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SummaryA quite enjoyable little game that you can try whenever you have, even literally, a minute to spare.
The GoodWhen I first stumbled upon Empires of Arkeia, I saw it listed as a “tactical” game, which implied that it somehow differed from the countless tower defense games that keep spawning lately. And it does differ from that basic formula, largely due to the fact that it puts you in the role of the general tasked with securing an area instead of simply holding a position against waves of enemies. As such, you will need to attack and advance, starting by liberating a number of villages plagued by pirates, raiders or strange creatures and ending with taking the fight to the enemy, which gives a sense of progression and also provides some plausible explanation for facing such different and increasingly stronger units as you advance through the campaign.
However, this isn’t to say that the game simply turned the concept around, becoming a “tower offense” game. The defense portion is still there as well, as you will need to look after your own base while trying to destroy the enemy’s, which certainly puts the game on another level compared to those that focus solely on one of the two concepts.
Another good aspect of the game, adding another layer of complexity, is the pretty large amount of upgrades that are available, which allow a significant degree of customization of your units and, coupled with the almost equally large number of different units that can be unlocked over the course of the campaign and with the special abilities that many of those units have, make way for a large number of strategies. And I do need to mention that you upgrade those skills by directly spending the experience earned as a result of your victories, which I will once again say that I strongly prefer over anything that involves the quite senseless concepts of levels or skill points.
The fact that you can see the statistics of each of your units, as well as those of any enemy unit that took part in any of the battles that you already won, in detail also helps in making this skill system perhaps even more meaningful, as in most cases you’ll be able to notice the exact effect each skill increase has on each of the units that are of particular interest to you and determine for yourself whether further increases are a good idea at that particular moment or you should instead focus on something else. In many other games, you can find yourself wondering why a certain strategy isn’t working, but here, especially since the damage and hit points of all units and the results of most special abilities are fixed, you can often work out the numbers for yourself to see the outcome of each strategy and the exact effects of each upgrade.
Last but certainly not least when it comes to the positive aspects is that which most players will probably care about the most, namely how the battles themselves play out. About this, all I can say is that they feel quite rewarding and that the pace is excellent, not quite overwhelming but never giving you time to pause either. With the proper strategy, winning will generally take around one minute or even less, with a few battles possibly being won in as little as 30 seconds if you really try, and that’s without replaying any of them to gain additional experience, so you can quite literally play this game whenever you have a minute to spare… Which minute may well turn into many more when you’ll find yourself thinking “just one more fight” several times in a row…
The BadThe first negative aspect that I need to mention is the lack of some sort of help in the game. Yes, you get a brief tutorial at the start of the first battle, which oddly enough repeats itself at the start of the legendary mode as well even though many other dialogs no longer appear in that mode, but a game like this could probably do with more, especially considering that many of those who regularly play Flash games may be expecting something simpler.
The main problem, however, is that the game seems to want to hold back its own complexity at some point, and that point comes disturbingly early. It’s rather annoying to find yourself arbitrarily restricted to just six active units for each battle when you can have up to 22 unlocked, but what’s perhaps worse is that you probably won’t even use that many. The most effective strategies tend to imply the use of two to four unit types, with one more being brought in at the very end of each battle once you’ll unlock it, and all those unit types may well be selected from those you unlock relatively early on.
The issue has to do with the fact that the enemy has far greater numbers and raw power than wits, which means that trying to find the most efficient way counter its units will quickly become a losing strategy but also that it won’t exactly be trying to counter yours either. Coupling that with the fact that different upgrades are required for different units and, perhaps more importantly, that most special abilities tend to be unique to a certain unit type, which makes it hard to make room for newly unlocked units even though their base attributes may well be far better than those of the ones you already have, it means that you’ll pretty much ignore all the new options that open up to you as soon as you’ll discover a winning strategy. As a result, nearly all of the units unlocked in the latter part of the normal campaign will amount to nothing more than so many new pictures in the barracks tab.
And, while I’m at it, I also need to mention an issue with unit speeds. When the units differ so much in their other attributes and abilities, it’s strange to see only three speeds, and even stranger that not even those are properly used, with all but a few units having the exact same speed. It’s both odd to see light and heavy units have the same speed, which also ignores any implied degree of training, and rather disappointing to notice the lack of any skills that can improve speed. When a fair amount of attention seems to have been given to all other attributes, this is a lost opportunity.
Under “miscellaneous” complaints I could file the fact that the point that units need to reach in order to be considered as having reached the enemy base is behind the point where new units are created, which means that you may create a unit before you see your base being damaged only to find said unit walk calmly away while the enemy gets through behind it. Or that both of the above mentioned points are off screen, which means that some fights may be entirely invisible to the player. Or that at least the supposedly optional battles should have been made to stand out in some way, such as by adding different terrain types or enemy fortifications, to make the “optional” part actually have a point. Or that it’d have been nice to also have the units you faced in the battles you lost show up in the library, so you’ll have an easier time figuring out what to do against them. Or, if I’m to nitpick, even the times when the text doesn’t fit the dialog box and a word or two may not appear.
But all of that falls either under nitpicking or under suggested improvements, possibly for future games. However, what I think really must be noted is the lack of some sort of separate save feature. Yes, the game does save everything you do as soon as you do it, so you can close your browser, open it again and continue right away, but clear your cookies and you’ll have to start over. That may work for games that are over in a few minutes or for those found on social networking sites, which can store your progress on their own and associate it with your profile, but when you have a game like this, that will take you a few hours to complete and that can’t have such “cloud” services available to it, a way to create a save file that you could really hold on to would have been more than welcome.
The Bottom LinePlaying a Flash game is very unusual for me, not happening for years, and I’m reasonably certain that this is the first time I actually completed one, so I thought I might as well go one step further and review it too, especially since I already wrote a brief strategy guide for it (see under tips & tricks). Understandably, despite certainly being more complex than I expected such a game to be, considering my extremely poor opinion of the genre and of Flash itself, there’s little actual content in it compared to the games I’m used to playing, but I did what I could.
Overall, it won’t make me change my opinion about Flash games in general or look into more of them, but I may give the other ones created by the same developer a try someday, if I’m bored enough. That’s because, while only scratching the surface of what I’d like to see in games in general, it really does offer a degree of complexity than I thought was generally beyond the genre, because it has a great pace and offers you a decent sense of accomplishment mixed with that “just one more battle” feeling, and because, past all the issues that I pointed out, it’s a well-made and quite enjoyable little game that you can try whenever you have, even literally, a minute to spare.