February 27, 2013
Starting out, you have a choice of participating in the campaign alone or with up to four other players online. This really comes down to personal preference, as the experience found in both is identical at least when looking at the objective/story format.
Once you've selected to go it alone or with some campaigns, you're ready to start, at which point, you're given a plot of land either underground, or inside a hill. Each level is split into three areas, the dungeon space that you can build on, a tunnel out to the overworld map whereby players can acquire extra resources through a 'raid' system and the gateway to a larger area outside their dungeon where the main quest takes place. The first half of each level involves creating a dungeon, establishing a strong squad, taking over several additional rooms that have enemies in them and acquiring the various treasures they hold, before you can even tackle the main objectives.
Before going into details about that, let's discuss the reasoning behind it, the story. Essentially, you are Baal, a minion of indescribable power (or rather were), who has been summoned from his realm by a rather obnoxious character called Oscar van Fairweather. For the most part this starts out as a rather insignificant role for Baal, as his thoughts are often ignored and it seems he doesn't have much of a say in anything.
Oscar van Fairweather on the other hand, never stops talking. This actually interferes with gameplay, as it happens even during levels. The interruptions of cutscenes can take place at the most inconvenient moments and can be somewhat unfortunate in their timing. As such they drag on a little bit and dialogue, which does have its moments, becomes a little stale. The animation also leaves nothing to be desired during these segments.
Anyway, back to the gameplay. Once taking control of Baal, you will be able to make use of a regenerating mana pool to cast several spells. Early on, the most useful spell allows you to summon workers, which are then sent to repair rooms, operate rooms, the general storage of materials and the construction process. By either pulling out to the furthest zoom point or by selecting dungeon management, you can construct dungeons, mostly with an element of freedom as corridors and adjoining hallways can be constructed free of charge.
Rooms that serve a purpose require a certain amount of space and sometimes finding the right spot can be a bit of a nightmare. One example is the Kitchen, which seems to require a ridiculous amount of space for a room which has quite particular flaws. Either way, the rooms and ideas behind them are interesting enough to warrant the building of most of them. The Dive ended up being a personal favourite as by sending enough workers to gamble, players will find they gain free units quite often enough in order to resupply any losses they may have occurred in battle. But there are other things such as the Arcanium to create potions and the Workshop for traps/armour and weapons and so on.
At this point, the game probably sounds pretty decent, but there is one overriding problem that can cause quite a lot of issues for any gamer, especially those who consistently enjoy a good real time strategy - the level of micromanagement is borderline insane at times.
Let's bring back the Kitchen room. This room is one of the biggest culprits of being over-complicated. Any units you create are mouse dragged into squads through a squad interface, there is no faster way of doing that for starters either. From there these squads can be sent to do various things - the most important being either to eat or train. Eating is done in the kitchen, and this increases the aggressiveness of a squad, which has a dramatic impact on their combat effectiveness to the point if you don't do it in the later levels you'll be forever rebuilding or losing.
It's already been made clear the kitchen is a big room, but a squad can only be the size of four units. If another squad (up to 5 squads total later on) is told to eat, they either won't go to the room, or they will sit there inside the room - they won't attempt to eat until manually told to.
This is problematic later when you include training into the mix, as it often becomes a race against time to get everyone ready for an excursion on the main objective. And while it's completely viable to just repeatedly throw units at a problem, the game is slow paced enough that a level can last an hour very easily without losing many units. If a full set of squads is wiped out, it's going to take a good 20 minutes to fully establish upgrades/levels and get them all fully fed again.
This also assumes the heroes that seem to arrive on the clock every 10-15 minutes in your dungeon, haven't appeared at the exact moment your squads have just been killed. Yes, traps can be created to stop this to some extent, but they'll circum navigate the dungeon using ladders.
The game does at least inform you of this and Baal has a teleport spell which is free of charge, so if a player is quick enough all the ladders can be dealt with expediently and the heroes then contained at the main entrance. If you're also savvy enough you can capture heroes for gold in the prison or training room to advance your training capability (while the hero lives) up to level three for units, however this is done again by clicking on the hero (only ones inside your dungeon) and selecting what workers should do with the body. You can assign squads to automatically mark targets this way, but it's messy.
Either way, the game requires a lot of player focus for extended periods of playtime. Some people may enjoy that, but the lack of hotkeys and the over-requirement of mouse control for almost every action makes the task a little bit more daunting than it needed to be. Were these things less of an issue the objectives, environments and even the units themselves look very nice, and generally it's fun to explore the area around your dungeon. The objectives are unique enough that each mission does feel strangely compelling. This is added to even further by the addition of the co-op mode, which at first doesn't feel very co-operative. Each player has their own dungeon, completely separate from everyone else but you will quickly learn that players can work together to complete the objectives in the main area. This actually makes the game much more interesting and involving and progress is made much faster in this manner.
It's also worth mentioning that the game offers a rather simple talent tree, which in the end results in an evolution for Baal into either a mage, commander or a warrior. This gives him unique abilities in each case, and in co-op this even more useful as the combination of all three can be quite overwhelming. There is also the a rune system, which is a bit confusing at first, but runes unlocked during levels can be swapped in or out in three separate tiers. These can then be purchased using DEC points earned for specific actions in a level and give various passive buffs to various things.
These additions are probably more apparent to the multiplayer skirmish, which works pretty much the same except the outer dungeon part of the map is either for escort purposes or a king of the hill style game mode. The game certainly offers a lot to the multiplayer table, with some unique angles.
Impire is a game that offers a nice approach to the dungeon crawling real time strategy scene. It's conceptually solid, but there are many elements that could have benefited from modern advancements. There is just too much micro-management required, and it means the game won't be for everyone - the AI needs babysitting the entire time. There's still room for Cyanide to fix this all up though and with an interesting co-op and multiplayer offering, there's content here to keep RTS fans occupied.
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