The opening cinematic (the only one in the game) describes “monsters” that are scouring the earth for “a prize of evil.” Yeah...and? The comically inane Once Upon a Knight (GN Rating: 5.5) gave us that much--and had a superior AI as well. Apparently, in an effort to pull off a storyline twist, we’re forced to tolerate these painfully vague concepts as our lords’ driving motivation. By the time the bomb drops, you’ll probably reward the story’s efforts with an accepting shrug and march along your way to the lackluster ‘conclusion’ (you didn’t think an EverQuest product would miss out on an expansion pack opportunity, did you?)
Tying together the random landscape of missions are boringly trite in-game cinematics. The camera zooms in as one scenario dimly links to the next (a low-end machine will make these scenes intolerably blurry.) Since you’ll see no facial expressions and no mouths moving, the story is forwarded with a lot of bad pantomiming and vigorous head nodding. Given the voice talent (although I use the word “talent” loosely), it would seem that their cumulative star power would put enough flair into the script to keep the story compelling. Hardly the case here, but our actors are not entirely to blame. It’s like some of my father’s brilliant conventional wisdom: If you’re handed crap, the best thing you’re able to make is crap pie.
Even as the cinematics deteriorate, LOE should have made up for it during gameplay. Strangely, some important--and potentially enriching--storyline points are left out of many scenarios. I won’t delve into any spoilers here, but I’ll just admit disappointment that too many other enemy lords you encounter will enter and exit wordlessly. No dazzling fireworks, no dancing girls; just a voice-over stating “An enemy lord has been slain.” No cinematic tension is built upon either. Throwing in a quickie like, “The nefarious Lord Skass has raised an undead legion to bury our soldiers, m’lord…and he is nearby,” would add some drama and intensity that is sorely lacking here.
Heavily scripted movements of non-player characters severely weaken gameplay further. In one scenario, my Dawn Brotherhood forces are seizing desperately needed platinum mines from the Shadowrealm. I post a rowdy group of Highland Axemen to protect my newly acquired assets from waves of their platinum-thieving clockwork spiders. After I’ve depleted that mine, I move on to the next….But the Shadowrealm keeps sending clockwork spiders to the dead mine. I think they stopped sending them after about 15 of them had stacked up with nothing to do.
In another scenario, I’m required to escort an allied gnoll back to his camp (ah, the dreaded escort mission.) I’m ordered to let no harm come to him--and the little bastard suddenly takes off at a sprint! My troops are in hot pursuit in an attempt to fend off a series of enemies, but we’re too late. The gnoll heads straight into a pile of hostiles and…nothing. He’s fine, ladies and gentlemen! He continues on his merry gnoll-sprinting ways as I finally clash with the bad guys. Before I even finish off the hostiles I’m congratulated for successfully escorting the gnoll to Point B. Mission accomplished? I guess?
I could go on, but I’d rather gripe about the brain-dead AI. Your units are unforgivably bloodthirsty for anything visible within their fog of war, and routinely override any orders to halt. Even with constant babysitting you’ll find your strategic options limiting. Inconsistent with their bloodthirsty nature, you’ll sometimes find them standing about in the middle of a melee as they’re being poked and prodded with enemy swords and spells. So it’s a hit-or-miss venture. I mainly throw a fit if I find one of my soldiers trying to play hero while his buddies ignore the swarming enemy force a few steps away. Your units are so anxious to destroy enemy structures that they rarely have a problem with letting enemy units stab them in the back. It’s only mildly reassuring that your foes operate with the exact same ignorant AI. Sure, these aren’t brand new issues within the RTS genre, but why haven’t these concerns been fully addressed by now?
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