of the genre, especially those who enjoy ‘fantasy’ settings, will no doubt love this inspired jaunt in the genre. They just shouldn’t expect it to break much ground on the gameplay front, that’s all.
The game has a wide variety of options, which is always nice to see, including the now essential Skirmish mode for when you need that quick strategic ‘fix’. It’s all very well designed to, a trademark of the game, which permeates it throughout. This includes multiplayer, which is pretty good fun, especially with the very different styles of rival clans available.
In conclusion Battle Realms is a visually stunning RTS game, which has levels of detail that far surpass many other games in the genre. It does not however innovate much on the gameplay front, though fans of this tried-and-tested formula will no doubt relish the rich style and plot. A case of so very near and yet so very far.