Date of publish: 22/11/2020 20:14 CET
Heroes of Annihilated Empires (hence, HoAE ) bills itself as a RTS/RPG hybrid in high fantasy setting, featuring both an RPG-like campaign and a pure RTS mode. As I’ve never been a very big fan of RTS games, but a big fan of RPGs, I approached this game both with certain trepidation and anticipation. Would the strategy element be as dull as I usually deem them to be, and how successfully could they marry an RPG storyline into the game?
HoAE offers four distinct types of play. First, there is the campaign mode. In this you take control of a hero, an elven ranger named Elhant, and guide him through sixteen scenarios of the game’s core story. The elven nation – and other forest people with them – has its very existence threatened by a quickly rising tide of undead. Already, the great elven city of Argos has fallen and their forces are in disarray. As he strides to the scene, upon Elhant’s somewhat uncooperative shoulders falls the mantle of savior who must gather the forces, turn the tide, and defeat the undead menace. As you progress through the campaign he will gain levels and with them the opportunity to increase various statistics, from added defense, damage and view distance to increased movement, regeneration and attack rates. In later stages he will grow powerful enough to take on entire hordes alone.
Assisting you in this task is an array of weapons, equipment and spells you can buy or find and use to further increase your capacity for destruction. There’s a wide variety available, most coming with both positive and negative modifiers. Many, but not all of them, follow a division between melee and magic. If the item offers armor, increased attack or health regeneration rate, it is usually accompanied by decreases in mana regeneration or magic power. Opposite is true for caster equipment. You’ll probably end up carrying several spares to benefit from their bonuses at opportune moments. There are quite a number of equipment slots to fill, from various armor ones to rings, necklaces, charms and bracers.
In campaign scenarios, Elhant many times will walk alone or assisted by some friends and recruits. On these the enemies are static for the most part and do not regenerate. There are other scenarios where you must prove your RTS mettle and are given workers with building capabilities. Your opponent has its bases that churn reinforcements to its ranks. Here you must build your base and army, RTS style, and destroy your enemy. There are also scenarios that are essentially hybrids of these, where you must at times take reins of a settlement and generate troops to defeat a nearby enemy hold.
Interestingly, transitions between scenarios are handled as short comics, their panels flashing onto screen timed with the voiceovers. These essentially bridge the scenarios and shape the game into a coherent storyline.
Campaign difficulty is one area that could have used some more oversight. The overall learning curve is very steep at places, almost forcing you to get some mountaineering equipment. Inevitably, you’ll be using some strong language as a relentless undead onslaught flattens your fledgling base for the tenth time. The lake scenario is certainly one to be remembered, forcing you to build and expand at relentless rate before getting overwhelmed by undead boiling out of no less than four bases around you. This difficulty really serves to underscore the complete lack of tutorials. HoAE would certainly need a few of those, where the opposition wouldn’t be quite as keen on your destruction as on “normal” difficulty (there’s no easy mode by the way).
Another game mode is skirmish, played against one or more AI-controlled enemies. This is a traditional RTS setup played out on one map either for highest score or annihilation of all opponents. Here, you can choose to play one of the game’s four main sides: the forest folk (elves, dryads, pegasuses and such), the undead (from skeletons to ghosts, werewolves and dracoliches), Mechanicians (that is, dwarves and their mechanical constructs) and Cyros (variety of ice-themed folk from gremlins and yetis to enchantresses and mammoths). Though you are given a hero at start – with same level-up and equipment capabilities as campaign mode’s Elhant – for victory it obviously becomes essential to concentrate on building and upgrading your structures and armies.
Resources come into play in skirmish, as well as RTS parts of campaign play. Their nodes appear to have limitless quantities in them so there’s no need to hunt out more, unless you want to increase production rates. Everything you can build requires resources, but not all races use all resources. The undead, for example, do not require food to build anything.
Oddly enough, skirmish offers only tiny selection of maps – three of them. I would have thought that a game catering to RTS audience would offer a larger variety of battlefields.
Two remaining play modes are LAN game, where one player hosts a game and others join to it, and an “internet play” mode which seems to be an online matchup service. I couldn’t test either of these, as I don’t know other persons with HoAE, and my test key did not allow me to access internet play. The experience no doubt is the same as in skirmish mode though, except against more clever, living opponents.
In campaign mode, the characters for most part stick to their prescribed fantasy roles, from haughty elven commander through wise druids and treehugging dryads to industrious dwarves with stiff lower lip, not to leave unmentioned the ents with their annoyingly slow talk. The sole bright spot seems to be the hero Elhant himself. If he is brave and righteous, he is also arrogant and impatient, oft berating his allies and would-be allies, leading to sharp exchanges of opinions. The whole campaign is voice acted; while there are no really embarrassing performances (except for perhaps the ents) none really shine, either – though Elhant’s voice does rise nicely when he is losing his negligible patience.
The story itself is somewhat derivate. You have the usual task ahead of you – repel undead attacks, aid your allies and gather more of them under your banner, cleanse the land and go after undead leaders. Though Elhant’s reticence is amusing at times the plot is very much “you want to go from A to do B, but you must complete C to get there, and before that you must do D.” Overall, it’s not bad, but it isn’t gripping either.
HoAE’s graphics look pretty nice. The maps have been crafted with great attention to detail and there is lots of eyecandy strewn around in shape of ruins, groves and such. The army units, though they spend much of their time as tiny specks on your view, have been crafted and animated with great care (the variety of heroes in campaign and skirmish modes especially) and made easily distinguishable from each other. The structures are distinct and stylish as well. When they are being built, it is easy to check their state of progress as they rise up piece by piece towards completion, some with additional effects such as scaffolding or storm clouds. The structures also spread an area of influence around them. For example the vicinity of forest folk’s buildings turns green and verdant, while undead lands become barren and dark, the trees black and leafless. Destroying these structures will make the effect retreat accordingly.
Army units’ functions are distinguished by their melee and ranged capabilities, land, air or sea capabilities, and their capability to deal and resist the game’s four damage types: magic, crush, slash and pierce. Their upgrades mostly deal with these scores, but certain structures offer additional variety, of which the most amusing was necromancers’ (builder unit of undead horde) ability to automatically generate skeleton soldiers. Certain units have special abilities of their own, such as werewolves’ shapeshifting, various passive auras and sorcerers’ ice bolts that slow opponents.
The game also suffers from a variety of small bugs though there are no gamebreakers. Pathing problems rear their head occasionally, the AI can be dumb and bamboozled to run in circles, and I’ve observed enemies that stop reacting altogether. The biggest disgrace I ran into was the powerful Cryos war mammoth. Smaller units had a habit of getting stuck onto it, leading both moving into odd directions. It also appeared to have bounding box problems, several times pushing against an ent and unable to get close enough to attack.
So how does it all sum up? HoAE certainly offers eyecandy and catchy background tunes, and a story mode with a persistent hero to play through with. The biggest problem might be that it does not innovate. I can easily hark back to Homeworld and even the original Command & Conquer, and see same ideas and conventions still at play. Interface offers the typical methods to assemble and enumerate your army groups, with square-drag and shift-click still the only ways to multi-select your units; I see the same difficulties at picking, for example, my archers from amongst the builders moving to and fro; and there’s the very familiar resource grind. Key to victory in campaign mode’s RTS scenarios and skirmish mode is the usual build faster than your enemy and overwhelm them with mass.
Granted, when the hero needs to go alone you need to think more on how to handle the enemies, and if RTS pros go head to head in multiplayer the strategy and tactics will be more complex. However, once you’ve played through the campaign all you have is the skirmish against AI or multiplayer options. While the game is nice enough to play through the story at least once, the RTS part holds no great appeal to me personally. Perhaps the best idea would be to download the trial version from official website, give it a whirl and see if it strikes your particular fancy.
Written by Sanguinary
Original date of publish: 14.01.2007