Every week we pit Brendan against the thousands of half-formed games of early access in a doomed battle for supremacy. This time, the huge and ridiculous fights of Ultimate Epic Battle Simulator.
There’s not much in UEBS that isn’t possible in any of the Total War series. I mean, if you discount the ability to pit masterly Chickens against a force of Orcs. Apart from that, it’s still about arranging vast (or small) armies on large maps and having them go at each other until one force comes out of the meat grinder without losing all their wee men. In fact, it’s hundreds of times more limited than a real strategy game. But many would say that’s not the point. What you have here is a toy, something that aims for the simplicity of its Deadliest Warrior conceit and – just barely – hits the mark. But what kind of brawls can you create? Well, here’s four epic battles we threw together to find out.
1. 45,000 Persians versus 300 Ogres in a canyon
Originally it was 60,000 Persians, in an attempt to model the infamous battle of Thermopopomopolae. I would have conscripted more men to help fit the legendary version of events, but the game groaned under the weight, the frame rate stuttered, and then my monitor exploded and sent splinters of pixels into my eyes. So I bumped down the Persian soldier count to 45,000 and kicked the graphics quality settings down the stairs. It looks a lot less pretty now, but it works.
As soon as the battle began, I realised something was wrong. In the set-up menu you can give the units basic orders – hold position or attack. I thought I had ordered the ogres to stand their ground in a canyon, to better recreate the Hawt Gates of the famous Greek battle. But I quickly discovered that there had been a terrible mix-up. The ogres were now flooding out of the canyon and advancing on the Persian mega-army. The Persians, meanwhile, were standing in the open, waiting patiently for the ogres to arrive, looking with bored, expressionless faces at the oncoming horrors.
But there was another problem. I had chosen this map because it was the only one with a narrow canyon (I know there wasn't really snow at the battle of Thereminorolypoly, come on). But I had neglected to take note of the map’s name - “Avalanche Canyon”. Before the ogres even entered the clearing, they had already lost almost 100 of their number to huge boulders collapsing down on them. A third of their forces had been destroyed before a single Persian sword was swung.
When they finally reached the field, the ogres cut into the square of humans like it was a block of soft cheese. They killed 6000 men before they finally succumbed to the blows of the Persian blades. When viewed from above, it looked like someone had taken a bite out of a giant piece of toast.
So ended the battle of Thermopopoppadom.
Winner: Patient Persians.
2. 5000 zombies versus 6 elite US soldiers
A zombie horde. A Mediterranean town. A fight with impossible odds. This summer, only six men stand between the undead and the end of the world. What men? It’s [movie title appears on screen] Six Better-Than-Average US Soldiers I Created From The Custom Unit Editor.
You can fiddle with the stats of any character model in UEBS, you see. As such, I wanted to see if the explosive heroism of your average blockbuster could play out here. I made the US soldiers from the WWII era much more powerful than usual, with a faster fire rate. Then I plopped six of them down on a roof in the middle of a dusty town, with only one set of stairs leading up, facing a huge force of zeds invading the outskirts of town. This time I got the ‘hold position’ orders correct.
But as the fight starts I find out that only three of the six soldiers have spawned. The other three must have fallen through the floor or something. I consider restarting but carry on with the blockbuster, deciding that half the men only makes it TWICE as heroic. Unfortunately, the soldiers take their orders very seriously and will not move or relocate even when the horde is on the street below, even when the rotting corpses are climbing the stairs, even when they stand right next to the soldiers, slashing at them with their bony man-talons. There is no “skirmish” tactic that lets them retreat when a foe is near.
What’s worse, the elite soldiers don’t understand to pick the most pressing targets, instead choosing to fire down into the endless crowd rather than the zombie two feet to their left. Two of the soldiers die and I take control of the last survivor using a “possession” mechanic (you simply right-click on any troop and you're in control of them). I leap off the corner of the building in an effort to escape. I break all the bones in my body and die.
Winner: Zombie horde.
3. 6 Knights v 6 Spartans v 6 Romans
Having enjoyed the dumb brawling of For Honor (despite all its problems) I decided to make my own tiny match of it with the toys on offer here. I put the Vikings (here called ‘Wild Men’) aside and ignored the fact there are no Samurai yet included in the battle editor. Instead I pitted these three ahistorical mates against each other in the tight courtyard of a European fortress. Knights, Romans, Spartanmen.
This was, unsurprisingly, the quickest battle of the lot. The Knights, sandwiched between the others, were at a disadvantage and died quickly. But not as quickly as the Romans, who wilted like unwatered lillies at the briefest touch of a Spartan spear. At the end of the fight all six Spartans remained, surrounded by foolish corpses.
4. 1000 Vikings versus a single immensely powerful Penguin
The battle began as the sun rose. The penguin stared out at his frosty domain. The sky was clear, the air was fresh. All was good in the world. But through the woods a sound came, the sound of a thousand vicious Northmen. They charged out of the treeline, racing toward the Penguin Lord. The Penguin stood and watched them come, his stoic eyes considering each mortal man with sorrow and pity. He would have to fight them.
The Vikings reached their foe and took their first swings, to no avail. They surrounded the Penguin and hacked and slashed and kicked and roared. But the Penguin Lord did not falter, he did not blink. He took the blows as a sponge takes water, and then he began his slow process. He turned in a circle and picked out his first victim. A single thrust, too fast for human eyes, and the human warrior fell in a shower of blood and fear. The Penguin circled again and slowly chose his next target. Again, the fearsome deathblow came. Was it a beak to the heart? Or a razor-like flipper through the neck? Nobody can say, such are the mysteries of the Immortal Gods.
As night fell, so did men. But still the Vikings roared, still they fought bravely and without tiring. They fought long through the night, without rest and without remorse. The human spirit is indomitable, thought the Penguin sadly, as he plucked another warrior’s life away.
The sun rose on the next day, and the Penguin Lord stood over his domain once more. But the precious white of his snow kingdom was polluted now, amassed with blood and bone, the corpses of the valiant Northmen lying in heaps around his tiny penguin feet. No survivors. He looked sadly into the blue sky, searching for some sign of peace from the heavens. Once again he had killed a generation of men who had come to hunt him. Once again, the emptiness of a friendless life filled him with a deep remorse. So stood the Penguin Lord of Nothing, King of the Wastes.
Winner (?): Penguin
Ultimate Epic Battle Simulator is available on Steam early access for £11.99/$15.99. These impressions are based on build 1761994