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Battle Realms: Winter of the Wolf Review
developer: Liquid Entertainment
PII-333, 64MB RAM, 3D accelerator
|ESRB rating: T
release date: Nov 05, 02
|» All About Battle Realms: Winter of the Wolf on ActionTrip|
Last December, Ubi Soft's successful RTS Battle Realms became a prime example of how most strategy games should be made. Unrightfully overshadowed by the colossal media campaign and huge hype of Blizzard's Warcraft 3: The Reign of Chaos, Battle Realms never really received proper attention. Once the dust from WC3 had settled, Ubi Soft decided that it would be the appropriate time to launch their expansion pack Battle Realms: Winter of the Wolf. Well, they were right to do that.
An intriguing bit about Winter of the Wolf is that the story actually takes place seven years prior to the events of the first Battle Realms game. As head of the Wolf Clan, you begin your first campaign with a goal to free yourself and your subjugated race from ruthless slavery. So there, you've got yourself a nice and immersing Braveheart-motivated plot, which even though slightly linear, has enough character depth and twists to lure you into the tough, but rather exciting history of the Wolf Clan. Playing as the Wolf leader Grayback your main task will be will be to unite the scattered remainders of the Wolf Clan. At the same time, you are going to be besieged by the powerful army of the Lotus Clan and Serpent Clan.
Essentially, Battle Realms had one or two drawbacks, so there was very little room for any radical gameplay improvements. The most enjoyable aspect of Battle Realms is the straightforwardness of the entire game. Each mission in the game will load up almost instantly, the GUI is well-designed and intuitive, and enemies have a well-balanced AI. Still, this AI routine could have been downgraded a wee bit, since all of your opponents are still too tough at times. Another thing that ought to be criticized as a mishap is that once again the developers have failed to address the occasionally extremely annoying "fog-of-war" issue. This means that most of the areas will remain concealed on the main screen even if you've gone through them. So, they decided to keep it realistic, which is OK. But, who cares about realism if it neglects certain crucial strategy gameplay elements. Experienced Battle Realms players already know that the AI represented one of the most challenging gameplay elements. Hence, when you add to that the "fog-of-war" element, the game becomes rather difficult even for veteran strategy players.
Overall, these drawbacks don't necessarily mean that Winter of the Wolf will be perpetually difficult and boring. In fact, it's just the opposite. You will hardly have time to get bored. Every scenario features a chain of dynamic events that will keep you alert and busy almost constantly. In addition, the storyline is well-structured and has amazing character depth. Several players might disapprove of such a fast-evolving storyline, because it basically leaves very little time for any micromanaging, but I found this to be a pleasing gameplay facet. Most RTS games shouldn't be clogged by complicated evolution and technology mattes. However, omitted micromanaging aspects sometimes add a rather tedious note to the whole gameplay, as having too much action can sometimes be just as irksome as having too little of it. Maybe the developers could've provided us with some more structures and a more advanced tech-tree?
Well, I think that's just about enough tarnishing for this one. What is it that makes the game addictive? Frankly, every quality you remember from the first game is back in full force in this expansion pack. And this time you have a choice of new units, some of which are crucial to the gameplay. The digger unit, for instance, is an interesting and almost amusing gameplay innovation. In certain sections, your heroes and units will bump into energy bars that cannot be penetrated by force. These areas are impossible to bypass without the aid of the digger units. Producing a humorous shriek, the digger can tunnel his way to the opposite side of the energy barricade. And not only that, but your adorable shrieking little diggers can also give you a tactical advantage, by remaining concealed under ground (this will allow you to survey enemy territory and remain undetected). Of course, your enemies seem much more sinister and powerful than in the times of Kenji. The Serpent Clan is strengthened thanks to their Enforcer and Witch units. If you want to push people around and beat the crap outta them, then the Enforcer would be the right choice. As for the Witch, she can hurl potent spells and explosive bottles, simultaneously dealing out reasonably powerful melee attacks.
Battle Realms was one of the most appealing strategy games of its time, largely due to its splendid graphics. Today, some might consider it to be outdated. Even so, there are many aspects that make the game worthy of today's standards. Colorful and vivid environments and day and night cycles, supplemented with beautiful water surfaces, are all essential parts of the game's visual treat. Without a doubt, the lifelike and smooth character animations can create one helluva battle scene, particularly when a larger number of units is present on screen. Epic scenes can, however, slightly choke the frame-rate, so you should definitely consider playing the game on stronger rigs. The developers have enriched the background with many cute details that increase the ambiance realism. For example, when your units pass through dense forests, a flight of beautifully animated birds will sometimes fly up, startled by the marching feet of your army. Also, I rather enjoyed seeing chunks falling off enemy units and splashing straight into the nearby lake. Cool.
All in-game sounds are top-notch; especially the dialogs, which were acted out professionally and flawlessly. During battle, one easily notices the high-quality sound effects, such as clashing of arms and the scream of individual units . The best aspect of the in-game sound comes with the brilliant soundtrack. The music themes are dynamic, which means they shift according to the events that take place on screen, thereby increasing the tension and enjoyment of the battles.
As always the multiplayer aspect is fun. And now you have tons of new units for each and every available Clan. Sadly, the new units for the Lotus Clan and the Dragon Clan can only be tested in the multiplayer, which means you won't see them in action if you play the add-on single-player campaign.
If you're not the kind of player that's maddened by challenging AI's, Winter of the Wolf might have something for your stomach. Eventually, I am sure that this game will appeal to every RTS fan. So, if you ever decide to put aside your copy of Age of Mythology, give this one a chance. Oh yeah, and do not miss it if you loved the previous game.
8.1 Very Good
The players are taken deep into the exciting new storyline. The overall quality of sound and visuals still make it a fun game to play. Some of the new units have really improved the quality gameplay.
The tough AI and the "fog-of-war" issues are still there.
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