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Review: Oriental Empires (PC)By Dragon0085 At 08.10.2017 15:23

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It's rare that a video game feels educational, but most will likely learn more about Chinese history just deciding what empire to play in Oriental Empires than most of their high school history class. As a 4X strategy focused heavily on historical accuracy, this comes as both a blessing and a curse depending on the orientation of the player. This has some interesting and cool things going for it, but as far as a 4X goes, it feels rushed and not ready for release.

At the beginning, players select one of a few different clans, all of which have special powers. Some are locked and can only be played after surviving so many turns. The history put into it is actually cool. Each clan starts in a different part of China (which corresponds to actual different terrain in game), with historical enemies nearby. Graphically and audio-wise this gets high marks. The Asian music and the Chinese terrain are very well done, and the entire Chinese motif is solid, which leads back to the point of its historical accuracy.

In many ways the game is a clone of Civilization, at least overtly on the map. Basics like throw cities down, expand for resources, go fight enemies. It is simple, but it works. Much of the game is in fact simpler. The cities themselves are much more hands-off in that there is a few buildings to build and some farms to upgrade, but in general little time will be spent with them. Armies are sent around the map, uncovering new terrain, a few little events and finally enemy civilizations. The A.I. and the diplomacy seems a little buggy as many will be 'friendly' and suddenly declare way on you despite having no military or reason for it.

The oddest part is the way constructing military units works: there is a capacity each city can sustain and at any time can instantly built up to this capacity. Afterwards there is a cool down until more can be built. The building of units is a little odd, and it leads to strange situations of moving on an enemy city, where it will say 'no defenders' and then next turn a huge army is suddenly marshalled and destroying your own.

Oriental Empires suffers from many minor issues like this that drag it down. User interface problems are common, such as when the player zooms in and out that it does not stay in the same position. Camera problems are never overt enough to be rage-inducing but are consistent annoyances while shifting around the map. Other things like selecting towns or seeing what other units are doing is a touch too hard and feels clunky.

One thing this did different, but did not work out well was a type of 'simultaneous combat' system. The game is turn-based, but each turn takes place at the same time. The turns then resolve in a pseudo-real-time of the units running to their destination. If they cross paths they fight. Combat, unfortunately is the worst part of the game.

Other than problems of units randomly running away, the annoyance of trying to chase a unit down, or no clear indication how strong something is, combat itself lacks strategy and might as well be a dice roll. Loosely, units have stats like health, damage and armour; further there are different tactics they can use such as flanking. Mixed with the units moving in during the real time portion, it was clear they might have been going for some type of Total War-like game of tactical planning.

The reality though is combat is painfully random. Superior numbers and units routinely lose to small groups; oddities like a squad getting killed down to a few left that suddenly rout the enemy force happen far more than should ever occur. Killing an enemy or sacking a city often takes 8x what the defender has simply due to how odd combat can turn against the player. To be blunt, this is a major negative in here.

Research itself like many aspects feels like something vital is missing. There are four branches, all of which are researching simultaneously. Most of them are nothing important other than +1 bonuses to aspects of your group, it feels more like a time mechanism to move forward than anything else.

On the surface, and even a few turns in, this seems wonderful. It is only with sticking with it for a longer period of time many of its issues become apparent. The strategy of cities/research is nearly non-existent which leaves only exploration and combat. The inability of strategy to effectively matter in combat kills the only other salvation the game might offer. Historically it is interesting, but the game overall needs serious polish to recommend beyond just being average.

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Final Score
The translation of history into a video game is one of the best parts of the game. The units, groups and terrain are all very accurate to Chinese history. While many of the elements look great on the surface, there simply isn't enough depth to any of the systems to feel like a true 4X. The largest failing is the combat system with a randomness that destroys strategy. It all feels rushed and unpolished. While there is something that could be great under it, it is not ready yet.

5

/10

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