Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Publisher: DreamCatcher Interactive
Developer: Enlight Software
Release Date: March 11, 2008
Seven Kingdoms: Conquest is the highly anticipated sequel to one of the most sophisticated and underrated real-time strategy games ever created. The original Seven Kingdoms and Seven Kingdoms II represented a complex but well-balanced RTS design that featured both detailed city management and challenging real-time combat. After a prolonged five-year wait, Enlight Software has released the latest installment of this RTS classic. The title includes tutorials, a human and demon campaign, a single-player skirmish mode and a multiplayer option for up to eight players.
In the process of reviewing Conquest , I was struck by a serious case of déjà vu. The end result of playing Conquest was not unlike what I recently experienced while reviewing Empire Earth III: a great amount of anticipation, followed by bewilderment, and concluding with a general feeling of disappointment. Similar to Empire Earth III, Conquest takes a formula that worked quite well and was unique among the myriad of RTS games and reworked it into an entirely unrelated and unremarkable RTS title. Conquest is unlike its predecessors; it borrows features from several other popular RTS games, and as a result, it never truly creates its own identity.
Conquest offers two playable factions: human and demon. If you choose to play as the human race, you can choose to be an Egyptian, Greek, Roman or even a Middle Ages knight. As a human, you will have to gather and manage gold and food resources, and as a demon, you'll need to focus on gathering blood and stone.
Your faction's population is increased by capturing neutral or enemy villages, towns and cities. Upgrades to buildings and the introduction of new battle units are made available through research menus, which depend on the building you have selected. You are limited to a certain number of building slots for each level of city development, and that requires a bit of pre-planning. The title offers unit improvements through a manual promotion system that costs reputation points, which are generated by fighting battles and overtaking cities.
Conquest features a dual-campaign mode (human/demon) that tries to offer a story by design, but falls short and becomes a small set of skirmishes with voice-over introductions. The game weakly implements different civilizations (humans) and evil classifications (demons) based on time periods, similar to what can be found in Age of Empires and Empire Earth. Each faction has entirely different features, although it is easy to identify the equivalent units on each side. Although the visual changes are a nice touch, they offer little to no impact on overall gameplay. Additionally, I would hardly consider the AI to be challenging or clever. When it's on offense, the AI tends to just overwhelm your control points with an increasing number of battle units, and when it's on the defensive, the AI still relies quite heavily on numbers.
Fighting is not the only way to gain ground in Conquest . You can use special ambassadors or spy units to influence or corrupt cities and gain control. Also, some advanced spells and special units are made available through the collection and expenditure of essence, which is gained from demonstones that are located around the game world. Only special units, such as priests, can gather the essence from these stones. Random chests can also be found scattered around, and they can contain gold, special abilities or even technology upgrades.
Conquest's skirmish mode offers players the ability to customize their games with a large number of setup options and scenarios. There are two types of games you can play in this mode: King of the Hill and Annihilation. Configurable options include time limits, map selection, resource levels, and other visual controls, such as fog of war. Conquest includes an easy-to-use map editor, which injects the title with a bit more life and replay value. I had fun just playing around with the editor and exploring the available graphic options.
Unfortunately, Conquest suffers from some serious quality control issues. The first noticeable problem appears about 20 minutes into the human tutorial, when you're instructed to attack a village to the north. However, the village is blocked by large stone pillars that you can neither destroy nor get around. (This problem has been fixed in the 1.04 patch.) It is not a good sign when even the tutorials are so buggy that you can't complete them. The demon tutorial is not without its own problems; although you can complete it, the instructions don't adequately reflect the situation on the map, so you need to do a bit of exploration to advance to the end of the tutorial. Straight out of the box, the title has yet another serious bug that randomly prevents you from completing game objectives, even if you completely wipe out your enemy. This bug supposedly has also been squashed in the 1.04 patch.
Additionally, I also experienced some befuddling path-finding while moving my units, and this is a major nuisance because you have to keep your eye on multiple areas of the map at the same time. There is something screwing with the graphics system in Conquest . The developers took the time to offer a High Dynamic Range (HDR) lighting option and even a "grass density" setting, but then only offer players two screen resolution options (1024x768 or 1280x1024). Neither of these settings was that impressive on my 1680x1050 widescreen monitor. I would have even settled for a windowed mode so that I could squeeze just a bit more resolution and sharpness out of Conquest.
Once you can get over the limited resolution options, you will find some pretty interesting unit designs, particularly on the demon side. The sound effects, voice-overs and background music are all high-quality, but the auditory experience alone can't hide the sloppiness that's prevalent throughout the title. The camera system is similar to the majority of RTS games available today: You can scroll your map by moving to the edge of your screen, zoom in and out by using your mouse wheel, and rotate your camera by using the left and right arrow keys.
The interface also follows standard RTS conventions. You have a reasonably useful mini-map in the bottom left corner of the interface, while your primary command buttons are made available on the bottom right. The bottom center includes your standard context-sensitive information display. The game features the standard grouping mechanism of using the Ctrl key and the numerical keys (1 to 5) to assign battle groups. The rest of the number keys are reserved for custom assignments of unit abilities and/or spells. The setup is definitely very useful during battles, especially for invoking healing spells.
Conquest offers multiplayer gaming for up to eight players, with options similar to what you'd experience playing a single-player skirmish game. The manual erroneously shows a way to connect to the Enlight gaming service and create or join a game, but when you enter the actual multiplayer menu, this option is no longer present. After checking on the support forums, I learned that the multiplayer matchmaking is still available, but you must launch it as a separate program. The in-game multiplayer menu still allows you to setup a local LAN game (IPX or TCP/IP), or, if you have made arrangements with other players and have swapped IP addresses, you can connect and play using your Internet connection without a matchmaking server.
If you are hoping for an updated version of the exceptional Seven Kingdoms gameplay in Seven Kingdoms: Conquest , you will be seriously disappointed. Conquest , while offering some originality, still lacks the charm and sophistication found in its first two successful releases. The lack of support for present-day widescreen resolutions and the obvious quality control problems of the initial release severely reduce the title's overall playability and enjoyment. Although I did experience a few moments of satisfaction while playing Seven Kingdoms: Conquest , they were fleeting.
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