Over the last few years, many publishers have all but given up on the turn-based strategy game, leaving two major names remaining: Civilization and Heroes of Might and Magic. Real-time strategy has ruled and … it’s been pretty quiet.
Things have changed now, however, with independant developer Cryptic Comet’s title Armageddon Empires, which takes turn-based strategy and adds some elements from collectable card games as you create a deck to take on the role of one of four leaders hundreds of years after the fall of civilization.
Let’s take a look at this title, then, and see if turn-based strategy has revived itself in the hands of this indie developer or if it’s a case of too little, too late.
Unlike many games, the graphics in Armageddon Empires is pretty limited to the terrain of the hex-grid, the UI and the cards themselves. The UI is rather minimalistic with all of your buttons along the top and bottom of the screen with the majority of the screen taken up by the hex-based map.
The graphics on the terrain itself is rather basic, but there is enough of a difference between various types of terrain to make everything look good. While it’s not easy to tell what type of terrain every grid is at a glance (which means that actually exploring is a good thing to be doing), once you’ve explored a grid, the type of terrain it is makes perfect sense for the graphics used.
The cards themselves, however, are the graphical highlight of the game. Each card is distinct and very beautiful even when depicting a brutish, grotesque creature. It’s obvious that the design team of AE did a great job of coming up with the character concepts for the heroes as well as the base creatures for each army, and it shows in these cards.
The sound in Armageddon Empires is rather limited, although it’s not missing anything. It’s just that there’s not a lot of reason for sounds. You get the sounds of dice rolling, machine-based sounds when you perform a number of actions, and a few other things, but there’s not a lot of bells and whistles.
That’s fine, however, and the music of the game makes up for it, as the game features a very majestic soundtrack which properly sets the mood for exploration and miltaristic pursuits. While there’s only one real track to the soundtrack, it’s long enough and isn’t so repetitive that it hurts the game’s enjoyment level.
While more music and sound would have helped the title, the lack of the same really doesn’t hurt it in any way.
The controls in Armageddon Empires are pretty simple. Nearly everything in the game can be controlled with either a left or right click on the mouse. Selecting an army? Right-click on the army to move them, or left-click to bring up their info. Want to perform an action on a card? Right-click on the card, and then left-click to select an option.
This process is pretty much the same with everything in the game, which makes things very easy to operate. The only real confusion is moving around on the map. One would think that moving on the map would be as simple as either moving the mouse pointer to the edge of the map, or grabbing the map with a click. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work, and the map must be moved by either moving the area on the minimap, or by using the arrow keys on your keyboard. Still, this is a minor issue at best, and doesn’t hurt the controls of the game at all.
The story of Armageddon Empires is fairly simple. In 2027 humanity makes contact with two alien civilizations, locked in combat for eons. Unfortunately for Earth, the aliens decide to fight over who will control Earth without regard for humanity, and most of the population is wiped out quickly. Twenty years later, the fighting stopped. That was three hundred years ago, and now you take on the role of one of the four groups (The Machine Empire, the Xenopods, The Empire of Man, and The League of Free Mutants) to wrest control of the wasteland from your enemies.
You can either start the game with one of the starter decks, or you can create your own deck with access to all the cards for whichever faction you want to play as. Once you have your deck ready, you can choose the size of map and number of opponents, including which opponents you’re facing, if you wish. Once you begin, you select a hex for your headquarters, and then begin exploring and battling for survival.
At the beginning of each turn, dice are rolled for initiative. You can buy extra dice with resources, and the more successes your roll for initiative, the more action points you have during the turn. As action points are very necessary for just about everything, you’ll find yourself spending resources from time to time to try to ensure that you go first on some turns.
The depth in the number of different playstyles the game affords you is astounding, and the decks require you to be careful on how you play your cards and where, as once a card is discarded or a unit is defeated, they are removed to the graveyard and cannot be brought back into play. Game lengths can be anywhere for an hour to easily 100+ turns. Structures can be upgraded, new technologies can be researched, and there are also hidden caches and bonuses which randomly pop up.
The AI is solid, and they will react pretty intelligently to you being around, assassinating your heroes as they can, and taking over your strongholds with various tactics. They also seem to be on a level playing field as far as what they start with and the length of time that it takes them to generate their units; there’s no cheating AI here as far as this reviewer can find.
Without a doubt, Armageddon Empires is one of the deepest strategy games I’ve seen in quite a while, on a par with the mainstays of the genre. With the different decks you can build, and the different ways each game can play out, there are a number of different strategies that you can employ. With each game lasting anywhere from one to ten or more hours, and the replayability involved, there’s a huge amount of gameplay here, especially for the $30 that the game costs.
The nice thing about buying from an indie developer, also, is that you know that most of the money is going to the developers instead of publishers and the like. This game is definitely worth picking up if you’re at all a fan of TBS games.
I’m honestly amazed at the amount of polish Armageddon Empires has, especially considering the entire game has a staff of nine people! When you throw in the fact that the game has a solid manual, rock-solid gameplay and some beautiful artwork and sound, this game is a no-brainer.
The only thing that I wish the game had was multiplayer, although the game is still quite good without it. While the game does have a fair learning curve, it isn’t impossible to learn how to play, and the manual does a very good job explaining the concepts.