Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Taking Names and Kicking Astral Lords - Eador: Masters of the Broken World

Two things clearly come to mind when I play this game. The first is that this game is huge, scary huge. I've put a decent chunk of time into Eador and while I've made it a good distance into the campaign, it feels like I've barely scratched the surface. I've been told a full campaign can take around 100 hours to complete and I see no reason to doubt that claim.

The second thing I've noticed and this is important, is that this game is very obviously a labor of love.

Early game on a random Shard
Eador: Masters of the Broken World is a turn based fantasy strategy game made by Snowbird Games, and they clearly love turn based fantasy strategy games. From the first few turns of game play, it's obvious the devs have played all the greats: Heroes of Might and Magic, Master of Magic, Age of Wonders, etc. and both love them to death and have taken notes off them in designing their game. The end result is a strategy game that feels like a mashup of the best bits of several of those classics I mentioned.

In Eador you play as an astral lord who is tasked with restoring the broken world of Eador, bit by bit. You do this by attacking shards, building and upgrading a main town as your base of operations, hiring troops for your armies along with heroes to lead them, casting spells and so on. Mostly standard stuff, but where Eador shines is in execution.

This is Beleth, one of the Astral Lords you'll be dealing with. He's kinda grumpy.
At any point in the game there are a ton of options at your disposal, you can attack provinces or try to negotiate with the natives living there for control of them. Areas you control can have random events that need your attention, or can have locations for your heroes to visit, ranging from simple monster dens to stores or quest locations. Heroes have branching classes to pick from as they level up. Your main town has a large variety of buildings but can only have so many buildings of any given type, forcing you to choose what you really need: a plate shop would be nice for arming your warriors, but building it might mean having to go without a chain-mail shop for your commander. The list goes on.

On their own, playing one shard would be a game in itself, and the game does have an option to do just that. But Eador's campaign goes a good ways beyond that. Between your attempts to take over shards, you spend time in the Astral. The Astral acts as a macro game to tie all the shards you're conquering together. as you take over shards you unlock new abilities, some of them are new buildings you can build on future shards that unlock new units or spells. Other things you unlock are abilities you use in the astral, allowing you to spend Astral energy, gained by conquering shards or spending turns in the Astral, to do things like start with more gold or gems at the start of a shard, or have items placed in the town's treasury for your heroes. This means every time you take over a shard, there's even MORE options to think about going into the next one.

A view of the Astral. From here, you can spend astral energy, or choose a shard to attack
All this complexity however does come with some drawbacks. Namely, this game is hard, VERY hard. even at the easiest setting, which I was playing at, the AI is quite aggressive and the game as a whole is very unforgiving to new players, add in the wealth of options I just mentioned and Your first few games will likely end in disaster until you start to get the hang of things. Also, the game can be something of a grind. While each shard you win unlocks new things for the next, the unlocks are fairly incremental rather than something large and game changing, making a lot of the shards you attack little more then just another shard. The later parts of a shard can also drag, as you must wipe out all the other lords on each shard to win, no surrendering, no diplomacy, forcing you to spend time marching around the map to mop up enemies long after your victory has been made obvious.

Finally, the game was originally made in Russian, and while the translation isn't as bad as you might expect, it still occasional has it's moments, an odd phrase here, a strange choice of words there. It's not very hard to understand what the game is trying to tell you however, if you can understand my crappy writing, you should be fine.

The shop looks empty now, but more items become available as you build up your town.

That said, if you're a fan of turn based strategy and want a game you can readily sink a LOT of time into? I'd highly recommend you try this.

Eador: Masters of the broken World was developed by Snowbird Games. It is available on Steam and GOG. It's homepage can be found here.

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