Real-time strategy games continue to be strong on the PC, and the formula of gathering resources, building up bases, and churning out huge armies remains popular with gamers. Now Electronic Arts and developer Black Hole Games are readying Armies of Exigo, a fantasy-based real-time strategy game that will feature impressive 3D graphics and even more stunning cinematic cutscenes. We've had the opportunity to play around with a fairly complete version of the game to find out more about it.
From the look of the opening cutscene, it appears that the developers at Black Hole are taking inspiration from the beautiful cutscenes found in Blizzard's real-time strategy games. The opening cutscene itself is almost worthy of a movie, which isn't surprising considering Black Hole has ties to a Hollywood production company. The opening movie sets the stage for the game's story of three powerful factions battling for supremacy in a fantastical world. There's the empire, which is comprised of humans and elves; then there are the alien and mystical fallen from the underworld; and finally there are the powerful and brutish beasts.
Armies of Exigo uses familiar real-time strategy mechanics, so if you've ever played a real-time strategy game before you should be able to pick it up with ease. There are three main resources in the game: gold, wood, and gems. Depending on the faction that you're playing, you'll need various combinations of these resources in order to construct buildings and units. Naturally, each faction has its own unique set of buildings, technology, and military units. The empire builds fairly conventional swordsmen and pikemen, whereas the fallen enlist strange, insect-like creatures. The beasts draw from a variety of monstrous units, including goblins and harpies. After mustering an army, you'll go out into the world and battle your foes. These will not only include the two other factions, but also third parties, such as monsters, and other races, like orcs and ogres.
You can bolster your regular military units with heroes, who can cast powerful spells and project auras that improve the morale of nearby units. Regular units can also gain experience and level up, boosting their abilities and making them more valuable in battle. Human troops can earn additional hit points while beast units can gain attack and speed bonuses. The fallen are unique in that its troops gain experience globally; each time a fallen kills an enemy, the victim's soul is collected in a soul trap. The more souls in the trap, the better the fallen troops will fight. Naturally, this makes the soul trap a tempting target during battle.
One of the major features of the game is that it takes place on two levels simultaneously. There's the surface level and an underground level. Oftentimes, the only way around an obstacle on the surface is to find an alternative path underground, and vice versa. You can switch between the two levels by hitting the tab key, and you can also bring up a second minimap so that you can monitor both levels at the same time. And, if you give a unit an order to move between levels, they'll automatically locate the nearest entrance and go there.
In addition to the single-player campaign, Armies of Exigo will let you set up your own skirmishes against the artificial intelligence, and the game will ship with a scenario editor. Meanwhile, the multiplayer modes that we know of are capture the flag and skirmish, but there is a custom mode as well. There are also some high production values, as the opening movie attests. The gameplay itself looks very good, as the 3D graphics engine is capable of large amounts of detail; you'll notice trees and fields of grass swaying in the wind. The empire units are a bit conventional in appearance, but the fallen and beasts feature some standout unit designs.
At this point, Armies of Exigo is nearly finished. The version that we played was fairly complete, and it appears that the only thing left to do is for Black Hole to balance and polish the game. So far, the graphics and visuals look extremely good, and the game is shaping up nicely. We'll find out how successful EA and Black Hole are when Armies of Exigo ships later this year. For now, check out the opening cinematic cutscene and gameplay footage.