Gen Con 2001Battle Realms hands-on

Ubi Soft brings a new build of the upcoming real-time strategy game to Gen Con.

Ubi Soft is in attendance at this year's Gen Con game convention in Milwaukee, and one of the games it's showing off is an updated build of Battle Realms, the innovative real-time strategy game that's being developed at Liquid Entertainment. The new build contains each of the game's four playable clans, as well as its multiplayer mode, which can be fully customized to play different scenarios under different conditions.

We also got to sit down and play the game from the very beginning. All the game's cinematics are in real time and use the in-game graphics engine. At the opening of Battle Realms, the character Kenji returns from his self-imposed exile wearing completely white clothing. Kenji begins the game "colorless"--that is, he's not affiliated with any particular clan at the start. He then meets a terrified peasant fleeing from soldiers of the evil Serpent Clan, who are apparently on a mission to slaughter the peasants and destroy their village. The player then gains control of Kenji and may choose to fight alongside the peasants, which affiliates him or her with the noble Dragon Clan, or join in on the slaughter, which will affiliate him or her with the Serpent Clan. The color of Kenji's clothes will change to reflect the player's choice.

We also got a chance to test a few skirmish missions using both the Dragon and Serpent clans. Though each clan has different units and a different path of upgrades, every single unit in Battle Realms has a full set of interesting walking, running, attacking, and idle animations. Peasants sit cross-legged on the ground and fan themselves with their straw hats, sharpshooters fiddle with their crossbows, and artillery units lug their heavy weapons about, then plant them firmly into the ground before preparing to fire.

If you've been following GameSpot's coverage of Battle Realms , you'll know that the game makes a few innovative changes to standard real-time strategy resource management. For starters, the game only has two resources--food and water (which can be harvested by peasants)--but these resources are actually stored in the low-level hut, which also produces peasants. And, if you've been following the coverage, you'll also know that the game automatically produces peasant units in succession for each player until that player reaches the population limit, which will itself be governed by the number of peasant huts the player has built and the mission outlines for each scenario. The game's interface actually clearly indicates the amount of food and water players have, as well as how many units they have within their population limit, and it also has a meter that indicates how long players must wait until their next peasant arrives. The actual speed at which peasants are generated is brisk; we found it easy to keep both water and food in supply and generate small groups of armed forces by training peasants. Battle Realms also has a convenient "select all idle peasants" shortcut like in Age of Empires II, and it lets players set a rally point for peasants right in the middle of a rice field or pond, so the peasant units players generate will begin gathering resources immediately after they've produced them.

Although each clan has a peasant hut structure, they also have distinctive military buildings that produce different types of units in different combinations. For instance, Serpent Clan peasants can be trained at the tavern to produce standard warrior units. However, you can also take a peasant that's been trained as a warrior and send it off to train at the thieves guild structure, and once that unit's done training, it'll be an agile raider unit. It's clear that Liquid Entertainment wants its players to strike strategic balances between using peasants to harvest resources and training them to be soldiers and between quickly producing large numbers of low-level military units and taking more time to train high-level units, and from what we've seen, this balance is implemented extremely well in the game already.

Though the build we saw at Gen Con wasn't quite complete, it still played extremely well, and it suggests that Battle Realms will be able to make its scheduled release in October 2001. For more information on Battle Realms, including comprehensive clan profiles and designer diaries, see our previous coverage of the game.

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