I know that Conqueror’s Blade won’t be for everyone. Merely its basic premise as a somewhat realistic medieval battle simulator won’t appeal to people who want to be superheroes or elite space marines or elves with magical powers. It’s pinned it into a specific niche that resembles a few other niche games out there, but those games have a pretty rabid fan base, and if CB can tap that, Booming Games and My.com might have a surprisingly successful title that lasts a long time.
Last week, several media members, including myself, got an extended look at the non-battle aspects of the game. I got a taste of battle a few months ago, and last week’s preview, in my opinion, gives the game an even more specific thrust that’s going to appeal to a very specific type of gamer. I don’t even know if I am that kind of gamer, because some of what it’s calling for seems to go against my nature and what I’ve generally looked for in an online game. But I do like the premise of Conqueror’s Blade and I’m intrigued enough by the promise that I really want to give it a try and see if it works.
I’ll start with the tl;dr: As I see it now Conqueror’s Blade looks like a mix of Mount & Blade and Eve Online. I played a bit of Mount & Blade: Warband, just enough to like the basic premise, but I couldn’t get past the less-than-stellar execution, graphics, and iffy controls and UI/menus. From what I’ve seen, CB does a better job with all those, and it’s got several more alpha/beta cycles remaining to iron out the remaining kinks.
There’s much more to do than battle, but you’re not required to participate in the grand strategy aspects of Conqueror’s Blade if you don’t want to. There’s a big button at the top of the UI that puts you into a queue for a one-off PvE or PvP battle, and you could spend all day just doing those, if that’s all you wanted to do. As I said in my previous piece about the game, battles are a ton of fun – the game’s engine can handle up to a thousand units per battle or city instance – and just as a battle simulator alone, it would be something I’d play a good deal of.
“This is the ultimate MMO medieval experience.”
There’s a whole lot more to do, though. “This is the ultimate MMO medieval experience,” is how Head of Community & Content Management Miguel Budesca started our session. A little hyperbole is to be expected, but given everything that Booming Games and My.com wants to pack into the game, he might not be that far off.
Our preview took place in a medieval-Europe-styled area, with many different territories, which was pretty large to begin with, but Budesca told us there’s much more in the works, including a Middle-East-styled map. Units will come from all over the medieval world, including Europe, the Middle East, and Japan, and you can mix and match cultures to your heart’s content. When it all comes together, it looks like you’ll have a lot of space to explore or spread out and all sorts of historical inspiration to draw from to suit your personal combat style.
You’ll start off in a safe area where you can get your bearings and learn the basics of the game, but before too long, you’ll need to venture out into the world, where fame, glory, riches, and possibly your doom await. In the game’s open world, you can hunt PvE bandits for loot to get your first taste of action. Then, once you’ve got some experience, you can join a house (equivalent of a guild) to help build up a city and attack other houses’ territory while defending your own. Alternatively, you can be a mercenary, owing allegiance to nobody, hiring your services out to the highest bidder or preying on the weak and unprepared as they make their way around the countryside.
When you do venture beyond your city’s gates, you’ll zoom out into the game’s “tactical view” as your miniaturized army marches across the land. You can see all the towns, villages, farms, resource nodes, and, of course, other players, be they hostile or friendly. If you intersect with a hostile army, whether controlled by a player or NPC, battle ensues. If someone else sees the battle, they can jump in, crating maximum chaos. As a nice touch, weather on the tactical view map will carry over to the battlefield, and you can use that to your advantage. Budesca explained that fog can conceal armies, reducing view range and setting the stage for an ambush.
Your army composition is important in more ways than one. The larger your army, the more resources you’ll consume as you march around, and you’ll be slower, but you’ll be better equipped to deal with any threats. Alternatively, you can have a lighter composition, which might make you more vulnerable but can also make it easier to evade hostile forces.
So what do you get for venturing out? You’ll earn honor (a form of XP) for winning battles, which is used to improve your character’s and your soldiers’ capabilities, and you can also gather resources like wood and iron, to craft better equipment, and food to supply your armies on their long marches. Basic resources can be found in your safe zone or close by, but if you want the rare stuff, you’ll need to explore farther out and take greater risks – and maybe a friend or two along to watch your back. The need for security is amplified by the fact that you’ll need to bring a wagon along to haul back your loot. These slow you down, and if you’re attacked, your enemies can relieve you of your belongings.
It’s dangerous to go alone
This highlights what I think will be one of the most crucial points of Conqueror’s Blade – and perhaps a make-or-break point for some. As I mentioned earlier, CB appears to be trying to emulate Eve Online in its open-world, winner-take-all, gank-or-be-ganked mindset. Considering the theme of the game, it makes sense and should offer intense action for those willing to take risks and make the necessary preparations to minimize their losses, should things go wrong.
That said, a lot of people don’t play Eve Online for that very reason. We’ve all read the stories, about how a massive battle saw thousands of dollars in virtual cargo go up in smoke. While I don’t think the numbers will be quite on that level in CB, there’s definitely risk involved – as there should be – but the degree of that risk and the penalties for loss, as well as the benefits for success should you engage in open-world PvP, need to be in balance.
Risk-taking and fighting other players needs to be rewarding for the winners, but not overly punishing for the losers.
To wit, if I’m going to lose hours, or even days, of work when I lose a battle, I’m not too likely to venture far from my safe ground. On the flip side, if I can make several hours’ worth of profit by picking on players smaller than me in 10-minute battles, why should I do anything else? Risk-taking and fighting other players needs to be rewarding for the winners, but not overly punishing for the losers, in my opinion. Everyone thinks the concept sounds great, lying in wait and ambushing unwary travelers … until they’re the unwary travelers.
While players will certainly band together for security, I don’t think that Booming Games can rely wholly on the benevolence of strangers to provide a quality play experience for everyone. Eve Online carved out its place in MMO history in the last decade, but it’s a niche game in 2019, and trying too hard to replicate that style of play will likely have a severely limiting effect on a game’s population. Hopefully, testing will provide enough feedback and data to strike a perfect harmony between those who seek to come about their riches honestly and those who look to prey on unsuspecting, loot-loaded caravans.
Getting by with a little help from my friends
While I do intend to eventually join a house and see what massive group gameplay is like, I’m also interested in how “solo” gameplay will work. While things are obviously in flux, the impression I get is that it should be viable, at least to a point.
As mentioned, you can do random instanced PvP battles and also roam the wilderness taking on bandits, and maybe the occasional PvP encounter, while gathering resources to improve your character and armies. Conqueror’s Blade will have an auction house and also a “smuggler” NPC, who will offer other, less common, materials, for the right price. If you do want a taste of factional battle, you can work as a mercenary for the houses, offering up your services to whomever is willing to pay.
The “backbone of the game,” as Budesca put it, however, is the house system and playing with your allies. You can work with your house to build up your city, using the resources that you’ve gathered – saving some for yourself to upgrade your own units, of course – eventually raising it up from a tiny, level one village to a bustling, level six castle, which itself requires a significant amount of upkeep. Houses can band together to form multi-house alliances to further increase their strength.
Houses can’t just go around capturing anything and everything whenever they feel like it, though. Each house leader chooses a period where they can be attacked, on at least two days every week. Without that, things would be a little too chaotic, not to mention attacks happening at odd, inconvenient hours.
One additional touch that Budesca noted was that your personal camp, where you build and train your units, can only be located in a single city in your nation’s territory. It can be relocated, but “at great cost.” This means that, if you want to join a battle on the far border, you’ll have to march there, thus even making where you choose to settle down a strategic point.
Conqueror’s Blade keeps shaping up as a game I could really like, even if it is more cutthroat and more big-guild-focused than my usual fare. The core gameplay elements are falling into place, and it’s now up to Booming Games to make sure the interactions between players hit that sweet spot that make it enjoyable without being too frustrating.