rts

From Out of Nowhere: Seven Kingdoms 2 HD

sk2hd I had just mentioned in a previous post how every game from the last twenty years was getting a remake of some kind. I just happened upon this one when I noticed that GOG.com was giving me a free update to a game. Little did I know that one of my favorite strategy games of all time was getting an HD remake with some new features, new support (a new patch has just been released), and the music finally works (the previous version offered by GOG.com had some problems there).

But what is this Seven Kingdoms 2, and why are their more than seven kingdoms you can play?

The first Seven Kingdoms was released in 1997, when RTS games were entering their heyday. Command & Conquer, Warcraft, Starcraft, and Age of Empires ruled the scene and featured fast-paced base building, direct control over villager/peon/constructor units to gather multiple resources, and, aside from a smattering of diplomacy and “trade” in some cases, you sent your assortment of units into the fray and hoped they came out of battle victoriously.

Seven Kingdoms was one of the first RTS games to feature elements more common to turn-based strategy games, like a more robust diplomacy system, enhanced and functional trade for resources, and even espionage. Combat was straight forward with just a few types of units and you made critical decisions in real time.

Seven Kingdoms 2: The Fryhtan Wars is the sequel and features a 3D terrain engine, several more human cultures, and the ability to play the evil Fryhtans, which appeared in the first game as monsters who hoarded treasure. In the sequel, they boast one of the most notable new features. The Fryhtan cultures each have their own distinct feel and abilities, but otherwise they are more combat oriented, so they provide a nice change of pace from the more involved gameplay of the human cultures.

Human gameplay revolves around trade, combat, research, and espionage, most which have received upgrades from the previous game. Trade for resources is essentially the same. Build a mine to gather raw materials. Build a factory to make refined products. Sell them at a market to your own people or to other kingdoms via trade caravans. This trade opens up more diplomacy where you can make friends, allies, or enemies, and even make some money selling excess food, or pay tribute to keep an aggressive neighbor at bay. sk2gameplay Combat has been revamped significantly. You train soldiers at forts, which also can serve as defenses with their missile towers, and as you keep soldiers in forts they gain more skill in combat to become better fighters, or even in leadership to become good generals or even kings if your current one dies. Each kingdom also has a unique unit that represents its cultural heritage such as Egyptian chariots or Celtic druids, and a unique deity to summon occasionally whose temple also provides a unique bonus. Combat is relatively simple, with no rock-paper-scissor mechanics worry about. However, a mix of ranged attacks and melee allows for some tactical variations and other machines of war like catapults, cannons, and more can be researched and built to augment your forces. Hero units and carry-able artifact that provide bonuses and abilities also provide a unique way to specialize your units.

Research also leads to other things besides new war machines, unlike its predecessor, like improved unit tactics and better espionage skills. Espionage is one of this series’ most notable features, and few other games, if any, have developed anything similar that can even compare. In this game you train spies that can infiltrate other kingdoms and towns where they can create unrest, steal technology, sabotage buildings, or even become soldiers and generals. From there they can bribe other units into your web of spies, or attempt to assassinate enemy generals or even kings. The most prestigious achievement in this game’s espionage is to have your spy become promoted to an enemy general. With that general/spy or any other you can assassinate the enemy king, and have your own spy become the new king. With that you can turn over control of an entire kingdom to your own, all without having to fight a single battle.

There are a couple of drawbacks. First of all, there are no oceans and seas like in the previous game which means no new continents to discover full of untapped resources or undiscovered kingdoms to befriend or fight. I will say that once you get fully involved in the gameplay, you won’t even notice a lack of water since things keep moving pretty briskly. New towns emerge, as well as new kingdoms, and you’ll be zig zagging across the map in pursuit of new acquisitions and resources. There are also impassible mountain ranges that can alter the composition of the random maps, but there is still nothing like sending a fleet of ships across an ocean to engage in battle or carry villagers to new lands.

Secondly, the included campaign mode is mostly just random maps with some occasional objectives and the story it follows is not memorable. Still, it offers something like Rise of Nation’s world domination campaign, so it’s worth one or two play throughs.

Overall, this game is a jack of all trades and truly a master of none (except espionage, where it excels!!!). It is, though, a master of being a jack of all trades. Very few games have succeeded in providing this much gameplay. Rise of Nations and Sins of a Solar Empire come to mind as the only other games that have had success with this type of gameplay. Still, Seven Kingdoms 2 carves out its own niche that neither one of those games can claim. It’s great to see one of my favorite strategy games from the past get a glorious HD makeover (well… makeover is a little strong, but it still looks good). Maybe there is more in store for the future of this series, but even if not, there is a lot here that I have been missing. You can find this gem either at GOG.com, or on Steam. sk2title

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Homeworld Remastered is Here

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It seems like every game is getting remade nowadays. The Curse of Monkey Island got one. Tomb Raider got one. Age of Empires 2 got one. Even Baldur’s Gate got one. So it was only a matter of time before a high profile series like Homeworld got one.

Released in 1999, and spawning a stand alone expansion and a sequel, the Homeworld series is a fully 3D real time strategy experience that features a free moving camera in an outer space environment where you can watch your space ships pew pew each other in glorious freedom. At the time, its interface was revolutionary and allowed you to zoom and twist your camera to view the gameplay in unrestricted ways.

Now that it has been remastered, you can play this game on modern rigs and relive the days when this game was an RTS king. The graphics are wonderful, and combined with its top notch story and production values, you’ll get a beautiful tour through the galaxy.

My original experience with the game was hampered by a PC that couldn’t handle the graphics. I had to choose between poor graphics or poor gameplay and eventually gave up on both. Now I can finally sink my teeth into both and still get updated features. Furthermore, Homeworld Remastered includes the sequel so you can go all the way with the story, and even the original games if nostalgia bites you.

The gameplay is just as you remember (Almost. The first game has been remastered with the sequel’s engine, which alters certain features accordingly). In fact, I actually got bored with the first couple of missions because they were just like before.

Speaking of gameplay, it is of the RTS kind, which features the same kind of rock-paper-scissors unit assortment you’d expect with various weaknesses and advantages. The focus, however, isn’t on base building and complex resource gathering, but rather showcases tactics. Most of the time you must manage your resources and units carefully from mission to mission as you don’t always get the chance to rebuild everything from scratch.

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This kind of gameplay works well in the 3D environment, which is good, because that’s about all there is to the game. Tactical engagements are the main focus here. Build your units, send them to battle, and watch them fly around space. This means that your time will feel bipolar, switching often between slow resource gathering and manic battle.

At the time of this game’s original release, this was great since it’s interface and graphics were second to none. Now, we have games like Sins of a Solar Empire which feature the same kind of gameplay, but with added features from turn based strategy games that really flesh out the whole experience. Homeworld’s gameplay isn’t bad, it’s just very focused, which can seem limited compared to today’s offerings.

I still have fun exploring the story, and the wonderful soundtrack and graphics really sell the game. Even the skirmish mode adds some intense gaming sessions. Most of the time I still find myself yearning for more complex gameplay after a while.

Add Homeworld Remastered to your list of anniversary, HD, enhanced versions of classic games. It’s a fun game to play through, especially if you missed out on it over a decade ago. Don’t expect anything groundbreaking compared to what we have now. Homeworld already did that back in the day. This ride is purely for nostalgia’s sake.