Warrior Kings: Battles

Warrior Kings: Battles

Warrior Kings: Battles, the sequel to Warrior Kings, does a lot of things right and only a few things wrong. So why don’t I like it more? Maybe it’s the constant wrestling with the camera. Maybe it’s the uninspired art direction. Maybe it’s just that after 100 of these RTS games, it’s difficult to get excited about the 101st. The game industry has foisted dozens upon dozens of these on us and someone needs to tell these bean counters that the honeymoon’s over. They need to dress up these RTS games in black lace stockings, a garter belt, and stiletto heels to get us stoked about fooling around with them. Unfortunately, Warrior Kings: Battles comes with curlers in its hair.

There’s much to like about Warrior Kings: Battles, which is set in a fantasy world that looks exactly like medieval Europe, right down to the campaign map. Black Cactus, the developer, has focused on improving a couple aspects of the RTS experience and has done a good job. The combat in Warrior Kings: Battles is excellent. You can put your units in formations to get defensive or offensive bonuses, you can leverage the advantage of different unit types to get favorable matchups (heavy infantry beats heavy calvary), and you can take advantage of terrain elevation. The downside is that being a good general requires your attention, and you have cities to manage—imagine Medieval: Total War if you had to switch back and forth between the battlefield and peasants chopping wood. Warrior Kings: Battles puts that kind of pressure on your attention.

The campaign is also more interesting than the usual assortment of precooked scenarios strung together. The campaign map allows you to pick the next province to attack in a Risk-like manner, and each new area you conquer gives you some kind of bonus, such as higher population limits or new technology. You can choose to climb one of three tech trees—pagan, church, or renaissance—each with its own advantages and disadvantages. And finally, there’s also a bit of magic tossed in, mostly in the form of special units you acquire, like stone elementals and behemoths.

The game stumbles a bit in presentation, though. The artwork is bland and you’ll find yourself constantly fussing with the camera. It’s a free-roaming camera, but to manage your troops effectively in battle, you’ll have to fiddle with the view to see what’s going on. It’s a minor annoyance, but a constant one. Mostly, the game suffers from a severe case of the been-there-done-that syndrome.

Warrior Kings: Battles is a brick of a game, solid and workmanlike, but oh those curlers! Recommended for hardcore RTS fans or any gamers who have somehow skipped the last six years’ worth of RTS titles.

Good game, but it’s a warm glass of milk when you really want a shot of your favorite poison.

Copyright © 2004 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally appearing in Computer Gaming World.