By Quintin Smith on December 15th, 2010 at 3:07 pm.
Iron Helmet, the devious devs behind Neptune’s Pride, are releasing their next project, Blight of the Immortals, in January, and I couldn’t be more excited. I’m like a sugar-loaded child over here. I’m even more excited because I’m currently in the beta of Blight of the Immortals, and over the last few days I’ve been learning precisely what the game’s about. Basically, it’s about worrying.
Neptune’s Pride was a game about scheming, and hating, and plotting, and then hating some more, reducing each player into a powerless sci-fi Eye of Sauron as they squirmed and struggled for total dominance. Blight of the Immortals has more similarities than I was expecting, but it’s a very different beast. I also suspect it’s the better game.
The similarities first- once again, this is a real-time browser game where your forces can take tens of hours to reach even the nearest locations, and you log in throughout the day to check on the game’s progress. Once again, the game’s about taking control of settlements, with Neptune’s Pride’s star systems simply replaced with towns, and once again you have money which can be spent on improving those settlements. Even interface will be familiar to any Neptune’s Pride veterans.
But while Neptune’s Pride was a bloody war that could only ever end with one victor, Blight of the Immortals is a co-op game. A terrible zombie plague – the Blight – is ravaging your smiling fantasy world, and all the players are working together to exterminate it before it devours everything and everyone. It’s almost as if Iron Helmet realised that the most common piece of feedback on Neptune’s Pride was that slowly clubbing your friends to death was an overtly horrible experience.
Except it’s not quite as clear-cut as all that. You see, if the Blight destroys your world, everybody loses. But if the eight or so players in a game do manage to beat back the Blight, you’re ranked by honour and a player does in fact emerge as the victor. Honour is added with each zombie army you kill, and is deducted each time one of your regions is befouled by the blight. So yes, it’s a co-op game, but it also has a slight air of competition and backstabbing. Everyone’s looking out for themselves. Which is, of course, no way to go about saving the world. At the time of writing, nobody has actually won a game in the Blight of the Immortals beta. In every single one, the world, and the players, have fallen.
It’s a weird one. On the one hand, you need all the other players to do well. If somebody can’t defend against the Blighted armies at their borders, their conquered holdings will ultimately spawn even more Blighted armies. On the other hand, you get situations like this:
That’s a screenshot from the Northernmost part of my game. There are no zombies up there. None. And yet we’ve got three players (one of whom is me) expanding our holdings by claiming territory up there. We’re doing this using armies and money that, really, we should be spending to fight back the Blight. Why are we doing it? Well, the more territory you control, the more coins you get and the more control you have over your environment. In the long term, it’s a useful thing to do. In the short term, the world is in peril and we’re all going to die and we’re spending our last days in this world scrabbling for territory because this is a competitive game. We clearly don’t have a hope in Hell. We’re lunch.
Like I say, it’s a weird one.
There are other twists on the Neptune’s Pride formula, too. With each battle an army wins its commander gains a level, which gives you an extra die to roll in combat. Yes, dice! There are DICE to roll this time around, giving the game a little leeway for tension and heroic last stands. Unless a zombie army is clearly going to dash itself against your powerful defenses or you’re about to be comprehensively overwhelmed and turned into sacks of jerky, you never know quite which way a battle’s going to go.
But unquestionably the most important extra that gives Blight of the Immortals an order of magnitude more depth than NP is that each fantasy race under your control has a special ability, and there are dozens such races in the world. Some of these are simple. Dwarves, for example, can erect fortifications around towns instantly for an only marginally greater cost (instead of it taking some 15 hours), and Dwarves also receive double the defensive bonus from them. If a 20-strength army of Dwarves is hiding behind 40-strength fortifications, they’ll have an effective strength of 100. Very good.
Some of these special abilities are a shade more complex. Elven armies, for example, can Hunt. This causes the army to lose 2 strength, which then goes off to harrass an enemy army, killing X% of that army over 18 hours where X is the original strength of the Elf army.
With me so far? Well, you’ve also got special abilities that are so nuanced that if you want to use them effectively then it’ll take you real-life days to get everything into place. Orcs can sacrifice half of their army’s strength in order to add X% strength to any armies in extreme proximity, where X is, I think, the original strength of the Orcs.
Once you’ve got yourself a little empire with a half-dozen fantasy races beneath you, plans and options begin revealing themselves and closing themselves off like window shutters in a strong wind. Maybe you could do this, and– no. But then there’s always that army, and they could go there, and then– wait! You had something else you were waiting for before you moved them. Oh yes! Now you remember your grand plan. It basically offers the kind of small-unit tactics that I loved in Solium Infernum and I wanted to see in Neptune’s Pride. Good, good stuff.
The kicker is, Blighted armies not only have special abilities that they can use on you, each race has a different special ability in death, adding yet more complexity. All the different machinations in a game of Blight of the Immortals are as much a joy to behold as they are a terror to behold. Mainly a terror, if you’re a beginner. Yesterday I managed (with a single misclick) to order my Ents to use their Tangling Roots ability on my most powerful Dwarven army- the army that was, at the time, rushing off to defend a city. Today, those Dwarves are still tangled up in those bloody roots, and will be for hours yet.
On that note, I suppose I should move on to what’s happening in my game.
Say hello to my left flank. I have smaller holdings in the North and South, but this is where the magic happens, and by “magic” I mean “horror”. It’s where my most valued holdings are, including my Capital, Mossy Tree Fortress. You may notice that it’s surrounded by Blighted troops. I– well, yes. Yes, it is.
The problem isn’t necessarily that I’m surrounded, but that I’m paralysed. If that 22-strength army of Elves sat in Mossy Tree Fortress rides out, and then any of the zombie armies advance on the fortress, it will fall. It’s also much cheaper to reinforce an existing army than to create a new one, so I’m best off just steadily reinforcing the Elves in the fortress rather than trying anything fancy. But this situation probably can’t last. Or can it? The Fortress is facing off against three Blighted towns, meaning they’ll spawn three times as many troops as the fort.
Now, slide your eyes a little to the East to the town of Oakfort. See it? Oakfort is both my potential saviour and my burden, because Oakfort spawns not Elves, but Ents. It took me a bit of time spent with the game and its mechanics to realise this, but Ents are sodding ferocious creatures. When you spawn an army or reinforcements at most settlements, it spawns 6-10 strength worth of troops. Ent settlements are different. Each day, an Ent settlement can (at outlandish cost) spawn 50-strength of Ents. There are just two problems.
(1) Ents move slowly. How slowly? Well, every time I check on their movement progress of my Ents, a single tear falls from my eye. Usually, travelling between towns takes an army about 18 hours. Ents, however, only move every second hour. If you tell an Ent army to travel somewhere, you’d better hope to high heaven that you’re sending them down the right path.
(2) If Oakfort falls to the Blight, the rest of the world must deal with f**king Zombie Ents.
Are you feeling my pain yet? It’s a tiny needling sensation, just where the skull meets the back of your neck.
Let’s look at the right flank.
If you thought that was bad, the situation over here is even more nerve-wracking. Clifftop Keep and Mason’s Keep are both fortified. Great. They’ve got Dwarves present, doubling those fortification bonuses. Great. I’ve got my 107-strength army of Ents over at Mason’s Keep. Great. Perfect. Rock-solid. Lovely.
…except for two tiny problems I noticed this morning. One of them I am calling The Dreadful Forgottenbog Problem. It is the 93-strength army of Blighted trolls stationed at Forgottenbog that could move my way at any moment. The other problem I am calling The Sad Sad Problem Of Black Soul Keep. This refers to the 186-strength army of Blighted trolls currently moving my way from Black Soul Keep.
It’s just dawned on me that I have no idea what the special ability of Blighted Trolls is. I’ll go check now. Bear with me.
Haha. Hahaha. I’ll just write this one out for you.
Zombie Trolls are particularly troublesome because they have a tendancy to grow faster than the other undead hordes. Early reports indicate that this was because the Trolls are eating other nearby Zombie hordes, but this has not yet been shown to be true.
The plot thickens!
I’ll give you another update on how I’m doing and precisely how doomed my world is in a few days. Man, it’s lovely to think that all the other players in my game are having their own little dramas, just like this one. Maybe I’ve actually got it good. I certainly hope not, for their sakes.