Date of publish: 22/11/2020 20:02 CET
Heroes of Annihilated Empires (HOAE) fuses real-time strategy (RTS) and role-playing (RPG) elements together, putting players at the command of huge forces. Based in a fantasy setting, HOAE doesn’t offer much in the way of an original story. The forces of good square off against an army of the undead, and heroes rise up from among the ranks. The developers represent elves, fairies, ents and other fantasy creatures with fine artwork, but everything has a generic feel, since they’ve all been encountered innumerable times in other games. Little hints separate HOAE from other games, like giant tank treads and a downed jet fighter on a mountainside, indicating something more interesting is coming from the games ahead.
The environments look very nice, with lush green forests that give way to darkened areas where evil has taken over. Buildings will also spread certain environments with their signature properties – Ice Castles cover the surrounding area in snow while Necromancy Fortresses spread death, making for gorgeous animations as trees collapse from being flash frozen or getting the life sucked from their roots.
HOAE sets high goals for itself not only by combining strategy and role-playing elements, but also as the first game in a trilogy. Unfortunately, this first chapter doesn’t amount to much of an RTS or RPG. Something feels wrong with this game from the very beginning, as if it was broken, and not just because it takes place in Annihilated Empires. The problem quickly becomes apparent: Instead of bringing two whole genres together, they took little bits from each and ended up with a cheap knockoff of both. HOAE lacks a tutorial, so players will have to either flip through the manual or wade through the semi-intuitive interface. Melee characters don’t do much damage, so they become relegated to the role of fodder, forming a wall to block off the undead’s approach while archers do all the work.
In addition, the game proudly supports hundreds of individual units on the battlefield at once. True, there can be hundreds of units lined up in neat rows, supported by the fact that structures can be set to produce specific units indefinitely (or until players reach the unit cap). However, the game lacks a useful way to manage them all. Units often become distracted, run off and get lost. They don’t return to their original defensive positions even after chasing down (or after being chased by) enemies. The game lacks a way to cycle through idle units. Furthermore, melee units have an annoying tendency to battle the foes closest to them. Every time players redirect them toward targets farther away, they quickly turn around and fight something else. Other times, units get stuck daydreaming while the rest of the group gets slaughtered.
Even worse, the artificial intelligence doesn’t offer much of a challenge. Oftentimes, foes rush headlong toward the player’s forces, mindlessly walk through choke points and die like lemmings jumping into an ocean. The only challenge comes from having limited troops that the player needs to keep from being overwhelmed. Unending waves of the undead come lumbering at the player from the very start, which sets the pace for the rest of the game. With production facilities in place, and fairies gathering resources, it becomes a fairly easy task to win each scenario. To do this, players need an army of ranged fighters and few melee units to slow down the horde. Players need only use the “move and attack” command while exploring, and the rest takes care of itself. The hero can take out necromancers and shamans to prevent resurrections, and the infinite build feature guarantees reinforcements when the army runs low.
Role-playing comes in the form of upgrading the hero with different stats such as health and damage while collecting items. Heroes may also cast spells, although the visuals behind these attacks look generally underwhelming. While heroes act as very good support units, they don’t do as well on their own. Some sequences have the hero squaring off alone against a boss, or proceeding with a very small army. Both can be painful to complete and require a great deal of time and patience, especially since the overzealous hero always prefers to turn around and fight when instructed to retreat.
Hand-drawn stills make up the majority of the cut scenes, supported by voice acting, which makes the game feel like an animated comic book. Although the game’s voice acting works well, it sometimes becomes annoyingly repetitive and weighed down by cheesy lines like, “The dead are walking! That’s never happened before!” Dialogue can be skipped, but the voices continue to go on in the background, even after the player has moved on to do more fighting. Some of these conversations can be excruciating to sit through, like with the slow… talking… tree.
Multiplayer seems added on as a mere afterthought. The game contains three multiplayer maps, none of which feel terribly innovative or exciting.
Despite its flaws, Heroes of Annihilated Empires maintains a unique charm. It could be the ease of play, its bright colors, nice unit animations or the comic book cut scenes. However, it probably won’t be remembered, even though it has just enough to stay interesting. Be warned that the game uses Starforce for copy protection, so all those who enforce some sort of boycott should either add this game to their list or look for it on the Steam service, which uses its own copy protection.
Written by Steven Wong
Original date of publish: 12.01.2007