A Clash of Swords: Hands-on With Military Mash-up Conqueror's Blade
Earlier this year, I jumped into a test build of Conqueror's Blade, a not-sure-if-it's-going-to-be-free-to-play-but-I-want-to-check-it-out-anyway medieval war simulator from Booming Games. I lasted about half an hour before the lack of polish and atrocious localization drove me away. I figured I would check it out down the road and see if it improved – which, if I'm going to be totally honest, I wasn't hopeful for.
Last week, the folks at My.com – the newly announced publisher of Booming Games' venture – offered me a brief tour of the latest build of the game, which, yes, is going to be free-to-play, and goes into early access at a later date. While I still think it's got a ways to go, it's much improved over my initial impressions, to the point that I'm interested again. Now I'll spend the next thousand words or so telling you why you should be interested, too.
A Storm of Blades
Conqueror's Blade is a mishmash of a bunch of different games. There are elements of Total War, Mount & Blade, Dynasty Warriors, For Honor, and Tiger: Knight Empire War in its DNA. Your character is a general, who has a preferred weapon, chosen at character creation. His battle controls are pretty simple: movement, dodging, attacking, blocking, and a couple of special moves bound to hotkeys.
In one of our battles, I manned a distant cannon and wore down the wall of the defending castle until it crumbled into dust, allowing our troops to pile through the breach.
But Conqueror's Blade is about more than your general. When going into a battle, you'll select three types of troops to accompany you, one at a time. When your general falls in battle, you'll take the next group, and so on, respawning by yourself if you've died three times. These soldiers can come from a wide range of backgrounds, from Japanese samurai to European knights to longbowmen to musketeers – don't try to apply historical norms, it is what it is. Each has a few basic maneuvers that are based on the unit type. Infantry might be able to form a shield wall or encircle their general in a defensive formation, or charge in a line as directed, missile troops can be directed to rain down fire on a designated area, and so on. Given the short time frame I had to learn the game, and all the different types of units I was experimenting with, I had to learn what my troops did on the fly, but I'd imagine that a skilled player, given proper time to practice, would be able to master their proper use.
Did I also mention you have artillery? Yes, you also choose an artillery piece before battle that you can deploy (and more may be found on the battlefield), again drawn from a wide historical range, from catapults to cannons. In one of our battles, I manned a distant cannon and wore down the wall of the defending castle until it crumbled into dust, allowing our troops to pile through the breach. After a death and respawn, I tried a different approach, going through another breach, only to be faced with a defending cannon that launched a flaming ball of death directly into my head. Then I respawned again and walked into that same breach. Then I respawned again … fortifications are real, yo.
Along with My.com's Head of Community and Content Management, Miguel Budesca, I experienced two battles, both as an attacker trying to capture a castle. The first was against PvE enemies, and resulted in a resounding victory. The second was a 6v6 affair with and against other people, which included those aforementioned cannon capers, and it didn't go as well. Despite that, both battles were – and forgive me for using technical jargon here – fun as all heck.
The thing is, I can sit here and write about my battle experiences all day, though if you're like I would be reading this, you're probably a little skeptical. As I mentioned at the start of this piece, so was I. But after just an hour in Conqueror's Blade, just experiencing two battles got me going, and I was whooping and hollering and celebrating my victories (seriously, just seeing that wall come down was awesome). It's one of the rare cases where seeing the promo videos (such as the one below this paragraph) actually did justice to what I actually experienced in the game. A battle is a chaotic, messy affair, with bodies and missiles flying everywhere, requiring quick thinking while still affording time for tactical maneuvers. It just looks and feels awesome. I love to think of what strategies you could come up with if you actually had a team of players, all coordinating their actions via voice chat. No castle would be safe!
There's more to life in Conqueror's Blade than just battles. Indeed, as Budesca told me, empire building is a major part of the game, because battles themselves – as they are/were in reality – are costly and relatively infrequent. There are several different regions in the game, each with a selection of towns that start out small but, with the help of players, can grow into powerhouses. Budesca took me out into the world map, dotted with towns both inside and outside our faction's borders. Here, the game took on a rather Mount & Blade kind of appearance, where I could visit friendly towns or attack unfriendly ones – or even encounter a hostile army and fight in the field.
We started out in a maximum-level, and maximally fortified castle, but Budesca also took me to visit a tier-one village, so I'd get an idea of how things got started. The economy of the game was, as he said, “inspired by Eve Online's sandbox economy.” While I didn't have time to dig into all that, one thing that came up was the forage meter that depleted as I moved my army around the map. Budesca explained that I'd need to spend some time making sure my army was well-equipped and, you know, didn't starve to death.
Naturally, this led to my having a lot of questions, the kind of which I always ask when a game focuses almost exclusively on showing you the cool parts. How long does it take to get to those massively awesome battles? How often can you battle? What are the boring and grind-y parts you'll have to do in the meantime? How is your city defended if you're not there at 3 a.m. and it's attacked? Most importantly, what's the cash shop like?
The economy of the game was, as he said, "inspired by Eve Online's sandbox economy."
He didn't have many answers, although he stressed that wasn't because he was being evasive, but because My.com and Booming Games are really looking to tweak things during the beta. I did manage to learn that, in the early part of the game, you'll spend time clearing out bandit camps and other PvE-style missions to build up your general and your army. Depending on how much of that needs to be done, I could see myself being OK with it, as a kind of tutorial for learning how to move around the map and use your soldiers before plunging into giant, messy battles.
In terms of the cash shop, at least, he pointed out that there were a number of cool-looking cosmetics you could obtain for your soldiers, which I'd imagine would be a staple of monetization. Budesca insisted that the developers had an understanding of what's acceptable and what's not in the Western market and will plan accordingly.
Flow like water
There's a lot to like about Conqueror's Blade, especially if you're into the kinds of games I mentioned at the top of this piece. At the very least, it's worth tracking its progress as news of its continued development trickle out. For a foreign-made game with spotty localization (one of the first things I was greeted with was the option to “spwan” and the website still has numerous issues), I find myself surprisingly interested, especially after having written it off months ago.
Just like how Sun Tzu would caution you about rushing into battle without proper information, however, I'll still exercise caution about exactly how everything is implemented in the game's final version. We've all been down this road before, and it's usually ended poorly. Budesca told me that the devs are “ready to adapt and be surprised by players.” Let's hope that's the case because darn it, those battles are fun as all heck.
About the Author
Jason Winter is a veteran gaming journalist, he brings a wide range of experience to MMOBomb, including two years with Beckett Media where he served as the editor of the leading gaming magazine Massive Online Gamer. He has also written professionally for several gaming websites.
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