Publisher: Lockpick Entertainment
Developer: Lockpick Entertainment
Release Date: February 15, 2007
Every year, there are a handful of genuinely good titles that escape notice by the general gaming public. Low advertising budgets and lack of good PR will cause many games to simply disappear off the radar. Dreamlords — part RTS, part RPG, part turn-based strategy, and part MMO — is one of those games.
It's a shame, really, because Lockpick's efforts have produced a truly unique and groundbreaking title that is bound to influence the future of MMO gaming. Dreamlords has flaws, to be sure, but they are not difficult to overlook in the face of such originality.
Dreamlords places you in the role of a semi-divine being worshipped by the residents of your patria. The patria, which is an island of territory completely isolated from every other player's plot of land, becomes the foundation of your power. By building up your patria and defending it from monsters, you'll gain items and soul shards which you can convert into gnosis — the mystical life force from which dreamlords get their power.
At the start of the game, each player must choose a race to play. The races — Covenant, Nihilim, and Thûl — each represent a different style of play. Like any other RTS, each race comes with different units, buildings and research trees, but in Dreamlords, the race of your patria's citizens also necessarily determines the way you'll have to play the game. Different battle tactics are one thing, but your racial selection also impacts the approach you must take to building up your patria and its civilization. Not all elements of the game are impacted by your race selection, though. The RPG element, which allows you to build up your dreamlord's avatar for use in certain quests, is race-independent.
I don't want to get into too much detail about the individual races, but let me toss you an example of how race impacts the title. The Nihilim, which I chose to play as, are a highly intellectual race who put a lot of their energies on research and development in order to become more powerful. Nihilim players must spend a lot of their time in the turn-based strategy portion of the game, building up their cities and researching new technology. Thûl players, on the other hand, must spend most of their time in the RTS portion fighting, because the Thûl gain power and wisdom through bloodshed. Again, this is where Dreamlords differs from other games you've played because the turn-based strategy and RTS elements are played using two different clients, both of which can (and usually should) be running simultaneously.
The RTS client is the only portion of the game actually installed on your hard drive. This client is used for initiating and fighting battles, chatting with other online players, and getting a strategic view of the world to see which guilds (known here as convergences) control which bits of territory.
In order to manage your patria, do research, build up your army, and perform all of the other turn-based strategy elements, you must log in via (drumroll, please) … a web browser. Everything you do to help your little country grow in power, all of your communications with your convergence, the marketplace, even crafting — it all takes place in a simple web browser.
Now then, that's not all bad. Sure, the graphics are pretty poor as a result, and yes, you have to wait for it to refresh every time you do anything. On the other hand, you can access this portion of Dreamlords from any computer with an Internet connection, and no installations are required. This is important because your civilization will continue to grow and develop, produce raw materials, and perform research in real time even when you're not logged in. Monsters will also invade your patria while you're away, though they rarely attack the population directly while the player is logged out.
Although the web browser is a little clunky and slow by today's high gaming standards, it is important to note just how groundbreaking this feature is. Lockpick has given their players the ability to maintain control over their developing civilization at any time, and from virtually any computer in the world. By the same token, because the game progresses continuously with or without your active input, you will develop an overwhelming need to log in and check on the progress of your patria's development at least a couple of times every day.
The RTS client is basically just where the fighting takes place. You will fight PvP battles, as well as battles against the AI monsters that invade your patria. There are also quests which must be performed by your dreamlord avatar that are played out in the RTS client. Generally speaking, the gameplay in each battle is very quick, particularly against monsters. There is no resource farming or base construction to be done; you simply select the troops you want to use and go at it. PvP battles take a little longer because of the way they're played out in a variation of the capture-and-hold theme.
One of the biggest drawbacks to the RTS client is that there are not very many maps. You'll fight on the same maps over and over again, especially in battles versus the AI. I also found that although the maps themselves are well rendered, the characters and their animations are somewhat lacking. For example, attack animations do not synchronize with the actual attack phase very well, particularly when a unit's attack speed has been increased through equipment buffs.
One other important thing to note about PvP is that at this time, you can only engage one other player in PvP combat. Lockpick has announced that they intend to add support for multiple players on each side of a battle so that convergences can have large-scale battles against one another, but there's no firm ETA on this yet. This is Dreamlords's biggest weakness by far, and the addition of this feature will add a great deal to the title.
If you can look past the mediocre graphics and lousy sound, Dreamlords really has a lot to offer. Multiple play styles, an extremely friendly community, and the constant forward progression of the game make for an overall enjoyable experience. It may not be the best MMO on the market, but the originality of the story and the many groundbreaking gameplay elements clearly make Dreamlords a game worth checking out.
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