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Tacticular Cancer reviews Eador: Genesis

Tacticular Cancer reviews Eador: Genesis

Review - posted by Trash on Wed 19 December 2012, 18:24:06

Tags: Eador: Genesis; GOG.com; Snowbird Games

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Before Snowblind started working on Eador: Masters of the Broken World there was a 2010 Russian predecessor named Eador: Genesis that few outside of Russia had even heard of. Mostly because the game didn't get a translation. Eador: Genesis was a labour of love from Alexander Bokulev who made it almost by himself during the three years he worked on it. He deemed it his 'dream game' which combined many of the features from his own favourite strategy games such as Civilisation, HoMM III and Master of Magic. Eador: Genesis has now been given an English translation and been released to the wider world on GoG. So how does it look after all this time?

So, what's it all about?
You are an immortal entity, a demi-god if you will, called a Master who decides to rebuild the world. Rebuild? Yes, for some reason the world has been shattered into fragments called Shards. Meanwhile other Masters are pursuing their own goals and there is also the little matter that the orderly universe is on the verge of being swallowed up by pure Chaos. Which might be a bad thing if you feel that being torn apart by demons for all eternity is not to your liking. To rebuild the world you'll need to conquer different Shards to add them to your own, foster diplomatic relations with the other Masters you'll encounter and steadily build up your abilities and power.

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May not look like much but this is your local base on the Shard

The gameplay
Gameplay in Eador: Genesis takes roughly place in three parts. There is the Astral level where you see the different Shards floating around and where you can pick which one to invade. You can also chat with the other Masters or have things put into perspective by talking to your trusty cynical Gremlin assistant. In the Astral part you'll also accumulate energy by letting turns pass by. With that energy you'll be able to buy certain perks when you invade a new shard. Stuff like a few buildings already being in place or extra income. Unfortunately your opponents grow stronger as time progresses, so letting turns pass by for some extra energy might very well come back to haunt you at a later stage. You can check the size and general terrain make-up of the different Shards and also see what new buildings, units and other things you'll unlock by successfully taking it over. A thing to remember is that small or even tiny Shards are not essentially easier to conquer. Different size Shards require different approaches, with smaller ones generally requiring you to be a whole lot more aggressive to win it before the enemy comes knocking down your front door.

The second gameplay part is the strategic one when you invade a Shard. Here you manage your heroes and their armies, buy and upgrade gear, rule your provinces and generally do everything to make sure you become the ruler of said Shard. On each Shard you'll have to compete with one or more opponents. These can be local rulers or other Masters looking to add the Shard to their own dominion. To defeat them you'll have to find their stronghold and take it over. The Shard itself is randomly generated and made up of different provinces that you'll have to take over to make progress. Sometimes you can bribe the people living there, some may be willing to ally themselves to you and more often you'll have to bash their heads in to make them see the benefits of your rule. Almost every Shard also has locations of interest in the provinces for you and your heroes to explore. These can range from stuff like bandit hideouts and labyrinths to weapon stores to running into a dragon's lair. You'll usually have several possible approaches when you encounter something, even if it's just the opportunity to run away and you can gain all manner of extras through careful exploration of your territory.

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Every hero has to start somewhere. In this case with butchering some Goblins.

You can also build buildings in your provinces that can help, for instance, to avoid plagues, make travel faster or offer more income. Meanwhile you also have your own stronghold as a base of operations on the Shard. Upgrading and defending it is of the utmost importance because when the enemy takes it over the Shard is lost. Your stronghold has a wide range of options available to you regarding how you want to upgrade it and forces you to make choices to what you want to build by limiting the number of buildings you can add. You for instance have only room for four tier one troop buildings and just enough place for four different kinds of shops. Once chosen you can't undo the choice so this means that you'll have to think ahead on what approach you want to take on that particular shard.

Each turn on a shard you'll earn income in the form of money and gems. The money you use for basically everything while the gems can be used to perform magic. Magical rituals that let you summon units or gain extra money are depending on gems. Expansion is usually key to gaining more income but the game runs a very fine line in rewarding or slapping you down when you expand too fast. The further away from your stronghold you get the stronger the local forces become. Meanwhile you will see an absolute humongous amount of events pass by each turn. Peasants wanting to burn a witch, traders passing through, famine striking a province or even barbarians raiding your provinces. They'll keep on coming and can have serious repercussions on your game.

The third part of gameplay are the battles. You heroes will often find them self in combat against a huge set of possible enemies. And when I say huge I really mean huge. The game has everything from common foot soldiers to fantastical creatures and terrifying demons. Dragons, trolls, orcs, spiders. Really, all the stereotypical fantasy creatures can be found along with some not so stereotypical. All of them with their own strengths and weaknesses and most if not all of them are possible to recruit into your own force by one way or the other. What does not change is that each of your mobile armies is lead by a hero. There are four different classes all with their own positives and negatives and ways to use them. Warriors are hulking damage dealers who can often fight an entire battle by themselves. Using the troops with them merely as backup and support. Scouts are strong archers who can be used to explore provinces but also can become great bribers of enemy garrisons and militias. Mages use strong spells to turn the tide of battle. Whether you like to support your own troops with buffs and healing or like to smite the enemy and curse them. They can become extremely powerful but need gems for their magic, turning this second resource vital when you employ these fellows. Finally there is the Commander who can lead the largest armies and has a lot of traits that will benefit his troops with for instance bonuses to stamina and morale. On the smaller and earlier Shards he's quite hard to use but as soon as you get stronger units and bigger and thus longer maps the Commander really comes into his own right.

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Those Centaurs pack quite a punch. That is, when they're not turning your troops into pincushions.

Battlefields
Also with the available amount of troops and hero builds that means you can follow lots of different strategies in order to win. Goblins love swamps to fight in, spiders can web even the strongest foes and trolls regenerate damage while flying units like gryphons can fly over the enemy lines. Meanwhile units have not only hitpoints but also stats like morale and stamina that can rise and fall during the fighting. You'll soon find out that both are equally important as hitpoints in keeping your troops in fighting condition. Besides those there are a whole range of stats regarding ranged attacks, attacks, defence, magic defence and so on. Heroes gain traits and stat increases through levels and so do your soldiers. They even gain medals in especially hard fought engagements. With the opportunity to build them up even lowly tier one militia can grow to be fearsome veterans if they make it through enough fighting.

The battles all take place on a turn-based battlefield map that is randomly generated and represents the terrain of the province. There isn't a whole lot of diversity in the maps. You have plains, hills, woods or swamps as the dominant terrain in a province and thus in a battle map. When you fight a siege battle there will be some fortifications on the map. Whether you're clearing out a monster den, a graveyard filled with undead or fight an epic battle against another hero you will always have one of these maps. The terrain all has some negatives or positives (woods are good to take cover in from archer fire for instance) and units can have traits that either amplify or negate these. While Eador: Genesis doesn't have a huge set of different terrain or backgrounds to fight in that means there is almost a purity to the battles which you don't find a whole lot of other games. Personally it kinda reminds me of a chess board and like chess this simplicity won't mean there is no room for a wide range of strategies to pursue.

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What to take on our trip to yet another Shard? Hmmm.

Looks and sounds
Eador: Genesis has an artstyle that really appeals to me. Not trying to be realistic while also not being too cartoony with some lovely hand drawn portraits. The events in particular often have rather atmospheric pictures accompanying them. The other Masters are done rather well, with each its portrait fitting the character quite well. Eador: Genesis does however show its one man project roots by not having a whole lot of animations. In fact, there seem to be hardly any at all. The sound effects in the game and the music are perfectly serviceable. The score is a bit more subdued than the usual epic scores accompanying fantasy games but I like that. Units and combat sound like you should expect with creaking skeletons and swooshing sword strikes all around.

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You'll be peppered with lots and lots of events like this. Many of them however not as pleasant.

Big shoes to fill
By drawing comparisons to such classic games as Master of Magic, HoMM III and Age of Wonders it really sets itself up to be compared to the best in the genre. Eador: Genesis also includes a lot of mechanics that in one way or another remind of these classics. So, how does it fare when stacked up? Amazingly well in my opinion. The graphics have a nice artstyle to them but really are nothing truly special. The almost complete lack of animations could turn quite a few people off as well. For those that look past these low production values however there is a game underneath that seems to open up layer after layer of gameplay as you learn its intricacies. Basic gameplay isn't too hard to learn. You hire some troops and a hero, go conquer some provinces, build buildings and try to take over a shard. However within that framework you'll soon discover that you constantly learn new things. How to build up your heroes, how to get rid of strong monster lairs or finding out that inactivity will doom you as certainly as over expanding does. Same as making the transition from smaller shards to bigger ones means you'll have to adept your entire strategy.

The game is also unashamedly and sometimes almost sadistically hard. The fact that you can't have multiple saves (but you can have more than one player profile) means that it basically forces ironman on you. Even on the lower difficulty settings. It also gives you what amounts to a cheat mode by allowing you to go one turn back in time. Mind you, doing this even just once costs you much more in your final score than losing for instance an entire Shard. And yes, you will lose on Shards and you will learn to deal with it and go on. The game does have that famous and hard sought 'one more turn' aspect to it that can easily demolish your spare time. The fact that it's absolutely gigantic also came as quite a pleasant surprise to me. That is a two sided blade though as it sometimes can start to feel like grinding. Shards can take quite awhile to take over and there are dozens to conquer. That many feel quite alike doesn't help. The constant new content in the form of new units and buildings does however. Especially as this unlocks new opportunities to fine-tune your strategies. For those who tire of the campaign or just want a quick game there is also the opportunity to play on a randomly generated Shard for which you set a number of starting options such as size and number of opponents. Options for multiplayer are present in the option screens but don't seem to be enabled at the time I'm writing this.

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Soon these lumps of mud and rock will be mine. All mine!

The lack of meta-spells to cast over the shards bothered me a bit. There are plenty of rituals to be cast that will grant some income or summon a few hell-hounds but nothing as earth shattering and game changing as some of the spells from for instance Master of Magic. The AI isn't the most sophisticated around either. It is however rather aggressive and will give you quite a fight. Especially during the battles it will really go for your troops. I was convinced it cheated like hell but it seems that apart from some starting bonuses it doesn't, which is quite testament to its ability to give you a hard time. Special mention also needs to go to the quality of writing. Most Russian translations suffer from horrible Engrish. Eador: Genesis breaks that mold and seems fine for me as a non-native english speaker. The characters you'll encounter and the conversations you'll have with them are delightful and shows that the game does not take itself too seriously. Especially your trusted assistant Zarr is a hoot. A negative that needs to be named however are the technical issues. While nothing seems to make the game unplayable there are a number of problems with more modern pc's. Crackling sounds, stutter and lag can all show up to mess with your gaming experience. Luckily both Snowbird themselves and fans have posted solutions. This one in particular has helped me and basically eliminated all troubles.

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You won't have to look for very long at screens like this, but they do look pretty enough when you do.

Conclusion
While it's not quite the next Master of Magic to me Eador: Genesis does trump all others in the genre, and that's a massive feat in my book. It's indie roots show in the production values but it also has heart and provides both depth of gameplay and challenge I've not seen in more commercial products in ages. Eador: Genesis is both charming and rock hard with a fiendishly sharp sense of humor. The massive campaign may start to feel like a grind after your umpteenth hour playing it but by then you'll realise that you've spend more quality time in this game than in most AAA ones. And then you'll find out that the game has plenty of different endings that are all the result of what you've been doing since the very first shard. At a mere six bucks this game is an utter steal. Get it.

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