by Matt Porter
previewed on PC
Back in time
Last year, Hooked Gamers got a sneak peek at the upcoming Grand Ages: Medieval from Gaming Minds, published by Kalypso Media. This week, I got to get a bit more up close and personal with it. Over the course of an hour, I was shown the ins and outs of this strategy game, and I’ll now share with you everything you need to know about becoming the emperor.
You start off with a small town in Europe in 1050 AD. From there, where you explore, who you interact with, and how you go about building your empire is up to you. You have the entirety of Europe, North Africa, and a bit of the Holy Land to expand into, and, of course, you will run into resistance along the way. Opponents have their own cultures and own way of doing things, but ultimately, they have the same goal as you: become the emperor.
Explore and expand
You do this by expanding your territory. In the early game this means sending out settlers and founding new towns. Each settler has a circle around him, showing you what the influence area of the new town will be. This is to prevent you from creating a town too close to an existing one. What you want to do is cover as much area as possible without the circles overlapping. When you decide to build a town, the game will generate a real world name based on the location. For example, if you’re near London and found a new town, it’ll suggest you call it London, which is a nice touch. But you can call it Awesomeville if you so desire.
You’ll also get information about the area before your settler lays down roots. There are twenty different resources in the game, and you’ll want to have control over as many of them as possible. If you settle near the sea, you’ll probably have access to salt, which can then be used to produce meat if you have cattle. However, you won’t be able to sit content on just one or two cities. Each city has five production slots, and if your mathematical ability is any good, then you’ll have figured out that you’ll need at least four cities to cover everything you need.
Not that four cities is really enough in the long run. I was shown a save game with around 20 hours of time put into it, and with the fog of war turned off, you could see dozens, if not hundreds of cities littering the map. These aren’t just icons either, as you can seamlessly zoom right down into cities and see the individual buildings, as well as being able to click on them and see what they’re producing. Armies too are represented by actual animated figures, although one visible unit does represent a much higher number of men, so things don’t get too taxing on your hardware.
Battles happen in real time, and not a lot of micromanagement is involved. You can order units around as long as they’re not already engaged in combat, and, for the most part, you can ignore it until it’s all over. If you’re losing, you can press the flee button and your armies will become unresponsive while retreating to the nearest city.
Warfare in Grand Ages: Medieval is a tricky business, because your armies are not separate from your workforce. You can only raise troops if you have free workers in a city, and they’ll still use up resources from that city for as long as they’re nearby. Your armies also won’t last long on their own in the wilderness, and have a max range they can travel from a city before heading home. Armies put even more strain on the supply and demand based nature of the trading system, because no matter what, you have to keep your citizens happy, lest they revolt.
Thankfully, trading, although complex, can also be managed fairly well without much micromanagement. You can set up trade routes yourself, but your traders will automatically work out what is needed where, and make the trip, as long as there is a road connecting the two cities. He will also know to buy low and sell high elsewhere, so you’ll be raking in the cash without much input on your part.
As your citizens become more happy with your work, and as you expand your empire, you will rank up. Your land is measured in square kilometers, and once you pass certain milestones, you will earn more development points. These are used to spend in three separate trees: Production, Infrastructure, and Military. Depending on how you level up will determine what your main strategy will be. Will you be a warlord and invade other territories, taking cities by force? Or maybe you’ll be a rich diplomat, negotiating cities for money. Opposing players will have different personalities, but everyone has their price.
Multiplayer will be a popular way to play, especially because you can save and come back whenever, as well as replacing players with AI, or vice versa. The campaign mode lasts around 8-12 hours, and will teach you everything you need to know before opening up into a free play mode. Alternatively you can set up an open game, choose where you start, who you’re up against, how much money everyone gets, and you’re also able to change a number of difficulty settings.
Grand Ages: Medieval looks set to be a complex, yet easy to understand empire builder when it releases on September 25.