Battle Realms Profile: Dragon Clan
We've got exclusive screenshots and detailed info on the game's noble Dragon Clan.
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One of the most surprising games to grace the halls of the Los Angeles Convention Center at this year's E3 was Liquid Entertainment's Battle Realms. This freshman attempt by the relatively new Liquid wasn't on display for the public, but the few members of the gaming press who were lucky enough to attend the company's private demonstrations all walked away impressed with the game's promise of not only reinvigorating the real-time strategy genre but redefining it altogether. Certainly this is quite a claim from a company working on its very first game. But when you consider that Liquid Entertainment is made up of designers, programmers, and artists who've worked on games like Starcraft, Command & Conquer, and Red Alert, Battle Realms' potential to become the new milestone by which similar strategy games are measured becomes quite believable.
From the outset of the game's development, the goal of Liquid has always been to create a gameworld teeming with life. Forests provide cover for your troops' movement, but frightened birds might give away their location; fire will spread from house to house if left unchecked; water can be used to grow crops, build structures, and put out fires; clouds will thicken and cast their shadows on the ground as they pass overhead; and hills provide your units with a height advantage, allowing them to see farther than usual. This "living world" is designed to give Battle Realms a level of depth not seen in an RTS game before.
But as any die-hard RTS fan will tell you, the true measure of a real-time strategy game is its ability to perfectly balance its units and factions. In his fourth Designer Diary entry, Battle Realms' executive producer Ed Del Castillo stressed the importance and immense difficulty involved in achieving such a balance. "If the smallest thing is wrong," explains Del Castillo, "then players will notice and exploit the flaw." To make the balancing process easier, the entire game is driven by a massive database that contains crucial statistical information for all the units. If a spearman appears to be a bit too powerful, for instance, the designers at Liquid can easily tweak its specific characteristic without touching a single line of code. This balancing act is one of the biggest priorities for the designers at Liquid, and as such, the most important element of Battle Realms is the units. To that end, we recently spent two days at Liquid Entertainment's Southern California offices to get a firsthand look at Battle Realms and, more specifically, to examine the game's units and clans. And even though you won't be able to play this game until well into 2001, you will be able to read up on each of Battle Realms' distinct clans exclusively at GameSpot. Every month, we'll showcase a single clan, taking a look at its specific qualities, units, and structures. We kick off this recurring feature with the noble Dragon Clan. But first, a little background history on the world of Battle Realms.
Origin of the Clans
The world of Battle Realms is heavily inspired by Asian cultures, especially by a lot of the martial arts movies from Hong Kong that feature extravagantly dressed characters and high-flying, low-kicking monks. Central to the game is another pillar of Asian influence: the concept of the yin and yang. In Eastern thought, the yin and yang are two opposing yet complementary forces that make up all aspects of life and maintain the balance of the universe. The yin is the dark, recessive side of this universal equation, while the yang is considered to be the light and active side. In the world of Battle Realms, this balance has become disrupted. The mystical forces of yin and yang are separated, and subsequently each takes on a physical form. The shadowy yin, however, takes on a physical form faster than the yang, manifesting itself into a dark, shapeless force. Over time, it begins to brutally attack the populous of a large, northern continent, driving them constantly southward. Over the years, this group of refugees escaping the wrath of the mysterious enemy grows larger and larger. Led by a man called Tarrant, the refugee clan marches relentlessly until it reaches the southern tip of the continent. Surrounded by water on three sides, and aware of the shadowy force's increasingly closer presence from the north, the people turn to Tarrant for salvation.
Within the treasury of Tarrant's clan lies an ancient artifact called the Serpent Orb. Thought to possess the spirit of the dragon, this orb is seen by Tarrant as his people's respite. Not knowing exactly how to wield it, Tarrant takes the Serpent's Orb to a nearby plateau, and seeing the approaching shadows on the horizon, he feels a burning desire to create a safe haven for his people. Unknowingly, Tarrant unleashes a powerful and immense force that rises forth from the Serpent Orb and creates a massive chasm between him and the invading enemy. What was once a peninsula has now become an island, sheltered from the danger of the mysterious evil forces. The people's jubilation is short lived, however, as the violent force that ripped the land asunder also takes Tarrant's life. To honor his memory, the people of the newly created island form an assemblage by which Tarrant's visions of prosperity and equality will be carried forth. They call themselves the Serpent Clan.
What started as humble intentions, however, quickly deteriorates into corruption and infighting among a mix of peoples forced to coexist yet not ready to do so. The rulers of the Serpent Clan gradually become more dictatorial. Additionally, outside influences start to appear on the island - the Wolf and Lotus Clans - and throw the Serpent Clan's precarious situation into further turmoil. The Wolf Clan is a very existential group of people who are in touch with nature. The creation of Tarrant's island changed their climate for the worse, and they were forced to set sail in search of a new home. The Lotus Clan, on the other hand, had no desire to land on the island, but they were forced to do so when their exiled remnants were sucked in by the tidal forces caused by this catastrophic event. For generations, the tension on the island continues to increase, and as Battle Realms unfolds, the clans are plunged into a bloody civil war.
The Dragon Clan
Battle Realms begins generations after Tarrant unleashes the power to create the island that the Serpent, Wolf, and Lotus Clans call home. You play the role of Kenji, a direct descendant of Tarrant himself and the second son of Lord Oja, the last emperor of the Serpent Clan. Among the people of the Serpent Clan, Kenji is known as Little Dragon for his unwavering and open defiance of his father's despotic ruling methods. Kenji and Oja were often seen locked in loud arguments about issues such as fair taxation and labor rights, so when Lord Oja winds up dead, the victim of a murder, Kenji becomes the Serpent Clan's prime suspect, and flees the island on a self-imposed seven year exile.
Upon his return, Kenji finds that the already dire situation between the clans has become even worse. The Serpent Clan, once fashioned after the noble visions of Tarrant, has clearly lost its way. They've degenerated into relying on guerilla warfare tactics and even on committing murder in cold blood. Battle Realms opens up with Kenji stumbling onto such a scene. Led by an old Serpent general, a group of men are found raiding a small village in the southwest regions of the island. The peasants plead for help from Kenji, and he's forced to make a decision. One path will lead Kenji back to his homelands to reunite the remaining vestiges of the Serpent Clan. Following the other path will cause him to create an entirely new clan in the true spirit of Tarrant's vision: the Dragon Clan.
The Dragon Clan speaks to all that's high and noble. It's easily the most clichéd of the clans, as Kenji's method of ruling can best be described as Arthurian, wherein all his nobility are equal, and their only goal is to ensure that their people get treated fairly and are subject to just and fair laws. Dragon Clan warriors follow a code similar to bushido, the Japanese term for "way of the warrior," which denotes the way of life of the samurai.
The Dragon Clan is the most well rounded of all the clans in Battle Realms. To be more specific, the clan as a whole doesn't favor any weapon over another. There are six types of damage that can be sustained from the variety of weapons available throughout the game: piercing damage, cutting damage, fire damage, exploding damage, blunt (impact) damage, and magic damage. Unlike the Lotus Clan's units, for example, which primarily rely on the use of magic weapons, the Dragon Clan's unit types, and the form of damage they inflict, are more evenly spread out. The Dragon Clan also has a very "even game." That is, its units are comparable in strength with those of the other clans at every stage of the game's technology tree. In contrast, the Wolf Clan has a very strong "early game" because the units they produce initially are relatively stronger than those of competing clans. Conversely, the Lotus Clan initially starts out with relatively weak units, but as the game progresses, the units it produces are considerably stronger than the equivalent units of the other clans. And since the Dragon Clan doesn't require a lot of micromanagement to exploit its full potential, relatively, it's one of the easiest clans to master.
Dragon Clan Structures
As in most real-time strategy games, one of the keys to success in Battle Realms is proper timing and placement of your structures. However, the structures in Battle Realms aren't purely for generating different kinds of units. In fact, the peasant hut is the only structure in the game capable of generating units. Instead, each structure has a specific role it plays in the training of each clan's military units. Additionally, the concept of the yin and yang also has an important part in the functionality of these structures. In Battle Realms, yin and yang are considered points. You can use these points to buy specific techniques from a number of structures. These techniques are basically upgrades that imbue your units with various enhancements, and while they can be bought any time, their effect wears off at the end of each scenario. You earn yang points by committing good deeds. Every time you heal a peasant, you're awarded one yang point. Kill a peasant, however, and you get a yin point. Yin and yang points cancel each other out, so if you've accumulated four yin points, you have to commit five good deeds to cancel the yin points and accrue a yang point. Since they're a lawful society, the Dragon Clan must collect and buy their techniques with yang. Lotus Clans, for example, use yin. The yin and yang "prices" for the techniques that are available from the following structures are still being balanced by Liquid, as such, we're leaving them out for now.
The peasant hut is the fulcrum of Battle Realms' unit-production dynamic, and the peasants are produced at an algorithmic rate, which is different from unit production in other RTS games. This birth rate is dependent on two variables: your current population size and the number of peasant huts you currently own. As your population grows, the birth rate of your peasants will slow down. In fact, Battle Realms will impose a population cap for all four clans, and once you hit that limit, your peasant birth rate will drop to zero. There are no techniques available at the peasant hut.
The dojo is one of four training buildings for the Dragon Clan. Peasants sent to the dojo will acquire battle skills and will emerge as spearmen or dragon warriors. Techniques available are:
Dragon's strength: Increases the damage inflicted by the spearmen.
Dragon's heart: Raises the hit points of spearmen.
The target range is the second of the four training buildings. Peasants are sent to this structure to learn archery and become archers. Dragon warriors will also have to train here. Techniques available are:
Zen accuracy: Increases the damage inflicted by archers' arrows.
Arrow craftsmanship: Increases the range of the archers' arrows.
Yet another training building in Battle Realms, the alchemist's lab trains peasants to become powerful chemists. Techniques available are:
Phosphorous powder: Increases the damage inflicted by chemists' attacks and their area of effect, and it grants chemists siege ability.
Tempered steel: Increases the damage inflicted by the dragon warriors as well as the speed at which they attack.
The last of the training structures is the bathhouse, where geishas are trained and produced. The techniques available from the bathhouse are:
The art of massage: Increases the speed and rate of healing of geishas.
Meditation: Increases the healing rate of all units that heal naturally.
These structures are necessary to hold horses found in the wild and tamed by peasants. Stables can hold up to six horses and will produce pack horses if a peasant is sent into a stable with a horse. The two techniques available at the stables are:
Animal bonding: Raises the hit points of tamed horses by half.
Horseshoes: Increases the speed of tamed horses.
The next two structures are tentatively being called "shop buildings" by Liquid, although they don't really have anything for sale. Instead, they imbue already trained units with an additional special ability. These special abilities usually enhance that unit's standard attack but require a considerable deal of stamina to achieve. All the units in the game regenerate health and stamina on their own, and even though it might not seem as important as health, stamina is crucial for survival. Without it, your units won't be able to perform the special abilities that they learn from the fireworks factory and the shrine. Stamina is also a requirement when ordering your units to run. Oftentimes, the successful completion of such a special ability, or the simple act of running away, can mean the difference between life and death. Needless to say, most special abilities learned from the fireworks factory will inflict fire damage, although there are quite a few exceptions, including line-of-sight enhancers.
Like the fireworks factory, this "shop building" gives trained units a special skill, the idea being that units who enter the shrine become enlightened and learn to maximize the potential of their attacks. Again, performing the special abilities learned at the shrine requires stamina.
Dragon Clan Members
As mentioned before, the only units that will be instantly available to you are peasants. But in a unique twist on the unit-generation dynamic of real-time strategy games, Battle Realms will let you choose what you want to do with these peasants and how you'd like to train them. Train a peasant in the dojo, for example, and you'll get a spearman. Send one to the bathhouse, and a geisha will emerge. What's more, a single peasant can be trained multiple times, resulting in an even more powerful unit. Additionally, every single trained unit possesses an innate ability. Unlike the special abilities that are learned from the fireworks factory and shrine, innate abilities don't deplete your stamina and in most cases don't require any micromanagement on your part - they just happen automatically. Read our comprehensive profile of the Dragon Clan's units to find out more.
Kenji is immediately available to you, since you play his role. Initially, he lacks any ranged attack, but thanks to his sharp katana and sharper reflexes, he is one of the best melee fighters within the Dragon Clan. Unlike other units, he can't be sent to any structure to train or gain a special skill. However, he possesses a devastating 360-degree sword slash that, like other special attacks, drains stamina with every use. He also possesses the innate ability of morale boost, which gives those around him an attack bonus. Since Kenji is classified as a hero, he can't really die. Instead, he drops down to one knee after he's taken a significant amount of damage. At the end of the mission, he becomes available to you once again.
You'll find that the peasant's main duties will include tasks like harvesting rice, fetching water, taming horses, building structures, fighting fires, and repairing buildings. While they don't make very good fighters, they can stand up for themselves. In fact, in groups of five or more, they can pose quite a threat to small numbers of first-tier enemies. Survivability is an important part of every unit in Battle Realms, and should the opportunity present itself, the peasant has a number of martial arts techniques at his disposal. Of course, one of the primary roles of the peasant is to train in a specific skill and become one of the following units.
Send a peasant to the dojo, and you'll get a spearman. He might lack a ranged attack, but his spear is a formidable melee weapon. Additionally, his innate bracing ability makes him impervious to charging enemies. From the fireworks factory, the spearman learns the whirling spear attack, which sends sparks flying in 360 degrees and affects all adjacent attackers. Send him to the shrine instead, and he'll gain the stun strike ability. This maneuver raises the amount of damage his spear can inflict and causes his enemies to temporarily freeze, making them vulnerable to more attacks.
If it's ranged combatants you're after, then you'll want to send a peasant to the target range. There, he'll train to become an archer, who can be deadly at long range. His innate ability is unique in that it's one of the few in the game that require micromanagement. It's called Zen archery, and the longer you hold down the cursor over your intended target, the more damage the arrow will do, making the archer a lethal sniper. If you send your archer to a fireworks factory, he'll gain fire arrows. These flying torches don't do much damage against living targets, but they can set structures ablaze in seconds. If the archer goes to the shrine, on the other hand, he'll gain Zen arrows. Zen arrows are harmless, but they briefly remove the fog of war around their landing spot - perfect for hunting sneaky scouts. Even though the archer's primary skill lies in archery, he can still kick at enemies if need be.
The chemist is created by training a peasant in the alchemist's lab. His primary weapons are rockets, which he can use at both long and short distances. The chemist possesses the helpful innate ability of healing. Allies within his area of effect will heal faster than they would normally, but only up to a certain point. The fireworks factory gives the chemist a fire trail, which he can track along the ground in front of him and then ignite for a devastating close-range effect. From the shrine, he gets the black powder ability, which he tosses above his head and ignites in midair. The chemist takes damage from this move. Additionally, the chemist is one of two Dragon Clan units who can't ride a horse.
The dragon warrior is different from the other Dragon Clan members in that he's a multitiered unit. To create a dragon warrior, you have to train an archer in the dojo or a spearman in the target range. Training him is an investment in time, but he's certainly worth it. His massive nodachi can cut down most enemies that stray too close, and his paper magic works great against ranged units. His innate ability, inspiration, gives surrounding allies a bonus to do more damage. Sending him to the fireworks factory will give him a flaming sword ability, which adds fire damage to the already devastating effects of his nodachi. The shrine gives him the ability to cast a chi shield around himself. Doing so makes him completely immune to all attacks, but he can't move or attack while under the shield's protection.
The geisha can be attained by sending a peasant to the bathhouse. Although not much of a fighter, the geisha is a great support unit (she doesn't carry any weapons and has to rely on her weak martial arts skill if caught in a fight). Her most important specialty is the ability to heal others around her. While she doesn't have to train for this skill, it's not an innate ability either, since it does use up stamina points. She can also use her innate powers of seduction to seduce hapless peasants. Those peasants trapped under her spell will reveal their line of sight to you, even if they go on to train to become a different unit. If you send her to the fireworks factory, she'll learn the art of burning hearts, a more sadistic form of seduction that ultimately kills afflicted peasants. If she travels to the shrine, she'll gain the ability to sacrifice herself. By doing so, the geisha will give up half her health to instantly heal all surrounding allies to maximum levels. Using sacrifice twice in rapid succession will kill the geisha.
It should be noted that several structures and units were intentionally left out of this feature. Liquid Entertainment is still in the process of finalizing the way these missing structures and units will function, and they're currently not representative of their final product. We'll revisit them once their gameplay mechanics have been completed.
That concludes our first foray into the world of Battle Realms. We hope that after reading this feature you're as excited about this game as we are. Next month we'll take a look at what happens if Kenji chooses to take the other path, opting instead to lead the subversive Serpent Clan. Be sure to join us then.