I must admit, I was quite intrigued by this fantasy based game when I read the promotional write up. A long-time fan of the Heroes of Might and Magic series, more recently I have been wasting a lot of time replaying Kings Bounty - both of which are similar.
The premise of these games is usually a bit of role playing, some grand strategy, and heaps of tactical turn-based combat. It's a mix that strikes a chord with a lot of gamers who want challenge and longevity in their games.
The team from Snowbird Games have made no bones about the debt they owe to similar games in the genre, and they have certainly ensured that all the familiar gameplay options are included (such as a campaign map, heroes, armies, resources, and turn based tactical combat.)
The first obvious divergence from the formula is in how the game world is managed. As the game's name suggests, it is a broken world - fragments literally floating in space. Each represents a mini campaign in itself, and they can all in some way contribute to your grand campaign of pulling the fragmented parts together. It's quite a cool idea. Choose the fragment size and you choose the size of the mini-campaign you want to play.
From your opening fragment, you have the ability to invade any of the fragments you can see; immediately you are having to make choices on what resources are important to your wider campaign. Once you have selected your first target, you are taken to your fragment stronghold and can see the region around it. Fog of war only conceals the rest. While it's tempting to immediately embark on a land grab, I found you have to be more circumspect. . .
You first need to hire a hero, recruit troops, and build up your a base of operations. By exploring your starting territory, you can unlock quests and challenges that will upskill your hero and army, and will also reward you with items and gold to further fund your wider campaign. Charge off too early and you'll find you run out of gold and, more importantly, your newbie hero is an easy target.
While this is all going on, you need to carefully decide where you will spend your hard-earned. This can be on city improvements, technical upgrades that you can use in other regions you conquer, or key structures that will enhance your hero or that make different units available. There is a lot of depth to this aspect of the game and you can spend a lot of time on this aspect alone.
Tied to all of this is a Karma system which is influenced by some of the quest decisions you have to make, or by events that pop up time-to-time during the game. Depending on the occupants of the regions you take over, the population will react differently - depending on your Karma. “Evil is as evil does.” Yes, I will pillage the lands, and yes, the witch deserves no mercy - especially if the village is hungry for revenge and a good barbeque!
Remembering this game is still under development, I did find the graphics surprisingly good. The word “rich” springs to mind, with the tactical combat maps in particular being very detailed. The developers (or, more accurately, their PR company) were keen to point out they are still working on some of the visual aspects of the title, but already they look to be a step up from others in the genre.
Play-wise there is no doubt that this is a complex game, with lots of subtle nuances that - when you first play - are not readily apparent. You certainly have to plan carefully which regions you look to conquer, with gold and resources an ongoing requirement. Both of these are tight for most of the game, so it takes some careful management. Losing experienced troops and resurrecting heroes can be more expensive than simply buying your way into a territory, so it is not all about muscle but also some deft financial management.
There is no doubt that the game has a lot of promise and a lot of depth that, if they can get the balance right, could well result in a fabulous game. I do have concerns around some of the combat balance though; it was frustrating to see some of your best troops mauled by missile troops from what felt sometimes to be an obscenely long range. I did some playing around with this and found that I tended to lose 2-3 units when taking out longbow troops who were of a lesser quality. In fact, in some games it was best to hold the army back and send the hero in to do all the fighting based on a better survival chance...
I also felt the level of micromanagement and the skill tree needed more work. Remember, a lot of this is still in development, so I expect they will make it more intuitive than it currently is before release.
Overall, if you are a fan of Fantasy, turn-based strategy games, then this is a game to keep an eye on. Snowbird have made some bold claims about what the final product will be like and, from what I've seen, they're on track to fulfilling a lot of them.
Eador: Masters of the Broken World releases in April; it will be available via download only, priced at US$19.99.