Battle Realms has style in spades--everything about it is slick, and it's noteworthy for that reason alone, as well as for many others.
Battle Realms, the first product from Liquid Entertainment, has style in spades--everything about it is slick, and it's noteworthy for that reason alone, as well as for many others. It's a martial-arts-themed real-time strategy game featuring dozens of great-looking units from four unique factions, impressive graphical effects, and an innovative resource model. It has a polished, attractive presentation, an open-ended campaign, and several good multiplayer modes. Battle Realms does have a few gameplay issues that diminish some of its strategic appeal, as the action can prove to be difficult to manage. But it's still a very worthwhile experience despite these things and should provide many hours of enjoyment for all kinds of real-time strategy players.
The setting and characters of the game are clearly inspired by some of Hong Kong's most spectacular martial arts films--particularly the work of director/choreographer Tsui Hark--as well as some of Japan's action-packed comics and animated films, like the gory and stylish Ninja Scroll. The incredible fight sequences featured in last year's film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon are also a good frame of reference for what you can expect from the battles in Battle Realms. Nothing is mundane in the game's fictional Far East-like world--even simple peasants can fight as trained martial artists should the need arise. All the game's various units and characters don't just stand adjacent to each other and hack away, as in most other real-time strategy games. Instead, they'll attack with a variety of moves and techniques and put on quite a show in the process. Thanks to the game's beautifully animated fully 3D units, not to mention the attractive terrain graphics and the overall detail found in the game, Battle Realms certainly looks impressive.
True to its source of inspiration, combat in Battle Realms can be quite chaotic. You actually have little control over your units besides being able to move them about (you can make them run by double-clicking), order them to attack, and initiate their special abilities if they have any. It's surprising that you can't do more with your units. They're very autonomous--they'll automatically rush to attack nearby foes, prioritize threats properly, and even switch between ranged and melee attacks as necessary. The pathfinding in the game is great--tell your units to go somewhere, and they will, stopping to fight any enemies along the way. But you can't set your units in formations and must instead move them as a rabble (though the rabble moves at the speed of the slowest unit in the group); and the pacing of the combat can be so fast that you'll just have to wait and see whether your forces survive. It can be very difficult to pull units out of battle, as they will seem to keep trying to lurch back into the fray. Also, since the game's units are large and tend to spread out when they fight, it can be all the more difficult to keep track of everything that's happening in a big battle, since it won't all fit onscreen.
Micromanaging the combat is necessary to sway the odds in your favor--individual units can have special abilities or equipment that can be used in battle to debilitate their foes, bolster their allies, and much more. Still, the breakneck pacing of the combat will often force you to simply use all of your special powers and abilities all at once, hoping for the best. But not all of the game is this fast-paced--it can take a while to bring enemy structures to the ground, during which time the enemy can flee with a few peasants and set up a new base of operations elsewhere, making the battle drag on.
The peasant, your basic unit, is automatically produced from peasant huts it can build. The more peasant huts you have, the faster peasants are generated. But the more units you have, the slower peasant generation becomes, until you reach your maximum unit limit--up to 50. Peasants can build other structures and can also gather the game's two resources, rice and water. New buildings cost a surplus of rice and water. Training new units costs rice and water too.
The resource model is slightly more complex than that--rice grows back slowly, but it'll grow back faster if you have peasants water it. And you don't just buy military units as you do in most real-time strategy games--your peasants train themselves into them. Thus, the resource gathering in Battle Realms becomes a challenging proposition. The more peasants you have, the more resources you can gather--but unless you upgrade peasants by training them to be troops, you'll be defenseless. It's an interesting system, especially once you factor in some of the finer details, like rains suddenly replenishing all your rice paddies or having to use water to put out buildings that have caught fire. Fortunately, the building process moves quite briskly in Battle Realms, and since there are fairly strict upper limits on how much rice and water can be stored, you'll have a good sense of when your economy is well underway and be able to commit to military training.