I wrote a preview of Eador: Masters of the Broken World (Eador) a while back, so will try not to repeat myself too much in this review. I can wait for a few minutes while you go back and read it.
Done? Good. You can skip this paragraph and the next. For everybody else, Eador is a turn-based strategy game with a fantasy setting. It was written by indie studio Snowbird Games and has a very “indie feel”.
The overarching story is that the player is put in the shoes of a demi-god, one of several who are contending for control over a series of pieces of some planet. The planet in question, Eador, has apparently broken up into a bunch of shards which can only be reunited when a single demi-god controls them all. When you control them all there will be some kind of story-style ending. Which ending (of 12 available) will depend on choices you make during the game.
The game breaks down into 5 “levels”: top-level, shard-level, tactical combat, unit grooming, and city building.
The top level is the simplest: the player is presented with a set of “shards” and must choose one to conquer next. Different shards have different difficulty levels and provide various bonuses once conquered, so there is some strategy here. This is also where the endgame plays out when the player unites the shards.
Fighting for a shard drops the player into a Civ-like (not so mini-) game of planetary (shardatary ?) conquest. The strategic map is a bunch of big hexagons, where each hexagon contains a single town, a particular fantasy race, a defending army, (maybe) a resource, lots of area-specific random encounters, and probably other stuff I missed. The player's tasks at this level include deciding which hex to explore next and building hex improvements.
The shard level plays out like a standard TBS in the "Master of Magic" mold. You can recruit heroes and units, group them into armies, and move them around in order to take over hexes. After a hex has been conquered, a hero can “explore” it further. Exploring a hex can reveal additional locations within it. These locations can be good (e.g., a magic store) or not-so-good (e.g. a vampire lair or giant slug ambush) but generally provide your units with experience and exploring a hex itself will improve its tax income. This leads to an interesting choice: expand into a new territory, or explore more in one you already own.
Either way, you will end up in a fight. This drops you into the tactical combat screen. You will spend a lot of time here (which is good, as it is the best part of the game). This screen is very much in the "Heroes of Might and Magic" vein. You have a hero unit that can take part in the battle by either whacking things or casting spells and a bunch of units doing the same. Each unit has strengths and weaknesses, and each battleground has its own terrain. Matching units to the terrain and keeping a good mix of different types (magic/melee, hand-to-hand/ranged) is key to entering fights with a chance to win. Once you're in a fight it becomes important to play to your units' strengths – get your bowmen onto hills, keep your lizardmen in swamps and rest tired units to get the most out of your armies.
After combat comes unit grooming. The end result of combat (if you win) is gold and experience (for the survivors (and the undead)). Units can use this experience to level up. At each level they get the opportunity to pick from one of two (apparently randomly-generated) perks. For example, a spearman might get a choice between an additional hit point and better ranged defense. Experienced units can punch above their weight class, so you will want to take care in combat not to throw these units away. Your hero can also gain levels, upon which they get to choose a hero-style perk (e.g., commanding more units, more magic points, more melee damage).
Running armies can get expensive, which is where your cities come in. You start with one “real” city, which is where your most important buildings go. For the most part the buildings in your capital city have global effect and determine which units you can build, what spells you can cast, how much money you will make, and so on. Buildings in other hexes tend to operate just on that hex and improve defense, increase income, pacify populations, and provide access to stuff back in your capital. It is important not to neglect your army to pay for city improvements, but it is also imperative to have a large enough army to defend your cities.
Not to beat around the bush, but each of these levels is really, really good, and they hang together well. At first blush, this is “Game of the Year” stuff. This really hits the sweet spot for TBS gamers who like it complicated. There is a reason “Dominions 3” won “Computer Games” game of the year, and Eador is in that ballpark.
A game this big and in-depth, however, gets a lot more than a first blush. That's where the problems show up. There are three major problems: the interface, bugs and difficulty.
The interface (primarily the city-building interface) is awful. Some buildings have prerequisites, while others are exclusive (build X and you may not build Y), and many have both. This cries out for a multi-page tree-based display that lays out everything clearly to help the player see the consequences of their decisions down the road. What is provided is a cryptic array of tiny icons. As a bonus, on-screen buttons often disappear when the mouse is no longer on them, leading to the need to move the mouse painstakingly exactly lest the desired action vanish.
This is a buggy game. There have been many (4-5) patches in the first two weeks. On the one hand, they're committed to patching it (for now). On the other hand, they're issuing a patch every 3 days. Just listing the remaining bugs would take all day.
When the game does work, it is kick-to-the-groin tough. I can only assume this is some sort of grudge held over from the Cold War or something. The official Eador forum has speculated that this was a cultural decision – Eastern European gamers like harder games. At first the AI seems brilliant, until it becomes obvious that it's cheating.
This is a huge game and this review could go on and on, but the basic verdict is clear: this is a really good game, not terribly original but with excellent TBS mechanics. Its fatal flaw is poor implementation: the interface is bad-to-middling, it is too difficult even on the easiest setting, and is deplorably buggy.