Turn based strategy games are rare and good ones are even rarer so I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed Domination. As the follow-up to Massive Assault, it will provide gamers with rock solid game play and an incredibly large amount of single and multiplayer content.
The back drop of the game has you playing one of two sides in an intergalactic battle between the Free Nations Union and the upstart Phantom League. The Phantom League was defeated at the end of Massive Assault but is back with new weapons and the element of surprise. The plot has serious Russian history overtones as the Phantom League spouts a lot of Leninist type propaganda but understanding the plot of the game isn’t overly important as it is filler to setup the various missions.
At its core, the game is a standard hex-based turn based strategy game. Units can move X hexes each and have a weapons range of X. What Wargaming.Net has done though is to wrap those hexes in a beautiful 3D landscape. Terrain and elevation also play roles in the game as land units have extended range on paved roads and can’t move over mountains without the help of aerial transport units. It’s nothing new or groundbreaking but it’s something that Wargaming.net did a great job of implementing.
The game does take a little bit of getting used to though, as each turn is broken into several phases. The first is your standard movement and firing phase, the second phase is the recruitment phase (where you purchase and place units), and the final phase is the disclose phase. Disclose phase you ask? The disclose phase is part of the Secret Allies feature of the game. In order to best explain this, I need to back up a bit. When you start the game, the map is broken out into countries and each player is given a certain amount of those countries. The rest of the countries are neutral and when invaded will provide units for the other team. The trick is that you won’t know if a country is truly neutral or not until the country is disclosed. This means that until all of the “secret allies” are disclosed you’re not sure if the country you’ve invaded is truly neutral. This doesn’t seem like much until you’ve already moved past a country and all of a sudden an army shows up well behind your front line and starts reclaiming territories. It’s a nice concept since you have to weigh the lost opportunity to generate units versus the chance to provide a nice surprise for your opponent.
The game provides a nice tutorial that will run you through the basics and familiarize you with the phases that constitute each turn. Each turn is broken into three and sometimes four stages. If your opponent invades a neutral country, the first stage is the guerilla phase where you place the units to help the invaded country defend itself. I’ve nicked named this the bastard phase because this is where you have to prevent the enemy from taking the country over. This entails being as much of a bastard as possible, doing things like putting long range units at the back of the country or placing a few high hit point units in the country. The next phase is your typical move and shoot phase, followed by the recruitment phase (purchase units but only in countries where you have complete control), and finally the disclose phase (if you have any secret allies that you haven’t disclosed yet). The tutorial does a good job of walking you through each of the phases and getting you into the game.
What’s impressive about Domination is how much game play there is. The box claims 200 hours of game play and when I first saw the number on the box I was a bit skeptical about that claim but after putting in close to 30 hours into the game and barely scratching the surface the claim seems pretty valid. Between the two single player campaigns, the assault scenarios, the career mode, and the world war mode, you’re looking at more game play than you can shake a stick at…and that’s just the single player side of the game.
The plot of the single player portion of the game is a bit bizarre as there are a lot of plot twists. Apparently, in the future, the army is made up of sexist generals and really hot women (ok, the first part may exist in the modern army). The plot is a little generic but the situations that the game puts you in as part of the single player make it worth suffering through the bad dialogue and script. You’ll want to play through the missions but I recommend skipping through the dialogue as you might just roll your eyes all the way back into your head.
The multiplayer portion of the game has three components. A hot seat mode where two gamers share the same computer, a LAN mode, and an Internet play mode through the Wargaming.net. The game comes with a four month subscription to the service and then you’ll pay $4.95 a month after that. Given the turn based nature of the game it’s easy to have a bunch of different games going at once.
There’s a nice menagerie of units for you to control in the game. You’ve got giant robots, tanks, scout cars, bombers, and aircraft carriers at your disposal. Each side has the same type of units with a few exceptions. The Phantom League does have two unique units (a heavy duty mech and a large battleship) which tip the balance in their favor a bit and I wish they had provided the Free Nations with at least one more powerful unit to even things out.
Graphically, Domination gets it done. I’ve already talked about the great environments but it bears talking about again given what a great job they did on them. They could have had just big boring battlefields with giant robots and tanks but they did a great job of adding cool waterfalls, nice vistas, and decent looking water. The units are also well designed and animated. The designers did a good job of giving the units a sense of scale. You just know that little scout vehicle isn’t going to last long against the big mech. There are also some cool lighting effects in the game. You’ll see terrain lighted by laser fire and missile exhaust. It’s a little thing but it really adds to the game as there’s nothing like seeing your enemies get lit when you take out one of the units next to them.
The sounds are solid but a little generic in some regards. You’re going to hear a lot of the same sounds over again and while they aren’t bad they aren’t something you’re going to sample and put on your cell phone (not like I’ve done that or anything…). There’s a nice soundtrack though, very nice and militaristic which really helps the mood of the game. Where the audio really falls apart though is the dialogue for the single player portion of the game. There are two parts to narration disaster. The first is that the script is horrible (a lot seems lost in the translation from Russian to English) and the second part is the voice talent they used. I use talent in the loosest sense of the word as the voice work is passable at best. There’s not a lot of consistency to any of it as the armies have too many dialects for you to take them seriously. It’s like they hired two guys who had a wide variety of bad impersonations so you get crummy Texas accent followed by bad Southern accent with a bit of bad Russian accent added in. I hate to harp on this but it was really painful to have to sit through all of the dialogue in the single player portion of the game.
The game also has a few little quirks including a few random lock up issues. Normally, these aren’t a problem but to have the game lock up two hours into battle is more than a bit frustrating. It looks like the patch that was released after the game shipped addressed this issue but it’s still not going to get me that time of my life back.
Despite the audio issues, Domination is a great find for strategy gamers. There are just hours and hours of game play modes and there were more than a few nights where what was supposed to be a one hour gaming session turned into a three and four hour session. This is one of those rare sleeper games that Dreamcatcher seems to churn out each year (last year’s version was the fun FPS game Painkiller).
Despite a few bugs and some atrocious dialog, Domination is a lot of fun and provides a great deal of bang for the buck.
Rating: 8.6 Very Good
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
Hi, my name is Charles Husemann and I've been gaming for longer than I care to admit. For me it's always been about competing and a burning off stress. It started off simply enough with Choplifter and Lode Runner on the Apple //e, then it was the curse of Tank and Yars Revenge on the 2600. The addiction subsided somewhat until I went to college where dramatic decreases in my GPA could be traced to the release of X:Com and Doom. I have been a Microsoft Xbox MVP since 2009.