Impressions: Eador – Masters Of The Broken World

By Adam Smith on April 9th, 2013 at 7:00 pm.

Eador: Masters of the Broken World will be released into our very own fractured realm later this month and I’ve spent a few hours with a preview copy and had many of my expectations defied. Is it more of a King’s Bounty than a hero’s swordsmanship and spell-biffing, or is it something entirely different? I’m still not entirely sure, but I’m looking forward to finding out.

The particular way in which Eador’s world is broken does not involve a history of imperialism, and a present of corporate colonialism and financial malfeasance. More accurately, I should say that it may well involve some of those things, but the bigger issue is one of total physical collapse. The place has done a magicsplode and is separated into shards, each now adrift in space and glittering like a jewel, presenting just the sort of challenge that demands the conquering attentions of some sort of strategic master of magic.

I’ve been typing ‘master of magic’ quite a lot recently in between bouts of describing moody rogues, but fear not, I haven’t been moonlighting as Criss Angel’s press agent. I am, however, happily bearing witness to the arrival of a new Thief and, more pertinently, a group of fantasy strategy games that look back to one of my favourites. Following Warlock, which switched out Master of Magic’s turn-based tactical grid battles for Civ V style unstackable warmongering, Fallen Enchantress followed with its own hero-focused take on mystical world-seizing.

Foolishly, I wasn’t expecting Snowbird’s Eador to fall too far from the tree but from the moment the surreal and spectacular sight of the shard map is seen, more science fiction dream than fantasy cliché, the Broken World sets out to confound. It certainly achieves that aim. After a few hours with the preview code, I’m still not entirely sure how the long-game will play out, or how much variety there will be in repeated campaigns, but I’m perfectly happy to be perplexed and to put in more hours when the game releases on the 19th because the process of discovery is entertaining. I enjoyed Warlock but it rarely surprised me and many of the additions and changes to the expected formula in Fallen Enchantress left me cold (though I am looking forward to trying Legendary Heroes in the very near future), and it’s not clear which pole Eador is closest to yet.

Much of what feels new, fittingly considering they are referenced right in the title, is in the presentation and nature of the shards. They are of various sizes and their content, in terms of landscape, inhabitants and opponents, is randomised. In order to control one, the player must capture the capital of every leader who controls part of the shard to rule over it and this is where the game shows that it has several tricksy ideas up its voluminous sleeves.

As in Fallen Enchantress and the Heroes of Might and Magic series, units tend to be part of a general’s entourage, and in Eador they come in four flavours: mages, scouts, warriors and commanders. That’s the one with the spells, the one with the ranged weapons and the one with the melee weapons. Oh, and commanders, who are great multi-taskers and can bring more units into battle with them than other heroes and boost their will and ability to fight. As the campaign to control each shard begins, the player sends one chosen hero across the shard, which is essentially a game board made up of random components, including monster-haunted ruins, the settlements of various fantasy races, and various types of province.

Entering a new area tends to lead to a fight, which takes place on a tactical hex map and it’s this aspect of the game that is closest to King’s Bounty and HOMM. In battles involving late-game units, which can be used in standalone scenarios for the purposes of the preview build, units’ individual abilities come into play, countering one another through increased mobility, resistances or offensive powers. There’s nothing particularly fresh in this part of Eador but it’s all effectively crafted, and picking and choosing the right fight for a hero and his companions is vital. Raid a dungeon to acquire its loot and you may have to face creatures too powerful for the losses to be worthwhile, so it can be wise to conquer some territories first and build up the capital and its ability to generate more efficient troops.

The overall goal, achieved via the process of increasing hero and army strength, is to conquer provinces in a chain that leads to enemy capitals, which can then be assaulted. The matter becomes complicated by the demands of those provinces that have been captured and events that happen within them. There’s a much more involved management aspect threaded through each shard’s campaign than I first thought, even if the choices are randomised and swiftly resolved. The karma system, altering the overarching plot and relationships with other Masters, is influenced by these management decisions, many of which are ethical as well as economical.

What I hope to discover, when playing the full game, is that each individual shard doesn’t feel like a campaign in its own right. At the moment, the bigger picture, of a broken world to be reunited under one rule, appears to be made up of a lot more bigger pictures. On one level there is the levelling of heroes and the construction of armies, then the tactical combat, then the conquest of provinces and capitals, but at the highest level the fight is between the various Masters, all of which can be encountered on a shard, interrupting the attempt at dominance and introducing direct rivalry. That, to my mind, is the natural basis of the strategic game, but the conquest of a single shard feels like an entire campaign in itself and I’m not convinced that starting from scratch each time, in terms of territory at least, will be satisfying as the possible tens of hours slip by.

There are qualms and hesitations then, but there is also the very real appreciation of a visually pleasing strategy game that has a character and flow of its own. I particularly enjoy exploring the map at the opening stages of each new shard. Encountering cultures that have been isolated and thrown apart from the other fragments of the world is evocative, as is seeing how they have adapted and how they fall into position as neighbours in a dangerous wilderness. More importantly, the layout of each map is also efficiently functional, presenting decent strategic challenges that also lend themselves to the roleplay of the universe.

It’s a far more ambitious game than I expected going in and each part is appealing, but it’s also difficult to understand the thing in its entirety without more time at the table. The preview code isn’t complete (nor, I should add, does it represent the current state of the game this close to release), particularly in the campaign mode, and the biggest queries I have are to do with the progression through a full journey across the broken world. Will the sense of achievement be maintained as map after map is uncovered and controlled? Will there be a fitting sense of escalation as the other Masters are encountered and crushed? I’ll revisit as soon as all of the pieces are in place.

Eador: Masters of the Broken World is out on April 19th. Preordering from Steam or GoG.com provides a copy of Eador: Genesis which, to my shame, I’ve never played.

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24 Comments »

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  1. Noburu says:

    Every game like this I play, I end up wishing I was playing Master of Magic. I guess I will have to give this one a try as well.

    Master of Magic is one of my favorite games of all time. I bought it back at release and again when it came out on cd. I still fire up dosbox and play a handful of games a few times a year. I also love how it had a thick, detailed manual and separate spellbook.

    Honestly instead of a spiritual successor I would like a straight up remake of Master of Magic. Mostly to up the resolution and make it playable without dosbox. I wouldnt mind if the graphics stayed lo-fi.

    • b0rsuk says:

      Hi, I’m not a spam bot.

      I want to strongly recommend the “Insecticide” patch for Master of Magic, by kyrub. It will be found in a thread on RealmsBeyond forums. I don’t post a direct link, because I don’t fancy seeing my post stuck in moderation limbo.

      The patch fixes several pages of bugs, improves AI, the interface, adds some new options like increased monster generation, while gameplay choices are marginal or nonexistent. The design goal is to avoid making arbitrary gameplay changes. kyrub actually lowered Impossible AI bonuses, because stronger AI makes up for them and they’re no longer necessary.

    • Schiraman says:

      Yeah, I agree completely. Every game that seems MoMish always ends up bitterly disappointing me because, in one way or another, they always miss out some great feature of MoM.

      I would buy the heck out of a direct MoM-clone that increased the number of factions in play, re-balanced things (make Paladins not best, for example), improved AI and diplomacy, and added some kind of proper border mechanic (like culture in Civ 4). Other modern Civ-isms like strategic resources, etc. would be a bonus.

      But FFS keep *all* the key play elements of MoM. They were ace.

    • MellowKrogoth says:

      I’ve played most fantasy strategy games out there, and playing this game (or rather Eador Genesis which is almost exactly the same game) felt like a very different and refreshing experience.

      It doesn’t attempt to emulate Master of Magic at all, I’d say, it’s very much its own thing even though elements from other games are recognizable. I’d rather compare it to Space Rangers for the way in which many diverse game systems successfully interact with each other, and for the preponderance of text (not full-fledged text adventures like in Space Rangers, but a lot of small encounters and situations which constantly force you to make decisions, and add a huge amount of flavors to the world.)

  2. Premium User Badge

    Faldrath says:

    This game has looked pretty promising for a long while, I really hope it delivers.

  3. solymer89 says:

    This sounds exactly like what I’ve been waiting for. I grew tired of all these 4x games (pardon me if this is not but it really seems to be) getting to the point where you know you’ve won or lost a given game before its actual conclusion. Making these shards something to conquer in order to stand toe to toe with your real enemies, utilizing all those resources for something rather than just collecting them until the arbitrary end comes, is what I want. I found it odd that you would put all this work in building an empire, only to have the game finished or beaten before you can utilize all that you’ve conquered.

    I’m really liking the possibilities with this. I don’t mind spending hours and hours on a single player game because I can stop when I want/need, and come back at my leisure without anyone or anything being affected. With the randomness, the replay-ability would seem to be there so long as the intricacies of the game remain interesting after the first couple of times through.

  4. Soon says:

    Later on (in Genesis, at least), you can buy lots of buildings, units, items and such at great expense with which to begin the shard map, and even increase the income per turn you’ll get. So, mercifully, you’re not always starting from scratch.

    I’d recommend coming up with a strategy for a swift win on early maps because it certainly takes its time to get going.

    I’m probably going to be playing this too much.

    • karry says:

      In Genesis it was completely worthless, though. You could start with some (start-level and next to useless) buildings, and mod some other starting parameters, but the price for that was enormous and really, i dont understand why anyone would use that feature. I am about 3/4 in campaign atm, and not once have i found any sufficient need to spend my campaign mana on that. You simply get too little mana, and prices are so huge for a completely negligeable advantages.

      What he should have done, is spend that mana to buy buildings you start with permanently. So eventually you get a nice collection of choice.

      • Soon says:

        Hopefully they’ve balanced it out a bit. I think I read some changes are to do with pacing and such, and it seems like a reasonable place to make some amendments.

        • whorhay says:

          The only real change I would currently like, being a new player, is a manual or wiki worth a damn in English. The complexities of the building cross dependencies and exclusivity along with the lack of removing buildings makes experimentation nearly impossible. For instance I want to build a theatre, but apparently if I build a tavern after building an Inn, which is a requirement for the theatre, that is no longer an option.

  5. Choca says:

    This looks shatteringly interesting.

  6. CMaster says:

    This is still looking promising.

    Disappointing to hear that each shard is effectively a separate strategic map though.

  7. megazver says:

    You could just check out Eador: Genesis and find out for yourself. It’s a pretty awesome game and it’s a great indie success story as well.

  8. razzafazza says:

    i m pretty sure its a good game but the single unit battle screens are a huge turn off for me.

    i d love if there was some fantasy turn based strategy title where you have actual armies clashing, not just single dudes/very small units/monsters like in..

    ….HoMM, Eador, Master of Magic, Elemental, Age of Wonders etc. etc.

    really glad that AoW3 is at least upping the scale from single dudes to what looks like up to 6 men units but at the end of the day i keep hoping for a MoM/AoW like game with total war battles (as far as unit scale is concerned, i ll gladly take turn based combat over RT )

    • pakoito says:

      I think Total War is more your speed. If you want fantasy settings there are mods like the Zelda and Warhammer ones that fit the bill.

  9. Triplanetary says:

    Greatly enjoyed Genesis, looking forward to this.

  10. pakoito says:

    So far from what I tried at Eador Genesis (a.k.a. Low Definition untweaked same game) the game is up there with the best of the genre.

  11. Zeewolf says:

    I loved Genesis, but eventually I stopped just because it got so tiresome to start over again all the time.

    This one seems cool, and I’ll get it, but I have a feeling the UI seems a bit clunky?

  12. biggergun says:

    Genesis was charming, random events the best part of it by far. I remember all sort of things happening all the time – demons offering bargains, hobbit summer festivals, orc chieftains eating each other and so on. It also rained gold and/or reptiles from time to time. Also, the idea of exploring the provinces themselves was neat – you could either expand by grabbing more land or by scouting the land you already had for quests, monsters (some of which could be hired) and treasure. Could feel quite grindy at times, though. Looking forward to the WIT.

  13. Uthred says:

    Really wish there was a demo version available

    • whorhay says:

      Like others have said this is basically Eador Genesis updated with better graphics, processes and some tweaks to game play. You can get Genesis for $5 or less if you look hard enough, that’s not free of course but it is very inexpensive.

    • mbpopolano24 says:

      If you sign up in the Snowbird forum, you can then ask for a beta key (basically, a demo) which will let you try the game. This will be the last beta, and will start this Friday, so anyone interested can jump in and give feedbacks.

      I played two versions of the beta and the game is, indeed, a gem. Surely not for everybody (and certainly you cannot judge it by playing just a few hours, I spent hundreds of hours with the beta and still have explored just a fraction of the game), but one of the best fantasy TBS games I have ever played.