Besieger is a real-time strategy game about Konin, the barbarian king of Cimmeria who wields the mythical sword of Krom. No, not Conan, Robert E. Howard's famous fictional barbarian from Cimmeria who wields the mythical sword of Crom, but Konin. What's the difference? Quite honestly, we're still not sure. Like Conan, Konin occupies a world that's equal parts ancient history and fantasy. It's a game of Cimmerians and Vikings but also of centaurs and werebears. And it makes for an interesting setting and a potentially interesting game. However, Besieger is bogged down by lackluster artificial intelligence and poor pathfinding.
In Besieger, you'll command Viking and Cimmerian armies in a quest to stop a war started by Mara, Konin's sister, who usurped his throne. Besieger takes an interesting tack with the game's two campaigns. The two storylines basically overlap, so you start off playing the Vikings under Earl Barmalay before moving on to Konin. It's a nice touch, because you get to see how events are interpreted differently from both sides. You'll trek through various lands and underground settings in adventure-style missions that require you to conserve the forces that you start off with, and you'll also have traditional real-time strategy missions where your job is to build up a town and its economy. This follows the usual model of resource gathering and base construction but adds an interesting twist. In addition to gathering wood, stone, and iron, your most valuable resource is actually your population.
You can only recruit military units from the populace. So to create a spearman or an archer, you have to select one of your workers and then train him by having him go through a certain building. It's a good way of limiting the size of an army, because you can no longer amass a gigantic horde to rush your enemy. You need to strike a balance between having enough workers to gather resources while training enough workers to go to war. Still, there are a couple of annoyances with Besieger's unit system. For instance, you can't upgrade a warrior to another type of unit directly. Instead, you have to send the warrior back to the building that he originally trained at so that he can become a worker again, and then you have to send the worker to a new building to receive different training. And training a lot of warriors can take a long time.
In addition to the regular warrior units, you have access to various heroes in the game, and each one exerts a command influence around him or her that boosts your troop's capabilities. Heroes are your most valuable units, because they're so powerful. And because your units and heroes can gain experience points and level up, they can become even more deadly--almost ridiculously so. Ghazimm the centaur, for example, is a high-speed killing machine who wields two blades and can run down any opponent and shred him with ease. It gets to the point where you barely need an army, because a handful of high-level heroes can decimate the opposition with relative ease.
Besieger takes its name from the fact that this is a game about the building up of and tearing down of defenses, and in this, it feels like a tip of the hat to the classic real-time strategy game Age of Empires II. In addition to all the traditional resource gathering and base building, you have to devote a considerable amount of effort to building up layers of defensive walls and towers to keep the enemy at bay. At the same time, you need to construct your own siege equipment in preparation for your own offensive against enemy fortifications. In theory, it's a great dynamic for a strategy game. When you're being besieged, you're forced to sortie your forces to disrupt the enemy attack, and when you're besieging, you have to maintain pressure on the enemy's defenses until a weakness erupts. Unfortunately, this is where Besieger's technical problems ruin a potentially interesting game.
The game's biggest weakness is its artificial intelligence, which is lacking. The best that your opponent can usually do is dispatch wave after the same wave of units at you, no matter how ineffectual they are. The AI doesn't adjust tactics at all. Then there are the frustrating pathfinding issues. Your gatherers constantly stumble into one another, causing traffic jams and slowdowns. Depending on the layout of your base, they may run the long way around buildings because their pathfinding won't allow them to pass through the narrow straights between buildings. When on the offensive, half of your military units can't even get out of their own base properly, because they get trapped behind their own walls. It's even worse when you try to rush your troops into a breach in the enemy's defenses and the majority of your army fails to make it inside. You'll have to reload saved games quite a bit to get it right.
The pathfinding problems in the single-player campaign also plague the multiplayer portion of the game, making control of your units difficult, to say the least. However, unlike the single-player campaign, in multiplayer you no longer have the luxury to reload to an earlier save if things go bad. It's one thing to be outplayed, but it's another to lose due to pathfinding. One caveat: Besieger lacks an in-game server browser capable of locating games on the Internet. You have to rely on third-party server browser to locate an Internet game, but before you do that, you need to download a patch to ensure that the game works properly with the server browser.
Besieger uses some pretty interesting technology. The graphics engine, which was developed by Primal and is currently being used in the upcoming action role-playing game I of the Dragon, is capable of rendering huge levels. The game also takes into account elevation. As a result, units running uphill are slowed down considerably, while those running downhill have an advantage, which translates into defensive bonuses if you can fortify the top of a hill. And everything is destructible in the game, and the world itself is fully deformable, which means that it can be reshaped in real-time, though there aren't many opportunities to see this in action. On the other hand, everything looks a bit square and chunky up close. The terrain could also use higher-resolution textures, since it looks a bit bland at times.
The game has all the obligatory sound effects you'd probably expect if you've played an RTS lately, from the banging of hammers when your workers construct a building to the little remarks that your warriors utter when you select them (there's even a squishy noise when enemies explode). It's all of fair quality. The music and the voice acting are also adequate, though none of the audio stands out as memorable.
In the end, Besieger comes off as a bit of a disappointment, because the siege warfare in the game never really coalesces. You get the feeling that the game could have used a bit more time in development to smooth out all the issues. As it is, Besieger tries to add some innovation to the tried-and-true real-time strategy formula, but unfortunately, it falls short.