Turn-based strategy games can be a huge source of fun and a black hole which consumes all of your time without you knowing. Especially if they are well designed with many details to look at during each turn. You can find yourself managing every single aspect of your empire in one turn. In the next one, you can just see them burned to the ground. You have to plan everything beforehand to be able to succeed.
Overall, the genre has seen a huge interest from many gamers around the world. Many huge titles attracted them with their deep, complicated mechanics covering economy, strategy, social policies and military aspects. Now, we stand in front of another turn-based strategy game, Oriental Empires.
The features that I’ve mentioned above might sound familiar to you if you played games like Civilization, Total War or Crusader Kings II. All three of them are the best ones that we can compare this game with. And, as we will see right now, this game has many common things with these games. On the other hand, it has many others which make this game unique.
Before we start, I would like to thank the developers for hosting us in a multiplayer event and playing with us. It was fun and honestly it was pretty impressive and much better than I had expected. Even for an early-access game (it was on early-access when we tested it), the game ran smoothly without any connection problems. I can imagine that it is still the same now. Also, just like the single player campaign, multiplayer was also pretty fast and well implemented. That being said, we can continue on talking about the game.
Total Crusader Civilization!
Developed by Shining Pixel Studios and published by Iceberg Interactive, Oriental Empires stands between all these three games – and probably a couple of others that I do not remember. The first time you step into the map, you automatically realize that you see something familiar. A big part of this game really reminds me of Civilization franchise along with other little features similiar to the ones in Total War and Crusader Kings II. Many mechanics, from building your cities to the economy system, politics etc. look like these games. However, I would like to put a huge ‘BUT’ here as it is not that simple and obvious! I accept that the basics of these games are pretty familiar, yes. But, the way it is built and designed indicate that there is a unique part about it.
However, this is only the tip of the iceberg and just a small part of a huge game. So, before anything else, let’s take a look at the main features of the game.
First of all, the Chinese theme makes this game really enjoyable. Especially after playing games which mainly focus on the ‘Western’ world, this game offers an interesting experience. Let’s start from the beginning. At first, you get to chose between different factions (dynasties) and all of them have unique characteristics. Some of them are good at military, some of them are not, so they focus on cultural developments. This characteristics are pretty simple and usually they do not offer anything particularly game changing. Yes, if you chose a military focused dynasty and want to finish the game with your culture level, you can. It is not impossible. But, your initial choice dictates – hopefully in a small percentage – how you play the game.
One of the best features of this game is the different victory possibilities. There are four kinds of different ways to win the game. You can just slaughter every single enemy and dominate the land or you can boost up your culture level to be the cultural leader of the era. If you are not interested in these, you can also be recognized as the emperor by all the other factions in the game or you can simply wait for the maximum turn count to be reached and win or lose according to your points.
Sounds familiar? Then you have played enough Civilization games to see that. Honestly, I do not see any problem in that in general as it is a good way to construct a winning condition mechanic. However, I also have to accept that this familiarity can be annoying from time to time. Sometimes it makes you feel like you’re playing a game that you have known for years.
Be the ultimate general
So, let’s say you chose a dynasty with military advantages. You want to fight all the time and finish the game by being the most ruthless conqueror of all times! Well, good luck doing that and do not expect any help if you pass the diplomatic limits with other leaders. Things can easily get dirty.
First of all, I’d like to say that the combat system is a good mixture of both Civilization and Total War series. You do not have a huge siege ‘simulation’ like it is in Total War and you do not have a simplistic combat scene like in Civilization. This makes the combat mechanics pretty acceptable in Oriental Empires. It is not as detailed as I would like it to be, that’s for sure. But to be honest, it is much better for a game like this where you already spend too much time in one turn managing your cities, diplomacy, economy etc.
The best thing about the combat system is the outside factors which effect the outcome. The terrain, the weather (it rains and snows), factional bonuses… all of them play a role in combat and you can easily feel the difference. In Total War, you had to control your armies around these factors and had to find a good way to best your opponent. The strategic part was huge in that game. You do the same in Oriental Empires but you do it in a simpler, easier way. You give orders to your armies from the small panel at the bottom of the screen. Moreover, you can move your armies to a higher ground and have the advantage. You have many possibilities and you will not get lost among them.
Reconstruct the Silk Road
Other than the combat mechanics, economy and politics play a huge role in this game. You can disagree or agree with other factions and decide if you want to have war or peace, demand or give money, ask for information about enemies and so on. This part is probably the most Civilization like part of the game. On the diplomacy screen, you see a familiar UI that you’d seen before. There is the other leader in front of you and there are choices down below. You ask or offer things so that eventually he accepts or declines. We can call this a ‘basic diplomacy system’, nothing less, nothing more.
When it comes to the economy, things change a little bit. The best way to stabilize your economy – is to control the unique resources and trade them. To be able to do that, you should build your cities next to these grids. A city which is built next to two or more resources will get your economy up in no time. As usual, you build roads to connect your cities, build markets, bazaars, trading posts etc. However, do not think that it is just that simple. The first 20-30 rounds of the game can hold a huge ‘resource war’ if there is a good spot on the map and a couple of other factions who really need the resources on that spot…
However, you should be careful about your city management. If you construct all the buildings that you can before stabilizing your economy, you can find yourself in trouble. So, first thing is first…Build a strong economy! And don’t forget to build farms to boost up your population as you will need them to work hard in the future.
Introduction to an empire 101
Another important part about the game is the research panel where you can chose your technological or cultural advancements. This panel will shape your play style. There are four options in total. ‘Power’ tab is the military tab where you discover new units, buildings, tactics etc. ‘Craft’ tab is your production tab where you can choose between economy boosting silk production, better weapons and armor or things like paper. ‘Thought’ is basically your ‘religious’ tab. You improve the basics of eastern cultural beliefs and so far this tab is my favorite since it is the only one which offers interesting texts. And lastly, ‘Knowledge’ is your technological, scientific tab where you improve your…well…knowledge basically. You improve your knowledge of medicine for example to lower the casualties for each combat scene.
However, the problem about this part is that you don’t realize the impact soon enough. You will have to advance a little bit to be able to see new units, new buildings and their effects. This is not a problem, don’t get me wrong. It just feels a little too simple. But all in all, this is the initial step of your victory as this tab will let you succeed faster or slower depending on your tech choices.
Some of this, some of that
The mechanics that I’ve presented above are the main ones which forms the core of the game. Combat, economy, diplomacy and research. The game rolls around these aspects and offers an interesting Eastern culture based game. Another interesting part of the game is the random encounters you can find on the map as you explore it. They can have both positive and negative impact on your characters, your economy and your leaders.
The leaders are the unique characters that you can control as a unit (as it is in Total War) or with armies. They have unique stats which help the combat, city development, economy etc. This is a factor that you should pay attention to, because if the faction leader dies, things can get a little chaotic. All in all, these features offer a well designed and well balanced game. However, just like all the other games, this one also has some negative parts.
Yin and Yang
First of all, even if I think the combat system is acceptable, I do believe that it can be annoying for some people. I think it is not that ‘captivating’ for some to enjoy the game. And sometimes they can be a little annoying especially when you have to chase an army for a couple of turns. Although the sound effects are pretty good, the absence of voice acting makes you feel a little lonely. Giving a couple of sentences to faction leaders or units would have been much better. Instead, the only thing you hear is the music and combat sounds.
Being an isometric strategy game however, is not easy sometimes. The visuals are fine. You wouldn’t expect more from this genre. To be honest, I think the textures and the animations are pretty satisfying. It could be better of course but it is not the main feature of the game. So, don’t expect a game with incredible visuals or sound effects. This game offers a mediocre sound and graphics. Which, as I’ve said before, is pretty fine especially if you put other mechanics in consideration. So don’t worry. The lack of sounds and graphics won’t bother you at all when you focus on your economy and your armies. And, believe me you will lose the track of time by doing so.
The visuals are not ‘that’ great. Also they are not bad at all, don’t get me wrong. It could have been better…that’s all I’m saying. Along with the visuals, sound effects are absent most of the time. The music is good. It reflects the atmosphere with far-eastern tunes. But the in-game sound effects, voice acting or even the combat sounds are not enough.
- Well designed strategy elements
- Simplistic and balanced mechanics
- Easy combat options
- Challenging late game
- Tons of well implemented details
- Strategy aspects seems pretty familiar, can get boring after a while
- Combat animations have a couple of minor issues
- Sound effects are not good enough and absent most of the time
- Can consume the time in a blink of an eye
Oriental Empires was reviewed using the Steam key provided by the publisher.