Real-time combat-strategy games are burning up the Net. Warcraft II, Command & Conquer, Close Combat, and others have developed such strong followings that similar titles were bound to follow. Strategy and wargame master SSI has joined the fray with Warwind, a title that takes real-time strategy one step further.
Comparisons between Warcraft and Warwind will be inevitable. Both are real-time, fantasy-based strategy-wargames with an action feel. But Warwind has layers of depth and complexity that are missing from similar titles. Developed by DreamForge (the folks behind such top-flight RPGs as Ravenloft, Chronomaster, and Anvil of Dawn), Warwind features an elaborate background story and a detailed physical world that adds some new twists to the familiar formula.
Gameplay takes place on Yavaun, a planet that has been ruled by the imperialistic, snakelike Tha' Roon for 1,000 years. Two other races, the Eaggra and the Obblinox, are under Tha' Roon control, while a third, the Shama' Li, remains unconquered. The Eaggra are plantlike people characterized by their prolific workers, while the Obblinox are a warrior race that functions as the strong arm of the Tha' Roon empire by keeping a lid on dissent. The mystical Shama' Li people have kept their distance, cultivating ancient runes and magical knowledge.
As with all empires, the Tha' Roon are challenged by revolution, in this case from the Eaggra. These industrious plants strike first at the Obblinox, who fight back in their role as guard dogs of the empire. Eventually, the Obblinox also decide to revolt, turning against their masters. In the background the Shama' Li try to keep their distance, but are inevitably drawn into the war.
In the course of Warwind you can play any of the four races through four different campaigns or several single scenarios. Each campaign has about seven scenarios linked by some intrigue and plot twists, and each race faces different challenges. The Obblinox, in the beginning, have to try to suppress the budding revolt, while the Eaggra need to gain their independence. The Tha' Roon will eventually have to fight for themselves, and the Shama' Li just try to protect their ancient sites from destruction and in one scenario, save members of another race.
DreamForge spent a lot of time creating a detailed story and highly individual races that add new levels of depth to gameplay. Rather than having essentially similar units on each side, the four races each field ten very different types of warrior. The familiar pattern of harvesting resources (wood and rock) and building structures allows you to create and hire different units. For instance, workers, mercenaries, and heroes can be hired from the Inn; the War College can train more advanced fighters; and the Arcanery can teach magic. As you invest more in research, more advanced technology becomes available.
But rather than having disposable grunts, Warwind allows you to train and improve units, letting them learn new skills or spells, or become more efficient in battle. Each unit can be equipped with a number of bio-upgrades to enhance such abilities as stealth, armor, speed, strength, and vision. For example, you can upgrade the stealth of a unit until it's invisible, but opponents can also upgrade their units' vision to the point where they can see an invisible army. Combat is a little more elaborate too, allowing you to specify ranged or melee attacks.
Advanced units vary greatly from race to race, though each race has things like battle trucks, hovering cruisers that function on sea or land, barges, and transports. Heroes with super abilities are available to be hired from the inn, and these give a substantial boost to an army. Each race can also build a very special unit called a war machine. For the Tha' Roon, these are the powerful, flying Jump Troops, while the Obblinox fields a kind of living tank with cannons for arms, the Eaggra a long-range artillery unit, and the Shama Li'- a large earth elemental with magical powers. Capping off the well-equipped army is your clan leader, who must survive for you to win. Each leader has certain special abilities, and each can also turn resources into something called "influence." Influence makes troops fight better, allows more units to be hired, and allows for a "war cry" to be used to give units added armor and power.
Beyond the races themselves, 11 other sometimes-hostile creatures inhabit the game world, just to make things tricky. Cute little beasties called Bonca Fledglings run around and eat houses, but if you kill them, they summon hippolike Big Boncas to come stomp on ya. Harvesting wood isn't always easy because some trees are actually camouflaged monsters that attack when your workers try to chop them down.
Of course, Warwind wouldn't be complete without an eight-player network option. Several types of play help keep head-to-head games interesting; those include escort missions, seven players versus the computer, a battle royal, and scavenger hunts. And while you can't draw maps, you can create custom scenarios on the maps included (there should be about 80 in the final version).
Warwind looks good and the play has a nice feel, with some more elaborate elements adding new challenges. If you're hooked on Warcraft II, Warwind should be just the thing to add a new twist to your fantasy bloodletting.