Praetorians Preview

We get a first-hand look at the upcoming real-time strategy game from the creators of Commandos 2.

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Praetorians takes place around 50 BC when the Roman Empire was warring with several nations.

While resource management continues to be a strong element in most real-time strategy games, many developers are straying from the path by removing typical resource management in favor of a gameplay model that focuses more on the strategic aspects rather than economic. Currently in development at Pyro Studios--the same development house behind Commandos 2--Praetorians is a real-time strategy set approximately in the year 50 BC, during an age when the Roman Empire is warring with itself as well as the Gauls, various barbarian tribes, and the Egyptians. It's also one of the real-time strategy games that favors your ability to harness the power of your army and use it wisely depending on the situation rather than the amount of gold or wood you happen to have in the treasury.

The differences between Praetorians and most other real-time strategy games don't stop at economics, and in fact, the method of controlling the army is a little different from what most real-time strategy fans are probably used to. Instead of clicking on individual units and maneuvering them around a map, you can control them only in groups, which initially might seem like a drawback, but the fact that you can still divide these groups, send them to different areas on the map, and then make them rejoin the group is incredibly helpful. If the individual units in one group have received a considerable level of damage, then they can join the stronger group and increase their chances for survival during another engagement. In addition, it also becomes a little easier to establish a strategy, as specific types of units will stay inside their own group, so you won't have one or two archers accidentally venturing off with the infantry.

There isn't a typical resource management system in the game.

If your archers, infantry, or cavalry happen to be slaughtered over the course of a mission, there's only one way to replenish their ranks--seize control of a village. Throughout almost every mission (there are around 20 in the single-player campaign), you'll find a village that's either deserted or controlled by an enemy army. These villages are essentially the only resource in the game, and if one happens to be captured by your army, you can send a special centurion unit into the village and train members of its population so that they become different units. While the population of the village decreases as you continue to produce new units, it will eventually start to grow again, creating an entire new group of people for you to train. However, there may come a time when it will be much more beneficial to destroy a village than keep it so that the enemy never has the opportunity to seize it from you. But it seems that is rarely the case, unless your army already has an ample supply of units, and the enemy army controls perhaps only one or two villages on the map.

Even before capturing a village, you have to make another choice that involves one of the game's most important units, the centurion, which can grant a group of soldiers some very useful bonuses.

Centurions

Your light infantry will end up doing most of the work.

Without question, the centurion is probably one of the most useful units in the game. Even though its main purpose is to transform villagers into soldiers, it can also give your army a slight advantage. Whenever a centurion unit is still grouped with a specific section of your army, that section automatically receives higher offensive and defensive capabilities, which can be useful if it appears that your army and the enemy army are evenly matched. Sending a centurion into a village removes that advantage, but other centurion units can be created as regular units continue to gain experience through battle.

From basic seek-and-destroy missions to ambushes, you'll encounter a number of different battles throughout the game. One battle in particular pits a Roman army that has allied with some barbarians against a small rebel Roman force that has taken over a small fortress area complete with towers--which can be stocked with archers for a tactical height advantage. Not only must you defeat the enemy army, but you must also prevent its messenger from getting away. Before engaging the enemy in this particular battle, you can use a special scouting unit that will send either an eagle or a wolf out to get a glimpse of the area--the eagle can cover greater distances, but the wolf has the ability to run through forests and detect ambushes, but since this is a beach area, the eagle is a better choice. In this battle, the enemy is actually in the middle of your Roman and barbarian force, so any number of tactics can be used in this situation. Your barbarian units--which don't stay in tight formations like the Roman units do--can be maneuvered to block the messenger from leaving, then you can move a few groups of infantry up the beach to engage the enemy's infantry units, but you have to be careful because you don't want to fight them while in range of the towers.

After the enemy infantry has been taken care of, you can send the Roman units further up the beach while using the turtling battle tactic--when a group of infantry raise their shields, creating a nearly impenetrable surface--against the archer towers. When in close enough range, you can eventually send your infantry into the towers to kill the archers inside, which gives your army a distinct tactical advantage. War machines, such as ballistae, battering rams, and catapults, also play a large role in this battle, and since they actually have to be manned by individual light infantry units, they can be a potential drain on your forces if there are too many of them. If you don't have any war machines in your army, you can destroy the enemy's and then rebuild your own war machines out of the scraps. A successful strategy for this battle usually has the barbarians sweeping in from the northern part of the map to kill the enemy messenger and take out any of the war machines that are inaccessible to the Roman units. It's a tough battle that can easily end within a few minutes if you're not careful.

Convoys

Sieges are incredibly fun, but they'll also put your strategic skills to the test.

As noted before, there are a number of different mission styles, and they require vastly different strategies. In another mission, you'll be responsible for assaulting a convoy passing on a road through a small hilly area surrounded by a forest--indeed, it's almost like something out of Robin Hood. The catch is that you initially start out with only a few groups of archers lying in wait on either side of the road, along with a few heavy infantry groups hiding inside the forest. If you launch an attack too early, the enemy convoy will have the opportunity to prepare itself for a prolonged attack, so in this case it's much better to wait until the convoy arrives at a point where it receives a direct bombardment from your archers and can be hit from behind by the heavy infantry

Perhaps the most spectacular--and the most difficult--battles in Praetorians are fortress sieges. The one siege mission shown to us had an incredibly enormous fortress manned by an equally impressive number of soldiers in the courtyard area, on the walls, and in towers. Unfortunately, your army doesn't appear to be quite as large, but there are a few different tools you can use to ensure that your forces aren't wiped out entirely within the first few seconds of the battle. You'll have access to battering rams that you can use to destroy the fortress gates. There are also siege towers that you can fill with troops, but these have to be pushed close to the walls by light infantry, and as you might expect, quite a few of them will die because of the enemy archers before the siege tower even gets close to the wall. If you want to take a quicker and more direct approach to attacking the enemy, then ladders might be your best option since light infantry can carry them faster to the walls. While all of this is going on, you can order your catapults to bombard the enemy, but you need to focus on a specific area of the fortress, otherwise that attack will have little to no affect.

It will become clear rather quickly that the only way to win a siege mission in Praetorians is to use a multipronged attack. You have to attack the gates with the battering rams, move siege towers into position, and get the ladders on the walls as quickly as possible (to take out archers) all at once--of course, that's much easier said than done.

Though it's been in development for quite some time, Praetorians is really shaping up nicely. The full 3D terrain looks great and has plenty of nice little touches such as realistic-looking streams and detailed villages. There is also quite a variety in the terrain--you'll encounter everything from forest and beach lands to snow-covered mountains. But the real attraction of the game will undoubtedly be its focus on strategy and how it's been intertwined with actual Roman tactics. You'll be able to use turtling (though that tends to leave infantry open to cavalry attack), and the heavy infantry units can throw their small spears before pulling out their swords and engaging the enemy at close range. In addition, the eight-player multiplayer games should also be interesting, and since they can be recorded, Pyro hopes that people will use the replays as a means for studying different tactics. Praetorians is scheduled for release at the end of the year.

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