Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Publisher: DreamCatcher Interactive
Developer: Primal Software
Release Date: May 28, 2004
Pre-order 'BESIEGER': PC
Real-time strategy games as a genre really are in a bit of a predicament. With so many of them released over the years new entries into the genre have huge shoes to fill, and unless you bring something new to the table that hasn’t been done before you are likely to be overlooked by most of the gaming public. Besieger has some really innovative gameplay aspects coupled alongside a very slick engine, but does have some potential pitfalls that could really turn the tide against itself.
In Besieger you are the commander of your own personal army, capable of constructing your own base, training units, and sending them forth into battle using whatever tactics you see fit, none of which should seem alien to fans of the genre. Most of the gameplay is also like what you would find in other RTS games, you make basic buildings, which in turn allow you to make better buildings and basic units, which in turn yet again allow you to make advanced units, even better buildings and defenses, and upgrade your arsenal to ensure that you have the edge over your enemies.
To set it slightly apart from other, more basic RTS games there is the experience system, units who kill their share of enemies or workers who do their duties will eventually become more skilled at what they do. If this paragraph stopped here Besieger would still be nothing more than “just” an RTS game, but to even further separate itself Besieger has another gameplay advancement. In most RTS games walls have to be destroyed in order to pass them, or if you are on the inside of them you have to set up fixed towers to defend your perimeter. In Besieger enemies can scale your walls via ladders or siege towers, and to defend against such you have to set up no only your standard towers but also place units on the walls themselves to launch arrows at distant foes or engage in melee combat if they successfully scale your walls.
The siege aspect is not the biggest part of the gameplay as you aren’t exactly raiding an enemy encampment all the time, so the meat and potatoes of the game is basic combat and base building. Worker units are created in houses, which in turn support 5 units. To make soldiers, siege equipment, and airships you take your workers and send them to buildings created to train specific warriors. Some buildings themselves require a worker present for the building to be operational such as sawmills, smithy workshops, and stone quarries. A status display on screen shows all of your worker information, not only how many of which are idle but also how many are cutting down trees for wood, mining for iron, or breaking up boulders for stone. To reclaim workers any soldier unit can return to a normal worker, but the method to actually do so is obscure and the tutorial doesn’t say much about it past the fact that it’s possible, something that will likely be clarified both in-game and in the games manual.
Combat in the game needs a fair amount of work on it in its preview state. Ranged units on walls have a huge disadvantage against ranged units attacking from the ground, which is backwards any way you think about. Though they are up higher they have the same range as units on the ground, can get hit just as easily despite the fact that they are in a fortified location, and since they cannot move very far in any given direction it seems that putting any units on the walls unless absolutely necessary is a waste of time. Ranged units have just as much trouble in closed quarters, such as caves and tunnels. Ranged units have a specific range they like to be at before they attack, if they are farther than that range those close in, if they are too close they run away.
In a tunnel where there is a stone wall between the unit and the distance they’d like, instead of moving in a different direction or engaging in melee combat (Like a spear thrower jabbing at the foe) they simply walk against the wall and spin. Another big downside is that healer units must be kept in their own group and be given different sets of orders if you want them to move with a group of units in an attack. If a healer unit is in a group of soldiers when you give an attack order the unit will stand there while the soldiers rush the enemy. There is nothing worse than having your hero die and fail the mission because your spear-throwers were busy spinning against solid objects and your healer unit simply stood by watching the hero get massacred.
As for the engine itself you can almost feel the breeze of fresh air, however slight it may be. Day and night pass realistically in game, turning a picturesque village in the daytime complete with galloping deer and trees moving in the wind to a dark, moonlit village further illuminated by torches mounted on the various buildings. Workers create bits of debris as they work such as wood chips and bits of stone which makes the resource gathering look much less artificial. Building and units each have their own shadow which changes depending on the time of day. While the shadows aren’t as of high quality as you’d see in a first person shooter, they look just fine when viewed in context and really give the game an extra coat of polish. Damaged walls, buildings, and certain units give off fire and plumes of smoke, and when axes meets flesh you can expect to see a fair amount of blood spilt onto the land.
The siege aspect in Besieger is really going to make or break the gameplay once the game is released. If the rough spots are smoothed over Besieger could really raise the bar on the genre and one could expect to see the siege aspect assimilated into future RTS games, since in the meantime it hasn’t been done and could really add to the game. However, if the siege aspect hasn’t been improved by the time the game is released not only would Besieger be reduced to simply another RTS game in the already crowded genre, the gameplay aspect the game is named after could also be one of the biggest downfalls in the game. Here’s hoping that the final product is more of the former and less of the latter and the siege gameplay element actually becomes as good as it sounds like it could be.
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