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Battle Worlds: Kronos Review

by on December 26, 2013
 

The turn-based, hex-based strategy game genre enjoyed a heyday of popularity in the 90s with titles like Panzer General and Battle Isle. It’s been quite some time since games such as these enjoyed the limelight, and it prompted indie developer KING Art Games to ask the question: what would such a strategy game look like today? Thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, they were able to bring us Battle Worlds: Kronos, a modern nod to the strategy games of old. Unfortunately, repetitive missions, faulty multiplayer, and an unwelcoming difficulty keep this otherwise entertaining strategy game from inviting me back.

Off the bat, the game goes quite a distance out of its way to paint a narrative (perhaps not so surprising coming from a developer known mostly for adventure games). It’s a cool setting: the emperor of Kronos has died and three major factions fight it out for the right to install the next emperor. In this world, this is always how the next emperor is selected, though the stakes are higher this time because technology has advanced to a point where immortality is nearly achievable (so the next emperor is gonna be the head honcho for quite some time).

However, save for a nice intro sequence that fleshes out the setting, most of the story is told through wordy, drawn-out conversations with characters in the field of battle. The writing is solid – especially for the genre – but it goes a bit overboard. There’s no voice acting, the characters are represented by static images, and the conversations take place in adventure-style question-and-answer sequences. Even the conversations themselves often stop to provide novelesque descriptions of character reactions. Ultimately, it feels like a whole lot of reading, and it slows down the pacing of a game in a genre with inherently slow pacing to begin with. It’s quite the developed universe, but I found myself wanting to click through and get back to the gameplay before long.

The visual presentation of the core experience is attractive, offering up a zoomable map that provides depth to the strictly 2D gameplay. Zooming in gives a solid level of detail along with smooth animations, and zooming all the way out provides a tactical hex map without all the bells and whistles for a crystal clear glance at the situation.

But while the visuals are inviting, the gameplay is decidedly less so, particularly in the early goings. The initial tutorial mission begins strong, explaining aspects as you play. But that process suddenly halts far too early and you’re left to your own devices. I was promptly defeated – yes, in the tutorial – feeling like I still didn’t know how to play. Eventually, I discovered many additional tutorial items elsewhere in the game’s menu that explained everything else, but it was a wholly unfriendly experience – and again, a whole lot of reading and not so much playing.

Even after reading through the remainder of the instructional items, I still managed to lose the tutorial mission several times (often accompanied by a bug that wouldn’t “fail” the mission when I lost all units, requiring me to manually quit, load, or restart). Battle Worlds: Kronos is an extremely difficult game, but that’s nothing to complain about. The problem is why it’s difficult – it doesn’t come down to strategic showdowns.

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It’s regrettable, because there is a solid strategic backbone to the gameplay in this title. Various units are on display between land, sea, and air. Some can only attack adjacent enemies and others only at range. A flanking bonus to damage is offered when you have multiple units surrounding an enemy via adjacent tiles. Units automatically counter when they’re initially attacked, a factor that can be leveraged to draw damage to units with high defensive stats and protect weaker ones. With no resource harvesting, discovering materials and capturing enemy buildings becomes paramount, while only specific units can perform each of these tasks. It’s a lot to consider, as well there should be in any hex-based strategy game worth its salt.

The issue is that these elements aren’t what the AI hangs its hat on across the thirteen campaign missions. Instead, the ludicrous difficulty is achieved through simply loading each mission with tons of enemies – far more units than the player is provided with. These enemies, upon noticing you, simply rush forward and keep their ranged units close behind. And with the flanking damage bonus, the AI has an enormous advantage due to such greater numbers. It doesn’t help that there are minimal functional differences between each map; most every battle plays out in the same fashion.

That’s not to say that there aren’t paths to success beyond save-spamming. Units gain experience through attacking and being attacked (not just defeating enemies), and the benefits from their leveling up can be rather impactful, such as earning more options for actions during their turn. Better yet, once units reach a certain level, they can be taken from mission to mission. Keeping these units alive becomes a paramount objective, offering an interesting wrinkle to gameplay. And though the challenge seems unfair (cheap, even), it’s awfully rewarding to finally come out on top. The problem is that starting the next mission seems like less and less of an attractive proposition as you continue.

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What’s the best way to circumvent sub-par AI and repetitive campaign missions? Multiplayer, of course! The solid backbone of Battle Worlds: Kronos is wonderful for some human-on-human action, especially with an asynchronous multiplayer option included if you’d prefer to chip away at a match little by little.

The multiplayer mode carries some of its own quirks, though. I could hardly find any multiplayer matches to join at first, and when I tried, joining often failed. As time has gone on, match joining has become more successful, but sometimes they’ll fail partway through – quite frustrating after piling in a bunch of turns. There’s a lot of potential here, but it’s going to require some bug fixing (fortunately, a glance at the forums shows that many fixes are in the works, and some are already implemented).

VERDICT: Battle Worlds: Kronos is a game with its heart in the right place, but it’s difficult to enjoy. Attractive presentation and intriguing strategic elements are present, but the hours of campaign gameplay are largely fluffed by an extreme level of difficulty – and that’s thanks to a ridiculous number of enemies in lieu of smart AI. If the multiplayer modes are smoothed over, they could carry the game on their own. But today, the thirteen campaign missions are a tough sell with a $34.99 asking price. Developer attention is intact so keep an eye out for updates on this title, but it’s difficult to recommend in its current state for anyone but the most ardent strategy fan.

6

DECENT. A 6/10 indicates that, while this game could be much better, it still has a fair amount to offer the player. It might be an interesting title sabotaged by its own ambition, or a game denied greater praise by some questionable design choices. Don’t avoid it outright, but approach it with caution.

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Review code supplied by publisher.

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