Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Publisher: DreamCatcher Interactive
Developer: Primal Software
Release Date: June 2, 2004
Besieger is yet another 3D real time strategy game that almost, but not quite, was a passable game. It’s got a great graphics engine, some new twists on familiar themes, and a decent plot. Unfortunately, a non-intelligent AI, tremendously bad pathfinding, and mission requirements that require key-units to stay alive hamper it, forcing you to micro-manage a battlefield.
There are two main factions in Besieger: the Cimmerians and the Vikings. Previously, they were living in peaceful harmony, but when Konin, the leader of the Vikings, went off on a quest for Sword of Krom, Konin’s sister, Mara, staged a coup, taking over control. Mara by now was a powerful sorcerer and unleashed an attack on their neighbors, the Vikings. The Vikings had sent one of their warriors, Earl Barlamay to retrieve the Hammer of Thor (get the feeling these guys are little relic happy?) just before the city was attacked, making him the sole survivor. The game starts of with him and a few men in the Cimmerian woods after his airship crashed thanks to Mara. Over the course of the game you’ll play the forces of Konin, Earl and Mara, giving you a nice view of all sides of the battle. Truth be told, while not terribly original, the plot was actually engaging, and kept me interested.
There are a few neat twists here as well. The basis of your army is your worker; from him you construct your buildings, and then turn him into warriors, saving you the need to create both warrior and worker units, as well as forcing you to make key decisions regarding how many warriors vs. workers you have. You can also turn them back into workers if you need to. Because it’s a game about sieges, Besieger appeals to the RTS player who likes to build a good defense first and army second.
Unfortunately, after that the game becomes very frustrating. Dealing with the AI and some bad design decisions quickly sapped my enthusiasm for the single-player game, and the bad pathfinding and predictable AI made the skirmish mode unmemorable as well. The last saving grace was the online multiplayer, but the times I checked for players there were none.
Most of the missions in the campaign require you to attack the enemy’s base, defend your own base, or simply get from point to point. Unfortunately most of these have a requirement to keep the hero unit alive and that’s where the problems start. For starters, they are gung-ho fighters always willing to wage war, even if they are getting the snot kicked out of them. Each mission keeping them alive would be an exercise in frustration as I babysat them the entire time, hardly what you’d expect to have to do with an epic warrior. While they cast buffs on your units, it was just easier to leave them in the corner someplace and play the mission out without them.
Also, some of the design decisions they make when assigning your units each mission are odd, to say the least. One mission had me running around in a dungeon, so the AI gave me warriors using ranged weapons. Unfortunately, these units have a minimum distance they can attack from, so most fights were spent watching them try and run out to their throwing distance, only to find the enemy had closed in, forcing them to run out again, and as the old saying goes, rinse, lather, repeat, as the enemy just starts mowing through my units. I did get one melee unit to try and get between the enemy and the ranged warriors, but since it was the hero I had to keep alive, he didn’t exactly help much.
The game also has some of the worst pathfinding I’ve ever seen. Granted, every RTS game has some sort of pathfinding issues, but keeping that in mind, you’ll still run into more issues than are acceptable. You’ve got units that take the long way to the destination; units that get hung up on terrain objects; units that can’t even figure out how to go to a destination and end up just spinning in circles; and units that can’t get out of each other’s way. The result of this is a tremendous amount of micro-management to get units from place to place.
The units themselves are fairly straightforward. The usual staples are represented – warriors, spear throwers, archers, siege weapons, etc. There’s also an airship reminiscent of the Goblin Zeppelin in WarCraft 3. There were a couple of little touches in the units I liked: the fact you could place ranged units on your walls (with the proper upgrades) and that the worker units formed the base of your army. Each house you build generates 5 workers, and there’s a way to upgrade that. The workers are the ones who gather your resources and build your buildings. When the time comes to build an army, you tell each worker to enter the barracks, which then spits out the appropriate military unit. Your workers are also used to drive the siege weapons and you can tell them to exit the weapon to repair it. You can build walls early on in the game
In addition to the single-player campaign, there are also skirmish and multiplayer modes. Skirmish mode lets you play out the multiplayer maps against the computer if you can’t find an online game, and the multiplayer modes supports LAN play as well as hosting games on GameSpy’s service. Unfortunately, there isn’t really anyone playing this game online since the times I hopped on GameSpy to test it out, literally no-one was online for the game. The skirmish mode isn’t half bad, and at least this time you are only battling the insipid AI and pathfinding issues – hay, one problem out of three gone isn’t bad, is it? There are about 12 maps and most of them are relatively decent. Unfortunately, the AI still is predictable with its attacks, and doesn’t seem to use any sort of real strategy. You can build walls as soon as he game starts, which is recommended to block the inevitable early rush, but it can be a tad difficult figuring out how to build the walls so the right way faces out of your base. The walls also build relatively fast, so unlike Age of Empires, you won’t be spending half the game waiting for your walls to build.
The sound and graphics areas are the only area the game really shines. The graphics engine does an excellent job at rendering the environments – nice water, textures and pixel-shaded effects. I enjoyed the backing soundtrack, which was appropriately epic. The sounds are likewise well done with the possible exception of the voice-overs; they were a tad over-acted. All in all the overall presentation of the product is well done, I just wish as much attention had been paid to the rest of the game.
Besieger really needed another month-or-three getting some polish and tuning. While the story is decent and the graphics impressive, the overall level of frustration is too much in this game, ruining what would be an otherwise excellent game. Unfortunately, the game gets in its own way too often – via bad design decisions, AI and pathfinding. If there were more people playing it online at least you’d only have crappy pathfinding to worry about. As it stands now, you’d be playing it against the computer, leaving you to also deal with the brainless AI. At $30, though it might hold a patient, yet dedicated, fan of the genre while waiting for Blizzard to release another map. For me, however, the flaws took away much of the enjoyment I might have had, which is extremely regrettable since the game could have been so much better with more time applied to it.
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