The Total War series on the PC has been a huge success for years, with its indepth army style tactical element appealing to a wide array of strategic gamers. XIII Century: Death or Glory is a game in a similar vein (with a lower budget) by developer Unicorn Games Studios, but is it worth your money?
XIII Century feels slightly stripped down when compared with Total War and there are far fewer game play options. XIII focuses more on mission packs where you fight alongside the medieval armies of England, Germany, France and Russia as well as the brutal armies of Genghis Khan. Each of these country based collections has five historical battles that you unlock one by one. For those interested, the French for example have Taillebourg, Muret, Benevento, Bouvines and Tagliarozzo campaigns. The English have Evesham, Falkirk, Conwy, Lincoln and Lewes. Needless to say they are all based on factual battles and have a certain sense of realism if you are heavily into history.
Fighting your way through the campaigns of all five nations is a historical tour de force and as you progress and improve in rank, you unlock more bonus battles. Many of you familiar with Total War will be already feeling this game is somewhat lacking in options, and in truth it is to a degree, however historically and (more importantly) on a fun level XIII is not to be sniffed at. Let me make it clear, this game is not for strategy novices, it is extremely difficult at times and will test the mettle of any budding war general. The army units in battle all have strengths and weaknesses and you simply cannot just rush units without preplanning and working out your flanks and terrain. For example, archers work best at height and you can’t make your cavalry charge pikemen without facing some serious consequences. So far this is nothing ground breaking, however when you analyse the unit statistics you realise how much work has gone into the battle facet of this game.
A downside to this high level of unit detail is that the game can be extremely hard to control and maintain, even at real time speeds. The interface is intuitive and well thought out however, so perhaps I am just mentally challenged! When you move the mouse pointer over unit formations you are shown banks of numbers which detail morale, the number of wounded and if your side or rear flanks have protection. This helps to ascertain if you need to make tactical alterations to the units in question to keep them alive and winning in combat.
Thankfully, unlike many strategy games, the battlefield environment plays a large part in the battle, they are so finely detailed that you can use objects within the terrain for cover, as well as for vantage points. The computer AI is surprisingly good and will do the same so it becomes a game of cat and mouse adding to the excitement! Hills are a focal point for your units, especially the archers who can reign down long distance fire on approaching foes. Rivers can let you set up defences and flanking manoeuvres if you spend time analysing the surroundings before rushing into the fray.
One of my most successful battles involved setting up a group of archers on the top of a hill with tree cover. The group of enemy soldiers below hadn’t noticed so tried to escape southwards into a ravine between two other mountains, but they weren’t aware I had a group of cavalry hiding in the pass, so they were mowed down with nowhere to turn except backwards into the arrow fire. Rest assured, when you manage to get the tactics right, this game is extremely fulfilling. I don’t think I have played a more realistic warfare strategic game, you really need to step back and think hard on every call you make, because no matter how minor they seem at the time, every decision has a repercussion.
The Artificial intelligence is absolutely brilliant, the enemy generals know the weaknesses and strengths of each unit and play to them accordingly. If you happen to leave archers exposed you can expect enemy cavalry to mow them down in minutes. A simple mistake like this can cost you the battle even if the odds are in your favour until it happens. Not only does the AI handle the attacking aspect of the game exceptionally well, but it can defend just as vehemently. Catching the enemy off guard doesn’t always spell victory as the AI can frequently bring a situation around full circle with some clever tactics if you aren’t on the top of your game. While a battle can be lost really easily with a silly mistake, winning one isn’t quite so straightforward, it will take a long succession of clever manoeuvres to become victorious.
The graphics are exceptionally well detailed, from the unit texturing to the environmental design work. All this attention to detail really helps bring the game to life on screen and to make you feel like you are standing in the shoes of the general, moving his troops on the battlefield. Unfortunately the graphics come at a price, and you will need an uber rig to power the game at high resolution with hundreds of units active on screen. A high end Intel dual or quad core with 2 gig of ram and a 8800 GTS would be an ideal system for the best experience and even then occasional frame rate hitches will be apparent.
The audio is satisfactory with some great battle sounds and ambient noises to help raise the level of immersion, however, just like the graphical side of things I experienced some popping and glitching in the heat of battle. If you do not have a top end enthusiast gaming system it may very well become unplayable when the screen is chalk full of units.
XII Century: Death Of Glory, is a thinking man’s strategy game which will appeal to extremist tacticians. If you adore the simplistic nature of the Command and Conquer series then this will probably not be for you, but don’t simply dismiss it on the depth of tactics alone because with some perseverance it proves to be an enjoyable and fulfilling experience.
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