NTronium Games/Iceberg Interactive
Growing up, I watched my fair share of kung-fu films, as well as epic period movies that were based in ancient China. You probably already know the ones that I’m referring to—the time capsule pieces that featured actors wearing those wild, glued-on tufts of facial hair, eyebrows, and sporting those long wigs. Although I found the costumes sort of campy and the acting more of the hammy variety, the subject matter was fascinating.
Unfortunately, since I am not a native Chinese speaker, nor did I ever study ancient Chinese history (in any real depth at least), many of my film watching sessions would eventually devolve into me scratching my head a lot. I just couldn’t seem to keep up with all of those fancy names, intricate titles, and opaque familial bonds. Sometimes I wish I had a notepad and a few pens in order to keep track of just the basic narrative structures within these great films.
Well, developers NTronium Games have just released a new game that attempts to shed some light on the bygone days of China’s magnificent past. Oriental Empires does an excellent job of organizing matters and is a much a history guide as it is a grand strategy 4X game. Right from the beginning, players must look over the game’s available factions, which are complete with information about who they were and what they were known for, and choose one to play as.
The Han, for instance, were known for their impressive crossbowmen, but their infantry and cavalry weren’t that great. The Zhou, meanwhile, could field powerful chariot units, and their leaders were so adept at leading, that they were usually able to keep the peasantry quite happy. The faction descriptions also detail where each fit into China’s highly venerated (and sometimes confusing) chronology. Specifically, Oriental Empires spans the course of three thousand years (from 1,500 B.C.E. to 1,500 C.E.). Only five factions are available from the beginning, but after players complete two-hundred turns of gameplay, an additional eleven factions are unlocked, giving you a whopping grand total of sixteen to ultimately choose from.
Whereas in other modern 4X titles such as the futuristic Stellaris, or diversity-packed Endless Legends series, each race or faction that you pick (or create) is completely different from other ones. Oriental Empires’ tribes aren’t as much so. That’s not to say that they all seem the same, it’s just that their differences are a lot more subtle.
Oriental Empires is a turn-based affair, and players have all kinds of things to attend to during each turn. One of the first things that impressed me about the game was how (using my mouse wheel) I could zoom in from my default bird’s eye view, all the way down to my individual settlers and beginning army units. From there, I zoomed all the way back out, and even further to a more expansive, hand-drawn looking map. The next thing I noticed was how sumptuous Oriental Empires’ visuals were…
From the lush vegetation to the mist-shrouded rivers and lakes, the developers really created one fantastic looking world here. They really managed to convey a sense of mystique as well as gave the vast environs of China and Mongolia a sense of life and luster. Between all of the available factions, things to do within the game, and gorgeous eye-candy, it’s hard to believe that Oriental Empires only takes up 430 megs of my hard drive space.
Each turn represents an entire season, which keeps the game moving and gives it a nice sense of the passing of time. Leaders will also age, and eventually pass away, although the AI will appoint successors at some point. Most of your time will be spent negotiating pacts, treaties, and alliances with your neighbors, scouting out new areas on the fringes of your domain, and adding various structures and improvements to your burgeoning towns and cities.
There is also an extensive technology tree in Oriental Empires, or rather four. Similar to the Master of Orion games of yore, you’ll have the option of choosing from four different tech trees and researching them simultaneously. The Power branch allows you to research martial advancements, whether bonuses to existing armies, additional unit types, and some infrastructure bonuses and upgrades. Craft gives you such things as paper, more advanced materials, and maritime unlocks.
Thought gives you more passive buffs based on your culture’s religion and beliefs, as well as royal command edicts that can provide all kinds of sweeping benefits to your faction. The final branch, Knowledge, features much more defensive advantages, such as bonuses to your army’s medical capabilities (herbal advancements), as well as your region’s resistance to pandemic outbreaks.
Oriental Empires’ main overhead map reminded me of an Age of Wonders or Civilization title, but when the fur starts flying, it sort of morphs into a Total War-lite type game. However, unlike Total War, here you set up your starting positions and formations and then let the battle play out passively. I, personally, have no issue with this kind of system, as it kind of makes one feel as though they are a great emperor watching everything unfold from behind the scenes. There is a good amount of unit diversity in Oriental Empires, which makes no two battles quite the same.
As Oriental Empires is still in Early Access, multiplayer hasn’t been implemented yet. This will give gamers plenty of time to brush up on their skills playing through the single player Grand Campaign, however, so expect some fireworks once MP comes along.
With its addictive one-more-turn gameplay, wide array of things to do, fun combat system, and exceptional visuals, I’m really looking forward to how Oriental Empires develops. You can really tell that this game is a labor of love. So if you’re into great turn-based strategy games, or even remotely interested by ancient Chinese culture and history, Oriental Empires just might be just what you’re looking for.
Oriental Empires features form impressive visuals. However, you have to have an equally fast gaming PC in order to play it at a decent framerate. So, you may just want to invest in a decent gaming rig:
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