Conquest: Frontier Wars is a fleet-based RTS game published by the largest European game publisher, Ubi Soft. This game has gone through many shipping date changes, a publisher change and even a developer change all due to the fact that the Roberts Brothers left Digital Anvil (in favor of Fever Pitch Studios) when it was sold to Microsoft. Some other popular projects by Ubi Soft include Rayman, The Settlers, Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six and Myst. This game is often compared to titles such as Space Empires, Homeworld, Star Trek: Armada, Reach For The Stars, and Starcraft. Just like the previously-mentioned titles, Conquest brings something unique and innovate to the Space RTS genre!
The game is set approximately 200 years into the future. Doing what humans do best, we are moving ahead, and exploring new territory. We are the Terrans, the oxygen loving humans, and with our firepower and armor, are a formidable force. In our exploration we've come across these nice teleporting bundles called wormholes, which provide an instant gateway into new sectors. Harnessing the wormholes' power with Jump Gates provides a supply link to our forces across multiple sectors. Conquest offers three types of play, Campaign, Quick Battle and Multiplayer. The only playable race in campaign mode is the Terrans. At first I thought this was rather lame, but the campaign lasts for 16 missions, which is definitely enough to keep you busy. Each mission proves to be more challenging than the last, but they also tend to be long and tedious. If you choose the Quick Battle option, you can customize missions to your liking, making it as difficult or as simple as you desire.
What Conquest does that truly sets this game apart from other RTS games is its use of multiple maps. These large, colorful maps are linked together by wormholes. Your survival is based on controling these sectors with platforms, fleets and defenses before your opponent has the opportunity to do the same. At first, keeping track of one map and the activities it encompasses can be a very daunting task to the novice space explorer, but fear not! The difficulty of conquering has been addressed and answered with the addition of Terran Admirals (or Mantis Warlords and Celareon Magistrates). You can choose from 8 Admirals to command an entire fleet of ships. These AI characters will provide ship upgrades and lead your fleets into the fray of battle, while giving you important vocal updates on your ships' ammunition supply and damage levels.The AI works for you, and it helps overcome the largeness and complexity of expanding to multiple maps, but your fleet's success solely depends on the skill of the ultimate leader – you. There is a vast selection of ships, and on top of that, certain ships have special skills and attributes that can turn the tables in a battle, like the Terran Dreadknought's Aegis Shield, which wards off enemy damage. When building your fleet, ships' special abilities should be taken into account to balance your groups, as well as to weigh the strengths and weaknesses of the opponent. All in all, I got the hang of building and directing multiple fleets in a few rounds against the computer. After I got the basics down, I hopped into multi-player mode and honed my skills against some real live opposition (ok, it was my 10-year-old son, but he was tough!).
Your Heads-Up Display (HUD) appears on the bottom of the screen. Information about the target is to the left, a map of the current sector is located towards the center, and a map of neighboring sectors, linked by wormholes, is to the right. The HUD is easy to read and even during intense fighting the display isn't too cumbersome for the use of on-screen commands. Another weapon against the battle of complexity is the use of keyboard shortcuts and hotkeys. I found myself relying on the keyboard and mouse rather evenly, using one to complement the other.
One of the key features of the game are the "supply lines" which are basically a means for you to supply your ships and mine resources in alternate sectors. These supply lines are established by creating a portal (aka Jump Gate, which also prevents your enemies from "sneaking" into your sector since they need to destroy it first and you are notified when this occurs) in the wormhole to connect them to "the other side," after which your harvesters (supply ships) will go back and forth if necessary. These supply lines are especially crucial if you go into battle in an enemy sector since your ships WILL run out of ammo. Unless you have a supply ship nearby, your battle fleet will be shot down like sitting ducks. On some maps, you simply have NO initial resources, forcing you to conquer and establish a supply line for your much-needed supplies. Of course, once you have secured a sector, you can build supply platforms on the resident planets.
Apart from wormholes, you will also encounter black holes, asteroid belts, and six different types of nebulas (some with positive effects, others not so positive ;)). Each of these natural occurrences are specific and must be taken into account when fighting your way across sectors. For example, if your fleet passes through a yellow "Helious" nebula, it will sustain four times more damage when attacked, the orange gases of the "Cygnus" nebula will give your fighters more maneuverability, and yet other gasses will simple "freeze" your ships' firing systems (see "sitting duck" reference).
The sounds of Conquest are well above par for this type of game. The Terran dialogue is sharp, direct and somewhat humorous. The in-game movies are excellent quality, like something you'd watch on your favorite weekly sci-fi show. The mission briefings feature hilarious sketches, including commercials for a used spacecraft dealer and reports from a news anchor who isn't satisfied with her job. Once you are done chuckling, things get serious with briefings from admirals of the fleet. Between the exemplary gameplay, you'll get superb narrations, commentaries, and other information from some of the admirals. Music definitely has its place in a sci-fi game, and this music isn't overpowering but is rather soothing, providing an absorbing backdrop to the ongoing struggle. The battle sounds are complemented by the voices of crew and admirals, barking orders and giving you the status of your fleet, while you direct ships into position.
Graphically, this game also seems to be on top. As great as the view is from afar, the graphics still hold up and show the detail of units while zoomed in close. A fleet warping through or exiting a wormhole into the dark unknown sometimes calls for a pause in gameplay, as the brilliant light shines from the incoming armada. The environment features stars, asteroid fields and various galactic creations, giving the game a very lively and colorful backdrop.
BUT this game isn't all glitz and glamour. The single-player campaign missions tend to drag on and are a bit tedious at times . When moving a fleet of ships your smaller ships travel a lot faster than your battlecruisers, leaving either one vulnerable while they should be acting as a REAL fleet and travel at the speed of the slowest ship. Sometimes during the loading process, the game has a tendency to hang. On more than one occasion during multi-player missions, the HUD flashed on and off, and the game crashed. Conquest offers the challenge that I look for in choosing any game, but isn't so complex that it leaves me more irritated than entertained. I believe the inclusion of multiple maps and helpful AI will be duplicated in future games. I wish they would let you do the campaign as each of the three races, but the Terran campaign is enough to keep you busy. One of the most annoying flaws are the command points, which indicate how many ships and buildings you are "allowed" to make. You start out with only a handful, and as you construct certain expansion buildings, the number will increase to a maximum of 100 (200 in multiplayer mode). This limit is really too low, but it helps you to better plan your strategies.
Nonetheless if RTS is your type of game, then this game is WORTHPLAYING, a must get! Best Real Time Space Strategy game of 2001!