Before I get too far into this review, let me address the question everyone is asking: is this the new Master of Magic?
No. It does, however, hit a lot of the same spots. Fantasy setting? Check. Turn-based? Check. Heroes? Check. City management? Check. The list goes on. What we have here is a good old-fashioned fantasy turn-based strategy (TBS) in the Master of Magic, Heroes of Might and Magic, and Elemental family.
The overarching story is that the player is put in the shoes of a demigod, 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 demigod 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.
At this level of the game, the goal is to get all the shards. The shards have different sizes and different resources, so there is some room to make decisions over where to go next. Once you have chosen a shard, however, you have to fight for it.
Fighting for a shard drops the player into a Civ-like (not so mini-) game of planetary (shardetary ?) 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.
Of course, being a demigod and all, you don't actually show up on the shard yourself. You start with one city and some money. Your first order of business is to recruit a hero to lead your armies. The choice is between a Scout (fast and good for finding things, but not particularly good at fighting), a Warrior (strong and tough), a Wizard (good at casting spells), and a Commander (can lead a larger army, good at buffs).
Your hero needs an army to lead, which you can recruit from your home town. What types of troop can be recruited depends on what buildings are built in a town and what kinds (and how many) of resources your side has. As the game goes on you will gather more and different resources, take over more cities, build more buildings, and generally get more of everything, which will enable you to recruit more/tougher/cooler units.
There is a reason you want these units, of course. Turns out all the other demigods are on the same shard as you are, and there can be only one. You won't know where they are at first, but they're out there. In the meantime each neutral area has a defending army. You can always try negotiating with (i.e., bribing) them, but most of the time you'll just have to fight. The flavor text gives you a good idea of how tough the fight will be, which is nice, and you can always back out if it looks like things won't go your way.
When you do fight, your hero and army are dropped onto a hex-based tactical map based on the strategic map--wooded strategic areas seemed to have more woods on the tactical map, swampy areas had more swamps, etc. This part of the game is pretty standard TBS tactical combat. Each of your units has attack and defense ratings, some have ranged attacks, there are spells to cast, healing to be done, and lots of other special effects that can affect combat. Your hero is part of the general melee, so having a Warrior that can wade in and deal some damage can really pull your bacon out of the fire.
Combat is not limited to taking over neutral (or enemy) areas, however. Every time you conquer an area it is marked as being only partially explored. It may start at, say, 15 percent explored. Your hero can then take an action to do further exploration on a turn. When this happens, the “explored percentage” of the area goes up, which is nice as the more an area is explored, the more resources it might provide. The other thing that happens is that your hero can find sites to have an adventure in (say, an abandoned temple or a strange-looking cave). The hero and his army can fight the inhabitants of this site to get stuff (magic swords, money) and experience points.
Yes, experience points. Both your hero and his units can get experience points and level up, getting appropriate benefits (increased damage, more hit points, etc). This adds the usual conundrums about quality/quantity, troop rotations, and the like.
If it seems like this preview has been a bit vague at times, that is because Eador: Master of the Broken World is such a huge game. It seems like everything you deal with is a (not so) mini-game in it own right. Picking a shard, building your cities, recruiting armies, leveling up your hero, waging a war, acquiring assets--each of these activities involves a lot of decisions. The preview copy came with an adviser that helped some, but the retail version will definitely need to provide more help. This is the sort of game that cries out for a hefty guide by Alan Emrich.
Eador: Master of the Broken World hits Steam, GOG.com, and GamersGate on April 19. This is definitely a game strategy fans should look out for.
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