Battle Realms Profile: Serpent Clan

Our coverage of Battle Realms continues with an in-depth look at the Serpent Clan.

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The Serpent Clan

Almost a year ago, ex-Westwood producer Ed Del Castillo came by the GameSpot offices to show off his brand new company's first game, Battle Realms. At the time, all he brought with him were a series of concept pencil sketches and an enthusiastic pitch about a real-time strategy game with a world steeped in martial arts influence, a world where gameplay balance and innovation took center stage. His claims echoed those of countless other designers who had sworn to reinvigorate this or that genre with their cutting edge game. We listened and we smiled. About five months later, Battle Realms was publicly unveiled at E3 2000 in Los Angeles. We were invited to attend one of Del Castillo's presentations at the Crave booth, where we were given the chance to play an early build of the game. Our smiles were quickly replaced with gaping jaws--the game, even at its early stages, looked amazing. Del Castillo and Liquid Entertainment walked away with numerous "best of show" awards from a number of publications, and, all of a sudden, Warcraft III wasn't the only big real-time strategy game coming out in 2001.

A Serpent Clan scout party attacks a Lotus camp
A Serpent Clan scout party attacks a Lotus camp

In December of 2000, we kicked off a series of monthly profiles, which took a detailed look at the four clans that would be available to you in Battle Realms. The series premiere examined the game's 2665575Dragon Clan , a group of noble warriors founded by Kenji, the exiled son of Lord Oja, whose murder remains a mystery. In the game, you take on the role of Kenji, and upon your return from exile, you'll come to a moral crossroads. If you take the high road, the game will find you the leader of the Dragon Clan. If you take the low road, you'll return as the leader of the Serpent Clan. The Serpent warriors stand in sharp contrast with those of the Dragon Clan. Since its origins from the days of Tarrant, the Serpent Clan has gradually lost its way and has devolved into a group of ruffians and bandits that believe authority comes with brutality, not benevolence. Their clan members are physically weaker than their Dragon Clan counterparts; however, they do possess some advantages. Because of their sneaky disposition, Serpent Clan units are generally faster and cheaper to train than Dragon Clan units. They're also more adept at thievery, and they enjoy using fire as a weapon of destruction.

Shinja, the Serpent Clan hero
Shinja, the Serpent Clan hero

The Serpent Clan possesses another strength over the Dragon Clan as well. Playing as the Serpent Clan, you have control over Kenji, and, partway through the single-player campaign, you'll run into the former captain of Lord Oja's Serpent Guard, Shinja. Shinja embodies all the characteristics of the Serpent Clan: He's greedy, he's deadly in battle, and he lets others do his dirty work. The meeting between Shinja and Kenji won't be amicable, but Shinja will reluctantly join Kenji's group and fight alongside the Serpent Clan, effectively placing two hero-class units at your disposal. Shinja is a powerful fighter, and, like Kenji, he uses twin swords to dice any enemy foolish enough to take him on in combat. His affinity for certain enchantments also gives him the ability to call upon wicked magical spells, which makes him a powerful ally to have by your side.

The Serpent Clan will certainly prove to be a nefarious group. Read on to find out why.

Serpent Clan Structures

Structures in Battle Realms will play a different role than those in other real-time strategy games. You can "build" units from only one structure, the peasant hut, and all other buildings are used to train those peasants into becoming more powerful fighters and warriors. And while their primary purpose will be to train these peasants, the structures in Battle Realms will also be able to give different units specific battle techniques. These techniques are basically upgrades that enhance the functionality of your more advanced units, but they're not available for free. The concept of yin and yang is integral to the concept of Battle Realms: The more good deeds you perform, the more yang points you earn. Conversely, you'll get a yin point for every bad deed that you commit. These yin and yang points cancel each other out, so if you perform three good deeds and two bad ones, you'll be left with a single yang point. Since the Serpent Clan is inherently evil in nature, you'll be able to buy the techniques from each structure by using yin points. The actual amount of yin that each technique will cost won't be decided by Liquid until the final play-balancing period of Battle Realms' development cycle.

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Peasant Hut


The peasant hut is central to the gameplay and unit-production methods of Battle Realms. Unlike in most real-time strategy games, you won't be able to create a queue of peasants from this structure. Instead, the peasants are generated automatically using an algorithmic calculation that constantly changes, depending on the size of your current population and the number of structures you currently have in your town. When you start a new game, your peasant huts will produce new peasants at a healthy pace, but as your population reaches critical mass, peasant production will actually slow down to a crawl. Your units in Battle Realms aren't expandable, so you'll only be given a set amount to tend for, train, and use to complete each mission.

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Tavern


Like the Dragon Clan, the Serpent Clan has four training buildings. The first is the tavern, which produces a swordsman when you send a peasant inside. The tavern is also used to create more powerful second- and third-tier warriors, although Liquid Entertainment is still finalizing those units' designs. Techniques available at the tavern include the following:
Fortified ale: Raises the hit points for swordsmen, as well as some unfinalized second- and third-tier units.
Drunken revelry: Increases the walking and running speed of the swordsman.

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Alchemist's laboratory


The alchemist's laboratory is the second of the game's training structures. Here, peasants learn to become crossbowmen and cannoneers, and, later, you'll also be able to train a deadly third-tier warrior at this building. Techniques available at the alchemist's laboratory include the following:
Flash powder: Gives the cannoneers' standard attack area-of-effect damage.
Poisoned weapons: Raises the damage inflicted by cannoneers and crossbowmen by 50 percent, and adds poison damage to their attacks as well.

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Sharpshooter's guild


The third Serpent Clan training structure is also the busiest. Peasants sent here are trained to become cannoneers and musketeers. Additionally, one other second-tier unit and third-tier unit will also need to come to the sharpshooter's guild to receive the proper training in their deadly arts. Techniques available at the sharpshooter's guild include the following:
Vital points: Increases the amount of damage inflicted by the musketeers' attacks.
Cannon sights: Increases the range of the cannoneers' attacks.

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Bathhouse


The bathhouse is the last of the four training structures for the Serpent Clan. Peasants who are sent to the bathhouse emerge as fan geishas. Techniques available at the bathhouse include the following:
The art of love: Increases the movement speed of the fan geisha, and improves the rate of her healing ability as well.
Flexibility: Grants the fan geisha the ability to jump.

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Stables


Part of your peasants' duties include taming wild horses found outside your village. These horses take a while to tame, but once they become domesticated, they require stables. Without this structure, any tamed horses you bring back to town will simply run away. Stables can hold up to six horses at once, and they'll produce a larger pack horse for hauling equipment around if you send a peasant and a regular horse into the structure as well. Techniques available from the stables include the following:
Whips and spurs: Increases the movement speed of trained horses.
Hobbling: Peasants will be able to catch and tame wild horses faster.

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Watchtower


Erecting one of these tall structures has two benefits. First, the height advantage grants any unit that you sit atop the watchtower an increased line of sight, which makes this structure perfect for constructing near the edge of town and spotting incoming forces. Second, any ranged unit that climbs to the top of this tower will be able to fire its weapon farther than it would if it were on the ground. The watchtower doesn't train units, it doesn't have any techniques available, nor does it enhance a unit with a special upgrade.

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Thieves' Guild


The thieves' guild is one of the two Serpent Clan "shop buildings." Each clan has two of these unique structures, which give every trained unit in the game a special upgrade designed to enhance their effectiveness while on the field of battle. For example, a Serpent musketeer that you send into the thieves' guild will learn the art of sniping. A swordsman will gain the ability to mug others. Unlike the techniques that are learned at other buildings, these upgrades don't cost any yin to acquire. However, while the techniques improve a specific unit's skill permanently, these upgrades generally have a limit to the number of times that they can be used, and they'll always drain your unit's stamina. When all of a unit's stamina has been drained, it will no longer be able to make use of its upgrade. Thankfully, all the units in the game are able to regenerate stamina on their own.

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Metal Works


The metal works is the Serpent Clan's second shop building. First-, second-, and third-tier trained units that enter the metal works will learn a new skill, which will enhance their fighting prowess but drain them of stamina when that skill is used. Since units can possess only one upgrade at a time, any unit that is sent to the metal works will lose any previous thieves' guild upgrades that it might have had, and vice versa.

Serpent Clan Members

Unlike most real-time strategy games, Battle Realms won't let you simply order a warrior from a unit list. In fact, the only units that are actually "created" for you are the peasants, which emerge from the peasant hut at an algorithmic rate that's determined by your current population size and the number of peasant huts in your village. As they emerge from the hut, you can then send these peasants to train in various arts so that they can become actual fighters. You'll be able to train peasants once to produce standard first-tier units, twice for more advanced second-tier units, and, in some cases, three times for a truly superior clan member. And, like the Dragon Clan members, each trained unit in the Serpent Clan has an innate ability that doesn't drain its stamina when used, and each unit can learn two different special abilities for a boost in its fighting prowess. Here's a comprehensive profile of the units that will be available to you in the Serpent Clan.

Shinja


Like Kenji, Shinja is classified as a hero unit, and he can't be produced by training a peasant in a structure. Instead, Shinja becomes available to you a few missions into the Serpent Clan campaign, at which point you'll be able to control and micromanage him as you would any other unit in the game. Heroes can't die, either--so when Shinja absorbs enough damage, he'll drop to one knee or run away for the duration of the mission. At the start of the next mission, he will become available to you once again. Shinja wields two powerful swords, which he can use with deadly precision to cut down any of his enemies. Through enchantments contracted by Laikor, a Lotus wizard, Shinja's blades can summon a swarm of poisonous snakes to overpower anyone standing within range of the attack. Shinja will have another serpent-related ability, although Liquid is still in the process of finalizing this special move.

Peasant


While they might have some visual differences, the Dragon Clan and Serpent Clan peasants are functionally identical. Peasants are your core unit in Battle Realms. The peasant can be tasked to do necessary duties such as harvesting rice, constructing buildings, fetching water from wells and rivers, taming horses, fighting fires, and repairing structures. And if need be, he can also defend himself with his melee weapon. In fact, when grouped together, the peasant can be quite deadly. His primary role, however, is to train at one of the many structures in your clan. Doing so will change your peasant from a standard worker to a first-, second-, or even third-tier warrior. Let's take a look at some of these Serpent Clan fighters.

Musketeer


A first-tier unit, the musketeer is one of the first warriors that'll be available to you as a member of the Serpent Clan. He's created by training a peasant at the alchemist's lab, and his long musket makes him a deadly combatant at long range. His innate ability makes him see farther than he normally does but requires him to stand still. If you send him to a thieves' guild, the musketeer effectively becomes a sniper and brandishes an even longer rifle. When deployed, the unit lies prone on the ground, and its range and the damage inflicted by its rifle both increase. While prone, the musketeer becomes truly representative of the Serpent Clan's devious nature, as doing so renders him somewhat transparent and completely, which makes it harder for his enemies to spot him. From the metal works, the musketeer gains the crude blunderbuss, which is the exact opposite of the elegant sniper's musket. With this ability, the musketeer can deploy with a shield that makes him all but invulnerable to missile attacks. And while the blunderbuss has a much shorter range than his standard musket or his sniper ability, it does a large amount of area-of-effect damage. This effectively transforms the musketeer into a heavily fortified turret--perfect for defending a base or strategic area.

Swordsman


Whereas the musketeer's strengths lie in ranged combat, the swordsman is obviously better suited for melee fighting. He's produced by training a peasant in a tavern, and his sharp longsword is deadly in close-range combat. The swordsman's innate ability is called press gang, and it's effective only when a group of these units work together. When grouped together, each swordsman in a pack will inflict about 5 percent additional damage than he would if fighting alone, for a maximum of about 20 percent. If you send a swordsman into the metal works, he'll emerge with the glass sword ability. This limited-use attack transforms the swordsman's weapon into a deadly but brittle sword, which can kill nonhero units with a single blow. Since his sword explodes into a myriad of shards after an attack, however, this ability can be used only once. At the thieves' guild, he'll gain the mugging ability, which reduces the amount of damage he inflicts by about 10 percent, but it gives him a 25 percent chance of actually stealing his victim's special upgrade. When this happens, that victim will instantly lose whatever special ability he or she had learned, and you will automatically get half the cost of that upgrade in rice and water added to your stores back at the village.

Crossbowman


Send a peasant into the sharpshooter's guild, and you'll get a crossbowman. This ranged unit carries a mechanical crossbow that loads and operates with a pump-action mechanism, which is similar to a shotgun. His innate ability is that of quick recovery, and it allows him to regenerate stamina twice as fast as most units do. At the metal works, the crossbowman will gain phosphorous bolts, which remove the fog of war around their point of impact. These bolts last forever, but you'll be able to have only three active at once, so, after the third shot, the oldest bolt will become inactive with every successive use. At the thieves' guild, he'll gain weakness bolts. These don't do any damage when fired, but they effectively render their targets' armor completely useless for a few seconds. The weakness bolts are most effective when used in conjunction with a melee fighter, like the swordsman, who'd be able to take advantage of the victim's reduced armor.

Cannoneer


The cannoneer is the Serpent Clan's second-tier unit, which means that he can only be produced by training a peasant twice. Specifically, you have to either take a crossbowman to the alchemist's lab or take a musketeer to the sharpshooter's guild to train a cannoneer. This brute's massive stature gives him the innate ability of intimidation, which prevents enemy units from charging him at all. While his large cannon is perfect for attacking enemies at a distance, he can enhance this powerful weapon even further through his two special upgrades. At the metal works, his cannon becomes a minelayer. When this is activated, the cannoneer sticks his cannon into the ground and fires once, inserting a mine invisible to others into the ground. He can use this ability only three times before it runs out. At the thieves' guild, the cannoneer gains the smoke ability, which lets him fire a smoke grenade of sorts. Anyone, including other Serpent Clan members, caught in the middle of the smoke will go temporarily blind and have his or her line of sight reduced to zero.

Fan Geisha


Peasants trained at the bathhouse will emerge as fan geishas. While similar to the Dragon Clan geishas, the fan geishas are better capable of defending themselves, thanks to the wicked fan blades that each of them carry. The fan geishas have the innate ability of seduction. Seduced peasants will reveal their line of sight, even if they become trained to be a more powerful unit. They can also individually heal other Serpent Clan units, although, unlike other innate abilities, this one actually drains the fan geisha of her stamina. From the metal works, she'll gain the blowgun upgrade, which fires a poison dart that prevents her target from regaining stamina or healing. If you send her to the thieves' guild, she'll be able to cast a life-suck spell, which drains her target of health and heals her in the process.

As with our Dragon Clan profile, we aren't revealing some units and structures, because they haven't been finalized by Liquid yet--we also don't want to spoil the game for you. There are two other second-tier units and a deadly third-tier warrior, all of which will be available to you in the Serpent Clan when Battle Realms releases. Next month, our coverage of Battle Realms will continue when we take a look at the baneful Lotus Clan. Be sure to join us then.

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