PC Game Review of Eador: Genesis

Dan Smith, 20 February 2013

Developer: Alexey Bokulev and Publisher: Snowbird Games (Russia)

 

Mix three parts “groggier version of Heroes of Might & Magic”, one part “more RPG’ish version of Dominions”, add in a dash of Eastern European difficulty, and you’ve got Eador: Genesis. It’s a one-man labor of love by Russian developer Alexey Bokulev, with all of the good (and only a few of the drawbacks) that comes with such a bare-bones resource model. For $6, it’s a steal!

The Good: Challenging AI, Deep Game Play, Good Replay Value, Whole is Greater than the Sum of the parts
The Bad: Poor English-language documentation, Basic Graphics, Unforgiving Game Play

Introduction

Eador: Genesis is a Turn-Based Strategy game set in the High Fantasy milieu. It features a non-linear campaign game, but 95% of the gameplay will be spent in the tactical game fighting for individual Shards (Shards = Astral provinces). Genesis features multiplayer functionality only via Hotseat play.

Eador: Genesis developed a significant cult following since its launch in Russia in 2009, but the English-language version only hit markets in late 2012. A port of Genesis, known as Eador: Masters of the Broken World, will feature enhanced graphics, an improved UI, and additional game play enhancements. MotBW is scheduled for release on Steam and GOG in March-April 2013, but a preview of that game is outside the scope of this review.

 

Technical Issues

Available in North American markets only on GOG as of February 2013, the game features no DRM. At English-language release, the game was plagued with a number of different Crash-to-Desktop errors, but a Hotfix published within weeks after release seems to have vanquished most such problems.

As a one-man development effort, Genesis offers only native 1024 x 768 resolution and does not run happily (if at all) on systems with lower resolution than that.

 

Game Overview

Tactical Game: Each “chapter” in a Genesis campaign is played within the Tactical Game. In each such game, the player starts out with a lone hero in an undeveloped castle within an unexplored province, and seeks to win by vanquishing all his AI opponents throughout the world.

None of the elements of the tactical game are terribly original in their own right. It’s a 4x formula that has been done before in numerous games, the best of which include the Heroes of Might & Magic (HoMM), Age of Wonders, and Disciples series. The player builds structures to provide economic boosts, access to new units or new spells, and diverse other bonuses. There are over 170 total buildings to choose from, so there’s immense variety. Heroes gain XP, items, and gold by defeating opposing monsters.

 

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My hero is now a 5th-level Ranger, and while his equipment is basic, he’s already developed strong Marksmanship and Scouting skills. His quest list is conveniently displayed.

 

The economics of the game are straight-forward. You use gold to buy everything (heroes, structures, units, buildings, equipment for your heroes, etc.) and you use gems to cast spells and help build magical buildings. Rare Special Resources (Iron, Wood, Horses, Mithril, and five others) don’t unlock units or structure types, but they do make certain purchases of each type cheaper.

 

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I’ve already conquered the provinces around my capital. I’m seeing open terrain and swamp, including a Horse Herd that I liberated from some Barbarians. This suggests a resource base to sustain mostly light infantry, cavalry, and magic-users.

 

The player explores provinces in order to grow local populations (towns and cities need more elbow room than hamlets or villages) and to find special locations, which can offer a wide and intriguing range of benefits and sometimes even advance story lines that lurk within the Campaign Game.

 

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I’ve discovered my own little Bag End! Do I plunder the do-gooder half-pints, or see how much pipe weed they have to trade?

 

What the game does do, and far better than any TBS fantasy title I’ve seen in the last five years, is weave all these diverse features together into a rich, well-balanced game that defies optimum build paths and poses constant nail-biting strategic trade-offs. A rich Player-vs.-Environment element heightens the strategic tension from Turn 1. It’s also hard. As a rabid fan of TBS fantasy for almost 20 years now, it’s particularly humbling to get my butt kicked by a PC opponent set to Beginner. Genesis seems to faithfully cater to the masochistic streak that runs through many Eastern European strategy gamers who love a challenge (anybody else every have to use mid-level Calculus to solve a quest in Space Rangers 2?).

 

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Behold! I’ve found some Ancient Ruins, which should help me on my quest to slay eight Lizard Men.

 

Combat

Combat is waged on an 8×8 hexagonal grid, using dynamics that will look familiar to anyone who’s played HoMM or any of the King’s Bounty games. Heroes are the most powerful unit in any army and the type of hero you choose (Warrior, Commander, Ranger, or Wizard) will shape the fighting style of a given army. Ranged units can shoot a number of hexes, while Melee units can only attack adjacent units (who get to counterattack if they survive). Damage = Attack – Defense (or Ranged Attack – Ranged Defense), and units die when they reach 0 HP. Some might complain that the 8×8 grid is too cramped. It does feel almost claustrophobic at times, but it’s also reminiscent of another game that’s played on an 8×8 grid: chess.

 

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But these Lizard Men are moving across the battlefield faster than I’d anticipated!

 

The game features 70 different unit types, and even encounters against AI “fodder” in the early game typically involve multiple types of units, including a mix of ranged and melee units. The addition of numerous small wrinkles (including unit special abilities and promotions, terrain bonuses, fatigue, wounds, morale, XP bonuses for the unit that kills an enemy, slow healing after combat) make battles surprisingly more complicated than in similar titles.

In a nutshell, it’s game design at its best: Simple gameplay mechanics yield very complicated gameplay dynamics and challenging strategic puzzles. Again, the comparison to chess seems reasonable.

 

The Strategic Game

While players spend very little time in the strategic game, it is one of the most innovative aspects of the title. The campaign game incorporates a slow-developing story line featuring 12 possible endings, and allows players to select which Shards they wish to attack (different Shards pose different challenges and offer different bonuses if conquered, but the two generally scale together).

Winning a Shard unlocks new buildings, new units, new spells, and other bonuses. Losing a Shard is humbling, but in a novel twist, it’s not disastrous for you or your Immortal Master. You’re expected to lose Shards occasionally in this game.

It is the very gradual progress in the strategic game that adds to the replay value of the overall game. You might conquer 5+ Shards before obtaining a blueprint for your first Level 2 creature dwelling (there are four Levels of creatures in the game), so your own force mix is evolving throughout the campaign game as your opponents do the same. It’s an intriguing design aspect, and the “one more Shard” dynamic is quite compelling.

 

The Bad

While the game play is tight and well-balanced, Genesis reveals many of the limitations of a one-man development effort. Graphics are unimpressive, and while there’s a wealth of info available via right-clicks, the lack of tooltips can be a pain.

The game is played in Iron Man mode, where players can reverse the flow of time to go back a single turn after a major defeat, but this imposes penalties. Unlike many titles, losing a Shard isn’t disastrous, but for many players this lack of save game points can be frustrating. The game generally provides decent guidance around what you’re ready to tackle, but one mistake can be disastrous for a given Tactical Game, and the trial-and-error process here can be painful.

Realism isn’t a high priority for Genesis. Like most fantasy 4x titles, it incorporates a level of abstraction into its game-play, and this could certainly turn off the most demanding of grognards.

Lastly, the campaign game can involve significant grinding. The tactical game can be sufficiently enjoyable that it’s not always a problem, but the campaign game can literally involve battles for 40-80 different Shards—and each of those battles can last between 2 and 10 hours!

 

The Ugly

Genesis struggles in the documentation department. The in-game English-language translations are surprisingly good for such a modest project, but the game ships without a manual. As mentioned above, the game-play is deep—deeper than any comparable 4x fantasy title I’ve ever run across. Core game-play mechanics, such as Alignment or Hero Progression, could each fill two or three pages in a manual, yet players are only given two or three sentences on such topics in a single tutorial.

For those gaming perfectionists who want to solve very tough and well-defined puzzles in the optimal fashion, this lack of documentation can be maddening. For those gamers happy to play through an open-ended and engaging story, puzzling out some of these individual pieces can be an exciting part of seeing where the journey takes them. There is extensive documentation online and several well-written manuals available—but only for those able to read Russian.

At this juncture, it seems that limited publisher resources are likely focused on developing a robust English-language manual for Eador: Master of the Broken Worlds. While that’s probably a sound commercial decision, it does pose challenges for Genesis.

 

Summary

If you liked single-player play in HoMM, Master of Magic or Age of Wonders, this one is a slam dunk. The depth of game play and lack of documentation can make for a steep learning curve, but for those able to bring themselves up the learning curve, it’s a deep and engrossing game with an extraordinary amount of content and an original storyline.

 

Grumpy Grog’s Take: “If the Giant Slugs or lightning-hurling Imps don’t kill you, searching for English-language documentation of the incredibly deep game mechanics just might finish the job.”

 

Bio

Dan Smith first cut his teeth on Fantasy TBS playing Master of Magic in 1995 and the original Heroes of Might & Magic a year later, and has been a passionate devotee of the genre ever since. He’s never written a game review before in his life, but he’s read enough of them that he’s decided to try his hand at it!

 

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