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Conquest of Elysium 3
Posted On 3/18/2012
Turn-based fantasy is another of those genres that's been abandoned by conventional publishers, and a shame too; I spent way too much time playing Heroes of Might & Magic III (IV and V were disapppointments). Illwinter is a small indie developer in Sweden keeping the genre alive, however; they're best known for Dominions, but that game is so rich, detailed, and complicated that while fans of the genre mostly love it, the barrier to entry for new players is inordinately high.
The Conquest of Elysium games are an attempt to offer a simpler and quicker experience, both as a gateway drug to Dominions, and also for those who want a less time-consuming TBF fix. In this, they are not entirely successful; there's no tutorial, and while play is actually fairly simple, the UI is sufficiently obtuse that reading the manual is pretty nigh essential.
In other words, while this is a simpler game, it still has a bit of a learning curve.
Rather than the level-designed maps of most TBF games, Elysium generates a random map with each new game start, Civ-like. This of course increases replayability, but also produces the Rogue-like problem that you can be crippled at game start by ill luck (lots of tough monsters and spawn points near your starting city) or conversely have an easy time of it (many ill-defended resource sites nearby).
One excellent feature of the game is that each of the 17 races has unique capabilities and powers, so much so that you often need to change strategy when playing a new race.
As with most positive-reinforcement-loop games, you and your opponents are in a race to grab as many resource sites as possible, since mid-to-end-game strength depends on having more production capacity than your foes. This also means that, the first few times you play, you will likely lose repeatedly as you feel your way into it -- not a positive first-user experience, of course, but games of this complexity typically take a certain degree of perseverance to master.
A brief strategy guide for noobs: Leave a scant defensive force at your starting city, dividing the others between your two commanders. Move both out to grab resource sites, but be careful never to attack one with insufficient force. Bypass sites that are heavily defended; when you build up a more powerful army, you can take them later.
Do not garrison resource sites close to your city; after a time, move your weaker commander back there, and send him out on forays to kill wandering monsters that threaten these sites, or to recapture lost ones. Explore more widely with your other commander. Resource sites that are farther afield will require garrisons; a couple of archers and a couple of infantry seem to suffice in most cases (against wandering monsters, not against AI-controlled enemies).
To compare Elysium to Heroes, my touchstone game of the genre: Elysium is less colorful, and its combat system far less interesting (it's automated, with no decision-making in combat), but the powers of the races differentiate them far more than the modest differentiation of Heroes. Elysium is also graphically fairly primitive, and with awkward UI, but has far more variety than Heroes.
There is, unfortunately, no demo for Conquest of Elysium 3; however, Illwinter has released Conquest of Elysium 2 as freeware, so if you want a taste, it may suffice as a sort-of demo (links to both in the info bloc above).