Eador: Masters of the Broken World is too difficult to enjoy. Even on the easiest setting, it does everything it can to keep you from making progress. Whereas some games lay honest challenges and let you learn your way through them, Masters of the Broken World offers false information that's difficult to plan around. It gives you the option to tinker with systems you can't understand until the game offers a half-baked explanation. To make it worse, it's so unstable that bugs and hard crashes frequently cut your adventures short, as if the game weren't already oppressive enough.
The first thing you notice about Masters of the Broken World is the overwhelming number of buttons, as colorful and varied as a candy shop. This is a hardcore turn-based role-playing game with base management, provinces to capture, stats to improve, and a slew of things to always be concerned with. It's overwhelming in an intense, classic PC game sort of way, and at its best it's a gripping brain twister with high stakes and high rewards. The various worlds you must conquer are called "shards," and each offers unique benefits that help you as you attack the next one. You are a god who manipulates mortal heroes to do your bidding and claim lands, which is a neat way for a game to justify its genre through fiction.
Combat takes place on a grid of hexagonal spaces. Various infantry units join your hero, who belongs to a powerful fantasy-standard class like a warrior or a mage. Before combat, you see how many and what type of foes to expect, and the game offers a battle prediction. This pre-combat assessment couldn't feel less accurate, which is a huge problem because it's often the deciding factor for whether you initiate a fight, negotiate, or retreat. Not only can the enemy outnumber your party, but nearly all of its soldiers might outlevel yours by five times. Yet the game might predict that "the enemy will be destroyed," displayed in reassuring green type. This is bad information. Lost troops are gone forever once a battle is over, so the cost of a party wipe is staggering. New fighters must be purchased and trained again, which takes time and feels like a grind.
When forces are evenly matched, combat is a wonderful game of resource and land management. Moving a character forward to a hill offers range benefits, but it might be more useful to send weak units into a forest patch for defensive bonuses. Magic isn't based on mana, but on a limited number of uses. This means you can't just nuke everything in sight to win. You need to move units out of hit zones. You need to be concerned with draining enemy stamina. It feels like a deep board game, but with particle effects.
Sadly, the game frequently stops working. A few hiccups could be tolerated in a game with so many systems running simultaneously, but Masters of the Broken World is, well, utterly broken. Everything from combat to movement to construction happens as part of a chain of actions. When you finish queuing tasks, you hit the execute button, and the game jumps into motion… sometimes. More times than you would want, the execute button, as well as the entire bottom row, simply fails to work. When this happens in combat, the only options are to quit the game and lose progress or activate auto-battle mode, which rarely ends in your favor. Sometimes the weapon switch command doesn't work. Sometimes your hero gets stuck in one province on the overworld map. And all too often, Masters of the Broken World just crashes completely.
There is satisfaction to be found in the game's vast and deep strategy elements. Building up your city's defenses and resource production rate helps you conquer other provinces and strongholds more quickly. Stationing guards can be an exciting gamble because the units can grow corrupt, stealing income or terrorizing townspeople. The problem is that you're given access to features that you can't understand because the game hasn't yet taken the time to teach you. Granaries can be built in provinces, for example, and they give each sector a population boost. However, overpopulation can lead to unrest, which can lead to a rebellion. The game's suggested counter is to build a guard outpost, which doesn't work at all. Provinces inevitably fall, and you're forced to battle and recapture areas you used to own. This isn't fun, and doing work you've already done just to rectify something you don't know how to fix is aggravating in all the wrong ways.
A system of karma and random events breaks up the typical bribe/fight/conquer gameplay. Sometimes a horde of enemies might attack one of your provinces, and you have to decide whether it's worth your time and resources to help defend it. If you leave your people to die, you naturally lose karma. You might be the kind of person to never accept bribes, but if someone is offering a lot of gold and you have your eye on an expensive new structure for your base, maybe you'll accept. Unfortunately, karma doesn't seem to have a substantial effect on anything you do. You'll appreciate the distraction from the core game mechanics, but a distraction is really all it is.
Masters of the Broken World has a Hot Seat mode, which has two players taking turns in the chair in front of the computer as they battle each other. It's a great idea, and it's fun when it works, but it's not immune to the bug problems found in the single-player campaign. There’s also an online mode, but finding a reliable match is a miracle. You might wait half an hour to play a single skirmish, only to have the connection fail before a game starts. When you could cook dinner in the time it takes to find an opponent, something is very wrong.
Any enjoyment derived from Eador: Masters of the Broken World is buried beneath a landslide of inexcusable technical issues. Building up a home base and expanding into the world should be rewarding, but frequent and unfair bugs make any progress feel less like victory and more like a stroke of good luck. Some serious patches could uncover the game buried beneath the flaws, but as of right now, playing Masters of the Broken World not worth the headache. In this high-fantasy world of trolls, archers, and the undead, it's a shame that your most dreadful enemy is the game itself.