Warlords Battlecry III Hands-On Impressions

After playing an early version of the game, we can see why role-playing plays a big role in this upcoming real-time strategy sequel.

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It may not be as popular as Age of Mythology or Warcraft III, but Warlords Battlecry II has a devoted fan-following of its own, and for good reason. Set in the famed Warlords universe, Warlords Battlecry II let you battle it out as any one of Etheria's numerous fantasy races. Like in most real-time strategy games, your job was to construct a base, harvest resources, explore the map, research upgrades, and build an army to crush your opponents. But what made Warlords Battlecry II so popular was that it wrapped the traditional real-time strategy gameplay in a dynamic campaign that let you conquer the world, one province at a time. The game had basically two parts: the campaign layer and the real-time strategy game. You'd plot your moves on the campaign map, sort of like the board game Risk, and then drop down into the real-time strategy portion of the game to resolve battles. It made for an addictive and fun experience. We had the chance recently to play an early version of the upcoming third game in the series, Warlords Battlecry III.

You'll investigate the mysterious destruction of an elven outpost.
You'll investigate the mysterious destruction of an elven outpost.

There are a number of new features in Warlords Battlecry III, including two new playable races, a new setting, a new particle system, and an enhanced graphics engine. However, it's clear that Australian developer Infinite Interactive is sticking with what made the previous game so memorable. There's a strong element of role-playing in Warlords Battlecry III, much more so than in the previous games. You can still create a hero using an existing template or by creating your own custom character. And as you progress through the campaign, you'll be able to outfit that hero with various magical armor and weapons and level up his or her stats. But the dynamic campaign now features many more RPG-like choices when you click on a province. For instance, if you move your forces to a new province, you'll be given the option to invade as well as the option to explore side quests. These may include wiping out an infestation of monsters or searching for the lost pieces of a powerful magical artifact. You can also choose to visit shops to buy weapons and equipment and to sell surplus items that you recover during missions.

Warlords Battlecry III also features a much stronger story than the previous games did. The game is set in a new, unexplored continent of Etheria, which is rapidly being explored and colonized. Along the way, the colonists have been trampling all over the natives of the continent, the reptilian ssrathi (one of the two new playable factions). The game begins with your characters discovering a destroyed outpost belonging to the elves, and it's up to you to discover who was responsible for the destruction and then stop them. Missions central to the plot have dialogue in them, and there's much more of an attempt to tell a story throughout the game.

There are a number of very handy new features and enhancements that also reinforce the role-playing feel of the game. When your hero gains a level, the game gives you a cost-benefit analysis for each statistic, so you can invest your upgrade points wisely. And during combat, if someone executes a special attack, you'll receive an onscreen message, much like in role-playing games like Neverwinter Nights. Like in Warlords Battlecry II, you can still build a retinue, or a party, that travels with your character over time. And your units, like your hero, also gain experience, so it's important not to lose them carelessly, because they'll gain better abilities the longer they survive.

The gameplay mechanics remain similar to those of previous games. Gathering resources is as simple as claiming a mine or quarry and dispatching workers to harvest them. You'll have to keep an eye on the map to prevent enemy heroes from walking up and seizing your resource locations from under your nose. As you accumulate resources, you can build a variety of buildings that let you commission new types of units and research new technologies.

You're given a cost-benefit analysis when it's time for your hero to gain a level.
You're given a cost-benefit analysis when it's time for your hero to gain a level.

The developers are sticking with a 2D graphics engine, but they have improved the look and feel of the game. The terrain looks more natural, especially when compared to the art style of Warlords Battlecry II, which some found to be a bit bland. Trees, in particular, look more organic and much less cartoonlike. Buildings have also been improved with more detail and more character. The units themselves have been fleshed out better and feature improved animation, even though some seem to have been transplanted directly from Warlords IV. However, you can also expect to see a number of new monsters, including dinosaurs--you'll probably be at least a bit surprised the first time you see a Tyrannosaurus rex chewing on one of your guard towers. The campaign map is also better designed so that it's easier to read and seems a bit more like a board game.

It certainly looks like Warlords Battlecry III is shaping up to be a worthy successor to its beloved predecessor. Fans of the series should be happy, and, more importantly, Warlords Battlecry III should appeal to fans of fantasy-themed strategy who may have missed out on the first Battlecry games. Warlords Battlecry III will ship later this year. For now, you can see the game in action in these new gameplay movies.

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