By Christopher Livingston on May 19th, 2014 at 9:00 pm.
Each Monday, Chris Livingston visits an early access game and reports back with stories about whatever he finds inside. This week, monster-based monster strategy with monsters in Endless Legend.
Crystalline giants march from the east, painted ogres advance from the south, and slithering snake-monsters, a two-headed jackal tribe, and hovering spectral warriors in tattered cloaks appear regularly outside my city. I’ve been battling monsters for hours, now, and I’m frustrated. Not by the combat itself, but by the nature of the enemy. I don’t want to kill monsters. I want to kill humans, because I’m a monster myself.
You know how in fantasy fiction there’s often evil monsters or demon hordes or dark lords bent on wiping out all the humans and elves and whatnot? I always wonder what they would do if they actually succeeded. What would Sauron do after conquering Middle-earth? Are his orcs good at rebuilding infrastructure? Could the Uruk-hai put down their cleavers and become farmers and tradesmen? Does the Lidless Eye have a feasible economic recovery plan ready for the aftermath of all-encompassing war? A giant burning eye on top of a mountain is a striking image, but try staring down an organized horde of angry goblin moms concerned about the lack of good schools within warg-riding distance of town. They’ve got a petition, Sauron. A petition.
Endless Legend, the early-access 4x fantasy strategy game from Amplitude Studios might give me a chance to answer some of those questions, because it lets me play as a monster faction, the Necrophages. These insectoid creatures spread their plague, infecting and assimilating, feasting on the living and dead alike. They’re your basic nightmare monster that wants to kill everything, yes, but I want to prove they can do more than just destroy the world: they can competently run it as well.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I don’t want to feast on the steaming entrails and juicy brains of soft-skinned, warm-blooded humanoids. I do. I will. But I want to plan for the future as well. I want to build roads and monuments. I want my cities to have a proper sewer system and a public library. A charred, corpse-strewn future can still be a bright and prosperous one! When you visit the polls this year, vote Necrophage.
Right away, however, I can see that the biggest obstacle to building a successful monster empire is all the other goddamn monsters. The crystalline Silics, the ogre-like Wildlings, the spectral Haunts, the demonic Kazanji. They’re constantly stomping over to my home city and attacking, or ambushing my foragers, or trying to destroy my great hero, an enormous armored insect named Feeds on Bones. I fight them off, generally pretty easily, but that’s not the point. Feeds on Bones wants to feed on bones, but human bones. But he can’t seem to find any humans or their accompanying crunchy skeletons.
Not to mention, with the constant monster attacks, my plans for a multifaceted monster society keep getting delayed as I spend all my time and research building more military units. It all seems counterproductive. Fiends, gorgons, monster-men, lend me whatever passes for your ears! Can’t we work together for a better tomorrow for all monsters?
Finally, I actually run into some humans! A faction called Sisters of Mercy, a badass tribe of warrior women, have a village near my capital. Their fighters are called Justiceres, and after killing a wandering squad of them, I visit their village, steamroll another squad, and torch their town. Ahh. Finally, I feel like I’m a legitimate monster.
Shortly after destroying the Sisters, more people begin appearing. I find a major empire of Man, the Wind Walkers, to the north. While my diplomacy window tells me we’re in the “cold war” stage of our relationship, the Wild Walkers decide to make things even chillier by sending a bunch of Dredge (a minor dwarf-lookin’ faction they’ve conquered) down to siege my city. To which I say: bring it. All my prior monster-whomping comes in handy, because I’ve built up Feeds on Bones and the rest of my army into a force that can easily defeat the Wild Walkers’ stubby errand boys.
Just to send a clear message to the north that I won’t be cowed by their transparent anti-insect agenda, I send out some settler bugs to found a second city to the west, and a third to the north-east. My abrupt empire-broadening quickly leads me to discover the two other human empires, the Vaulters, which look a bit Elvish (so I hate them) and the Broken Lords, some sort of noble warrior race (so I hate them).
Now that I’ve met everyone (there are only four playable factions at the moment, with four more promised in the future), I’m also notified that I can assimilate a minor defeated faction into my empire, either the Silica or the Sisters of Mercy. Naturally, I go with the Sisters. What better way to show humankind how much I pwnz0r it than by arranging for a bunch of humans to fight for my side? Sauron could generate endless orcs, sure, but I’ve always thought having the human Easterlings on his side gave him real street cred.
The Wild Walkers, on the other hand, don’t seem particularly impressed that I’ve got squads of Mercy fighters shadowing me. They send another massive force down to encircle my city. Then another. And another! No matter how many humans my bugs kill, more come out of the woodwork, like bugs. I’ve always wanted to extinguish all human life, but right now I’d settle for just chasing it away so it doesn’t bother me for a while.
All this war with Man is really helping me to understand why Sauron didn’t do any responsible city planning and instead just built a giant fucking gate and crammed a shit-ton of monsters behind it. I’d like to anoint my hero, Feeds on Bones, with some useful post-war skills like Necrotic Agriculture, to raise food yields, or Slave Driver, to increase worker productivity, but I’m forced along the skill tree that makes him solely a finer instrument of warfare. I even consider the unthinkable — making friends with the human factions — but the diplomacy systems of Endless Legend have not been completed yet and I can’t arrange any truces.
Finally, the real cost of this war spills into view: the massive financial burden. I’m broke. Bankrupt. Outta BugBux. The game quickly — and rudely — solves the problem for me by selling off all my military assets. I thought war was supposed to be great business! Maybe that’s only true if you’re winning.
My newest city is overtaken by the Vaulters, and my other two are under siege by the Wind Walkers and the Broken Lords. My remaining units that haven’t been killed in combat are sold to pay my bills. Even Feeds on Bones suddenly ditches me due to lack of funds. There’s very little I can do at this point, but this crazy bug’s dream to be a responsible and thoughtful leader isn’t quite finished. I take a course of action that will leave this world a better place than I found it: I rebuild the Sisters of Mercy’s town. As my last cities fall to the human scourge, the Sisters’ home is made whole again.
Good luck, Sisters! May you thrive where I failed. You fought bravely at my side, and taught this empire-building bug that not all humans are disgusting and loathsome creatures. Just most of them.