Published on May 13th, 2013 | by Adam Lee
Eador: A Broken Masterpiece?
I’ve clocked up more hours on the Heroes of Might and Magic games than I’ll ever admit to myself. Some of my fondest memories are hotseat games at my friend’s house, moving our little mounted heroes around the world for 30+ hour games, our Necromantic and Stronghold armies combining against as many enemies as we could cram in. A few years ago one man began a solitary labour of love, his goal – to combine the turn-based strategy games he loved into one impossibly complex behemoth. That man was Alexey Bokulev.
Heroes of Might and Magic, Civilisation, and Masters of Magic were all mixed into his alchemical cauldron, and out crawled Eador: Genesis. Surprise success in Russia saw the quick (and not quite perfect) localisation develop a cult following, but a lack of polish saw it fall short of critical acclaim.
So Alexey turned to the fledgeling Snowbird Games, and set out with a proper team to polish the game up and make it a bit more accessible. And so we arrive at our destination, Eador: Masters of the Broken World. But did it end up a philosopher’s stone, or just another pile of fool’s gold?
Now before I get into the nitty gritty, I’ll let you in on the conversation I had with my editor, it went something like:
Me: Snowbird Games sent me a copy of Eador, it looks right up my street!
Jim: The one that takes 300 hours to understand?
Me: I played it for a few hours and it seems pretty straightforward, just has lots of depth.
Thirty hours of gameplay later…
Me: I found a button I hadn’t noticed before – it’s advanced building mode.
Jim: What did that do?
Me: Showed me the entire building tree… I’ve unlocked about an 8th of it.
Jim: You can tell me I was right now.
Me: Don’t wanna…
So, hopefully that’ll give you some idea of the bowel-quivering depth on offer here – I’m about 50 hours in and I’ve still got a long way to go to grasp every nuance. So I’ll put my cards on the table and admit I haven’t finished it yet, but since I wanted to get the review out this year, and more importantly avoid Jim beating me, I decided to share what I know so far and let you make up your own mind.
Eador is a hex based strategy game, which you probably guessed from the screenshots. The castle in the centre is your base of operations, as you progress past each ring of hexes the difficulty increases, so normally the hardest areas are those halfway between you and your opponent. A feature which stops a quick rush to win unless you’re very sneaky.
There’s four heroes to choose from, a warrior who hits things, a scout who, well, scouts, a wizard who casts things and finally the commander who can have the biggest bestest army. Each one finds its niche at some point, for example a warrior will give your campaign strong start and take down armies by himself once fully equipped, but fall easy prey to a wizard’s control spells.
The scout’s particularly handy since he’s better at exploring hexes or “provinces” – exploration has a chance to uncover various features ranging from resources, to demonic dens full of treasure. So even when you’re not quite strong enough to progress to the next ring, you can still explore the immediate area to bridge the gap.
There’s also a multitude of random events which you’ll have to act up, but choose wisely or you’ll be facing down your revolting peasantry as they take up arms against you. On the other hand, if you’ve placed guards in the province you can crush them beneath your empirical boot heel. The nerve of these people.
Guards are one of the things I can’t decide if I love or hate in Eador, while they’re great for adding a depth of strategy (as they all have upkeep costs), they can be absolutely devastating if someone finds a rare one and places it in a choke-point. To give you an example, during one game I found the Phoenix guards, a very high level unit way beyond what either I or my AI opponents could create. This meant I was able to pin down both opponents simultaneously, which while good for my success, made me realise that if the computer had got to them first, there was no way my army would have been able to defeat them.
The building tree I hinted at earlier is absolutely insane. Most choices lock out others, and a good chunk of structures are either good, evil or neutral. So think carefully when the peasants ask to raise an idol in the town square, opting to chop them into pieces and hang the tiny chunks in its place is going to reduce your Karma, and most likely upset the province as well.
While Orc and Goblin provinces may embrace your brutality, the Elves and Fairies will be more likely to rebel. So if you decide you want a bunch of pointy eared hippies in your corner, you’d better start cuddling puppies and throwing gold at villagers. Evil units don’t like good ones and vice versa, so having a mixed army will impact morale – if it ever reaches zero, your brave warrior will run away screaming and be of no use. Watching his best friends being slaughtered around him won’t help either.
Apart from that, combat is pretty straightforward. Each unit has the usual array of statistics, and levelling up unlocks new but familiar abilities – my necromancer summoned infectious zombies, and my pikemen pierced armour. Between experience, abilities, and awards for feats of valour, veteran units become significantly more valuable than new recruits So much so you’ll find yourself shedding a tear when they die – I’m still mourning my favourite zombie, Bert. Damn you exorcism spell!
At level 10 heroes can specialise with a second class; maximise your physical prowess as a Berserker by doubling up on warrior skills, or become a Dark Knight able to drain the life from slain foes by mixing in some wizardry. It’s another simple concept which unlocks surprising depth. When it comes to selecting them the interface isn’t as smooth as I’d like, it’s quite easy to accidentally order hero 1 to where you wanted hero 2, thankfully there’s time to sort out any screw-ups before completing the turn.
Unfortunately, the UI being a little bit clunky is far from the worst problem you’ll find in Eador, let me put Snowbird’s forum post up first and then I’ll go into more detail.
Eador. MotBW is the first big project for our small team and clearly we were not completely ready for the international release. Seeing how many problems are caused by the difference in PC configurations, we realize that we should have tried to go with the ‘Early Access’ option first. Unfortunately, we couldn’t foresee the current outcome back in January when the game was greenlit to be on Steam.
In the next few days we’ll fix the the siege and story progression bugs, add ‘hotseat’ mode and an option for private matches in the multiplayer. A more detailed list of the upcoming fixes will be posted on this board on Monday.
Now credit where it’s due, the almost-weekly patches have made a massive difference but there are still a lot of issues. Heroes can randomly die from any event, and the strategy map sometimes freezes meaning the only way to finish is to let the computer auto-run the match for you, but it’s the Karma bug that wins the prize for most frustrating. Karma is supposed to be consistent between levels, affecting your choices in story areas – at the moment it’s not being saved meaning you’re permanently neutral, locking out a multitude of choices and preventing any RPG elements from shining through.
Now I expect all of these to be sorted soon, and to be fair I find it amusing when my hero gets randomly killed after a neighbouring province throws a party (never trust those mince pies), but most of the bugs are things that really should have been caught well before release. The many, many threads on the technical issues will stop a lot of people from giving the game the attention it deserves.
It’s to Snowbird’s credit that even with all its issues, I’ve found the game incredibly engaging with a depth of strategy I didn’t expect to find. I know this is blasphemous, but it’s probably my favourite example of turn-based strategy and that’s not a laudit I surrender easily. Who knows what I’d have thought if it wasn’t buggy as hell.
There is one more caveat though; currently the multiplayer lets you face off army vs army, but not share full games with both tactical and strategic maps. A hotseat mode will be a welcome addition for friend vs AI conquering, but for now it’s just straightforward battles or single player.
So yes, if you have the patience to struggle through the bugs, are not easily drowned in tactical depth, and are willing to shell out the bargain price of £14.99 for a what could easily be hundreds of hours, then Eador is great. But honestly don’t hurry, every week you leave it is another bug fixed.