The shards of Eador’s Broken World drift in space, waiting to be conquered by a commander versed in turn-based combat, RPG levelling, questing and looting, and town management. Fortunately, despite my extreme cowardice and feeble frame, I am just such a commander, and after many hours of play, I’ve finally decided wot I think.
Before I begin, it’s important to note that I haven’t played Eador: Genesis so I understand that some people will slap their monitors and howl like basset hounds in a bakery whenever I fail to draw comparisons. I’m fine with that. In fact, I’d encourage you to switch on a webcam first and make recordings of your exasperation. Email them to me. It’s exactly the kind of feedback I appreciate. From what I hear, Broken World is , in many ways, a pretty remake of Genesis. It certainly is pretty, although not without problems.
When I played an early version of the game, I enjoyed the hero management, tactical combat and questing, but found the structure and flow of the campaign about as cohesive as an audiobook of Finnegans Wake read by Bobcat Goldthwait. The good news is, campaigning is much more enjoyable now that the game is complete. The bad news is, I’m going to have a hard time explaining exactly why I found it so off-putting in the first place.
Here’s how it works. The world, as the title says, is broken, separated into shards that are now scattered through space. Following a lengthy and cleverly contorted tutorial, the player is free to choose one of several randomly generated shards to conquer. The terrain, size and number of enemies varies from one to the next, and one of my frustrations stemmed from my supposition that playing through each felt like a standalone scenario. I wasn’t convinced that the connections from one shard to the next made the length of a campaign worthwhile.
I was wrong.
The complexity and number of choices available increase throughout the conquering of each shard, and then again between one and the next. Here’s an example - new building types are unlocked as the materials of a shard are put to use, but rather than simply increasing the player’s power, adding new tiers to construction queues, their availability complicates long-term strategies because the stronghold established at the beginning of each conquest has a limit on each building category. Sometimes, depending on the immediate surroundings and threats, it’s wiser to stick with cheap, fast options that churn out fragile units at a rapid rate, even when more powerful options are available.
That’s not all. The main obstacles on early shards are independent settlements, ruled by various races and often open to bribery rather than requiring battle. When they are controlled by the player, they can be explored, as can the realm containing the capital. As heroes explore, they may discover places of interest, including shops, crypts and monster lairs. Capturing or controlling these isn’t essential but they often contain powerful items and treasure troves, all of which contributes to the war effort.
It’s this side of the game, the exploration and frequent tactical combat, that most resembles a hybrid of a more conventional 4X strategy game, King's Bounty and one of the stronger entries in the Heroes of Might and Magic series. The combat is good, and as a campaign develops and armies become more mixed, with more units available to select from, devious tactics evolve and factors such as morale play an increasingly important role. Those with a necromantic whiff about them don’t play very well with the more righteous units sprinkled across the shards, but forcing them to fight alongside each other is sometimes the best option. A few unlucky rolls of the dice, as crackling spells and clouds of arrows take their toll, can cause dissent in the ranks. Even the most gifted of splendour-mages isn’t much good if he doesn’t fancy teaming up with a gang of zombies and decides to leg it at the first sign of trouble.
Then there are the heroes. They come in a variety of classes and one is hired to lead the conquest of a new shard, with others available at a steadily increasing price. Armies cannot move around the map without them and their ability to learn spells and equip items makes them formidable, particularly on larger shards, where they have more time to develop. Units level up as well but they can normally be treated as expendable, providing there’s enough money for replacements.
I’ve not even mentioned the random events that crop up in player-owned territories, requiring decisions that can alter income and morality. Yes, morality plays a part as well, tracked by the game and influencing the responses of other masters and the independent races encountered on each shard.
There’s more, I know there is, but I can’t cover it all. Eador is bloody enormous, packed with things to discover and hugely rewarding. It can also be too counterintuitive for its own good, with a building management screen that resembles an astrophysicist’s blackboard a sure contender for least helpful game element of the year. Honestly, I just let out a sort of distressed bellow when I saw it, half laughter, half sob. I haven’t clicked on it again and I never will. I’m getting on just fine without it.
For all the pleasures of combat, it too has problems. Terrain types, which have a significant impact on tactics, aren’t as clear as they could be, and animations are overlong and slow. Clicking speeds them up, but then I occasionally trigger the next movement by mistake and either screw up my plans or become confused by numbers flying out of a goblin’s face for no apparent reason. On top of that, keeping track of stamina, morale and health isn’t as obvious as I’d like, but these are all relatively minor complaints, which become less of an issue as the interface becomes more familiar.
The game was probably released a little early, before sufficient testing had been done, but it hasn’t been shoved into the night and left shivering on the doorstep. Updates are already fixing some of the issues that players have noticed, including the animation speeds. Perhaps I've been lucky, but my complaints are to do with cosmetic factors rather than enjoyment-sapping bugs that others have experienced.
Far from being Heroes of Might and Magic with a floaty island gimmick, Eador is a cleverly designed strategy game that may be unfairly overlooked by those who aren’t drawn in by its colourful fantasy style. It presents compelling random scenarios, chained together into a campaign of increasing complexity, and has managed to keep my interest after a couple of lengthy playthroughs. The limited space for construction in the city screen ensures that every decision carries a great deal of weight, rather than being a race to build the best of everything. There’s still some grind, particularly at the beginning and end of a shard, but it’s minimised and there are choices to make throughout rather than, as is too often the case in strategy games, simply resources to gather.
In a just world, Eador would receive plenty of attention and analysis, but the initial couple of hours, while not dull, do seem an awful lot like any other game with swords, sorcery and turn-based conquest. It’s kind of like an onion then, all layered scratchy skin, eye-watering and sharp – keep stripping back the segments though because get deep enough and it turns out the onion is actually a pomegranate, and the red, succulent jewels come spilling out. In short, beneath the layers Eador is an unexpectedly tasty game that is divided into many segments and you should eat it.
Masters of the Broken World is out now, available at GamersGate, Good Old Games and Steam. It costs around £14.99.