Warrior Kings: Battles

The follow-up to Black Cactus' 2001 real-time strategy game will have several new features.

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Not too many people played Warrior Kings, despite the fact that the real-time strategy game about large-scale medieval warfare was received well when it was released in 2001. London-based developer Black Cactus went back to the drawing board with the sequel, which arrives at the end of this month with a new publisher and high hopes.

Warrior Kings: Battles will also ship with a number of gameplay enhancements, including big changes to the strategic scope of the game, improved artificial intelligence, and a more-focused story, along with other additions like new skirmish and multiplayer modes. Black Cactus is sticking to the original game's foundation and is concentrating on refining what the developers know are solid core concepts.

Fantasy-inspired monsters will still play a large part in your armies.
Fantasy-inspired monsters will still play a large part in your armies.

"Warrior Kings: Battles will be familiar to those who played the original, but it now has a more-developed strategic overview [that will let] the player operate on a continental level," says senior designer Nicholas Ricks. "Whole nations lie at the players' feet, and they must choose carefully which they plan to conquer, as each territory provides the player with unique benefits. In addition, we're featuring a new skirmish mode, new and unique multiplayer modes, 69 AI generals to battle, and a diverse range of new units and upgrades. Greater tactical depth has been made available across the board."

Those who played the first Warrior Kings will also be familiar with the setting and storyline. Everything still takes place in the medieval fantasy world of Orbis, a thinly disguised version of Europe. A few centuries have passed since the events of the original game, when the warlord Artos forged an empire. That empire now lies in ruins with the assassination of his last descendant, and a new state must be built by feuding warriors--and you'll be one of them.

However, the new game is being streamlined so that it emphasizes strategic concerns. A great deal of effort has gone into simplifying the original game's economic and resource-gathering components, for instance. While you will still collect food, wood, and stone in rural villages and deliver these supplies to your capital, a revamped interface will make these tasks easier to manage. Also, some functions are being automated. Farms will be automatically placed, and gold will be automatically generated whenever you assign a peasant to a shop. In skirmish play, settings will be adjustable. According to Ricks, it will be possible to set naturally occurring resources so high that management duties will be almost unnecessary.

One management element that is being carried over with few structural changes is the first game's dynamic tech tree. It proved to be one of the most successful aspects of the original Warrior Kings, so Ricks says that it is being ported to the new game with just a few additions to better flesh out a few strategic options.

"The dynamic tech allows players to shape and change their playing style as situations dictate, so we have retained this and added to it. Warrior Kings: Battles includes numerous new units, such as the pagan arch druid, capable of animating the forests into armies of wood elementals, and the imperial war elephant, which is, in effect, an immense moving fortress."

But Warrior Kings: Battles' most significant change will be what Ricks calls "advanced" AI. Black Cactus has been working hard to make sure that rival warlords manage their troops like human players, with specific traits and skills. A major focus is being placed on planning and scouting out your weaknesses. Enemy generals will probe your defenses and standing forces to determine whether an attack will succeed or fail. You'll need a good defense in order to build a good offense, since allowing foes to pinpoint weaknesses will be tantamount to suicide.

"Unlike other games, the AI opponents in Warrior Kings: Battles do not cheat, but instead, they operate under the same restrictions as the human player," explains Ricks. "They seek out your capital and assess the strength of your forces. Deny them this by killing their scouts and spies, and you will enjoy a significant strategic advantage. Once they identify your major defenses, the better generals will attempt to circumvent them, finding your weak spots to outflank you."

Generals will also have the skills with which to properly manage army formations and attack options, along with access to special tactics. Each leader is being built with an individual personality including "dozens of variables" that make him or her prone to specific tactics and maneuvers amid the same large-scale battles that helped distinguish the original game from other real-time strategy games.

Like in the first game, building bases will be a major part of Warrior Kings: Battles' gameplay.
Like in the first game, building bases will be a major part of Warrior Kings: Battles' gameplay.

Ricks says that one general "might quickly send massed fire archers" to your city walls, while another general in the same situation might "race to the end of a tech tree" to obtain a high-level military unit. Others will use espionage to flood your cities with spies, or they'll use diplomacy to influence other generals to do their bidding. An AI editor will be included as well so that you can customize enemy generals with specific abilities and traits. Black Cactus also wants to emphasize replay value by ensuring that players can go back to the single-player campaign more than once and enjoy playing against an AI that seems true-to-life.

Other additions improve on specific aspects of the first game. Solo skirmish and multiplayer modes are being augmented with Valhalla, a new option that lets players start with large, pre-selected armies. The new game's graphics and sound, on the other hand, rely on the Warrior Kings engine, which looked and sounded pretty good in 2001, although improvements are being made in certain areas. The new game's landscape textures will be dynamically filtered, units will feature a higher polygon count, and the musical score will be brand new. Warrior Kings: Battles is scheduled to ship at the end of this month.

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