by Sergio Brinkhuis
reviewed on PC
What lies beyond
#Crash#. About an hour’s worth of gameplay down the drain, for the fourth time in a row. I think I’m giving up, not having been able to finish a single map so far. You might think “I hope he saved”, but you can’t. There’s just no save option in the menu. If you crash, everything is gone. Playing Citadels, I found out just how tough it is to love a game when it has no intention to reciprocate.
Citadels’ campaign centers around the legend of King Arthur, or so it tells me. As I haven’t been able to play past the tutorial, I have to take that at face value. Actually, I don’t, because what little I have been able to see of the game doesn’t instill a whole lot of confidence in what lies beyond the crashes.
It starts with the opening sequence. There’s a bunch of text on a low quality background that looks something like a medieval tapestry. You click and it gives you a bland, unimaginative briefing about what you are about to do in your first mission. There is nothing to tickle your imagination, nothing to get you into the spirit of medieval castle building.
Next you find yourself staring at the map that makes up the tutorial mission. The tutorial itself is rather unclear and for example points out where to build a new tower, but not where to build your stone quarry and iron mine. Neither of these location types are particularly obvious, nor is the actual requirement to scout out suitable locations. Worse, the game will let you build these wherever you want without any indication that the surrounding land cannot support the building type. The result was that I was randomly placing these two buildings in the hopes of finding the lucky spot. I knew it couldn’t be the way to go about it, but I literally had no idea what the game was asking of me.
Actually, it was sheer luck having found the buildings that the tutorial required me to build as the menu icons are absolute brain-wreckers. With the exception of the icon that opens up the defensive buildings and the icon that lets you build a shed, most icons resemble nothing so much as bunch of thrown together scribbles. You’ll figure out the build paths sooner or later but it’s hardly intuitive and – Citadels being a real-time strategy title – hardly conducive of speedy building.
The same goes for the weird foldout menu that pops out of the menu area when you click on the town hall. The health bar that it shows speaks for itself, but it also holds a dial that lets me increase something in increments of 10%... but 10% of what? Taxes? Spawn speed of new villagers? Minimum repair status? Whoever designed Citadels’ interface seems to have been a little out of his depth.
Once you’ve built up all the required buildings for a basic economy, you can start thinking about your defenses. Acquiring basic soldiers and archers can be done easily by sending peasants to the suitable training grounds. Once they come out all trained up, it is best to have some walls to put them on.
I decided to expand upon the tower that I built during the tutorial, only to find that it was so inconveniently located that it would have been better to start anew. From looking at the map, you would think that you had plenty of room to build new walls and towers to complete the defense, but the map is strewn with small objects such as trees and rock outcroppings that have a wide ‘no building zone’ around them. Together, they conspire against any logical placement of walls and a single tree can put a dent into even the most carefully considered wall placements. Adding to the frustration is the peasants' haphazard refusal to continue the construction of wall sections that they had not originally been instructed to build. As most walls consist of several sections, you will be ordering to continue building multiple times.
Once built, a cleverly devised system lets you easily add an entrance on any side you would like, as well as catapults and ballistae that can be automated for defense. You’ll have to be careful with those though, as they will happily fire at targets close to your walls and towers, damaging your own defenses in the process.
It’s been a while since I had to write a review based on 4 hours of gameplay, but if I am having all these game breaking crashes, then others will have them too. Yet even if Citadels had not crashed as often as it did, I don’t think it would have had many redeeming factors.
There is just nothing there that spices up the basic RTS mechanics and while some of the buildings are nicely designed, the graphical fidelity doesn’t even come close to the screenshots that were released prior to the game’s release. If the developers had spent even half as much time on the graphical prowess of the game’s engine as they obviously did on Photoshopping screenshots, then the game would have at least had some appeal.
It is clear that a lot of hard labor went into Citadels, but it is difficult to ascertain whether it was a labor of love. If it was, it never shines through. Citadels feels empty of spirit, empty of passion and the crashes destroy what little fun there is to be had playing it.
Not many castle builders around.
Where to start…