Man, writing a harsh review really bums me out ya know? Especially when the game in question happens to be a Heroes of Might and Magic-esque turn based strategy sim. I really love ‘em, but almost no one bloody makes them anymore! I should be treasuring each and every one of them dammit! But that aside, to make a game of any genre the developers have to work their asses off at great personal expense for extended periods of time, so it’s never much fun trying to tell the general public that all that effort was in vein.
What a monumental amount of effort it must have been to make Conquest of Elysium 3! Some dudes out there obviously spent a lot of time coming up with with its elaborate fantasy world, complete with cool unique mechanics and resources for each playable race that all ties into some grand mythos that’s hidden away somewhere inside all the swads of statistics and class descriptions. Now, if only they’d focused a little more on designing the “game” part in all this, then we might actually have something real special on our hands here. As it stands, I’m sad to say that Conquest of Elysium 3* is a godawful mess.
*Let’s just call it CoE3 from now on, ok guys? My sentences are wordy enough as it is.
For one thing, the presentation is downright dire beyond belief. I realise this game probably didn’t have a six figure budget (if any at all), but that’s no excuse for it to be chock filled with all these ugly unwieldy menus and simplistic sprites. That’s only when the screen isn’t busy being almost entirely blank anyway! Funnily enough, the game’s music is actually pretty great in comparison to the point where I began to wonder if it was all just taken from some royalty-free audio collection. The sound effects on the other hand have more in common with the game as a whole; that is to say, they’re crude and somewhat irritating.
That’s enough about how awful it makes my eyes and ears feel, what is it like to actually play? Well, upon attempting to create your first empire in CoE3 you’ll quickly discover two rather pressing issues: 1) Building new units for your army costs a fairly significant amount of resources (e.g. 50 gold) and 2) In most cases you start out with diddly frickin’ squat of resource gain per turn (e.g. +1 gold). So, you can either mash the “next turn” button until your resource counter reaches a useful value or try and use what little forces you start off the game with to claim some resource rich locations. Although the latter option is ever so slightly less boring than the former, it’s also a tad risky given that enemies have to do little more than gaze in the general direction of your now unguarded HQ in order to knock you out of the game.
So, did you manage to claim a farm or something without your only units being obliterated? Yes? Congratulations! Now you’ve got to use what’s left of your measly forces to defend that land from unrelenting armies of bandits, monsters or – more often than not – mundane indigenous wildlife. Should a wandering herd of deer take residence in one of your provinces, armed conflict is of course the only rational solution. People’s lives are at stake after all!
Strangely, the AI seems to be completely above such worldly worries. While I’m busy twiddling my thumbs until I have enough resources to actually do something, they’re casually sauntering around the world map without a care in the world. Perhaps they know something about the game that I don’t? That wouldn’t surprise me actually; only an artificial intelligence would have the inhuman patience to decider the 30,000+ word arcane tome that is CoE3’s instruction manual. I should make it clear, I’m not complaining that the game is too complicated or anything; I love complicated! It’s more that it’s just so…awkward.
The battle system is by far the worst offender; in one way or another the developers have somehow managed to cram in just about every RPG element I can think of: equipment, spells, resistances, immunities, formations, summoning, crafting etc. But those are all good, tried and tested mechanics of course, so what’s the problem? Well, when push comes to shove, the gloves come off, your troops are under fire and a violent response is just simply the only option…it turns out you’ve got no control over any of it! Engage another force in battle and the game will simply decide a bunch of totally randomised moves for your troops to make and then provide you with a gigantic turn-by-turn log of how the battle played out.
The amount of data the game bombards you with during these segments is just so overwhelming that it’s rather difficult to discern anything even remotely useful from it. In particular, it makes it bloody impossible to tell whether or not any given fight will be total suicide mission or not. Will my 10 Crossbowmen be able to defeat a force of 5 Archers, 2 Snakes and one awfully confused Moose? Who knows?! Even if you were somehow able to contemplate the dozen or so variables that governs a unit’s combat prowess, you’d still have to factor in the fact that every single move your units make is completely randomized!
In the end, the whole game ends up feeling like a total crapshoot rather than the tactical nirvana players are likely to be looking for. It’s a sad outcome for sure, as beneath all this junk there’s a ton of really cool ideas just begging me to stop writing all these nasty words. However, a quality computer game isn’t merely a heap of cool ideas, that’s just ambition. In the end, it’s the actual execution of those ideas that really matters and that’s something that CoE3 fails at miserably.
At a stretch, I guess the hardest of the hardcore strategy fans might be able to some semblance of entertainment in this almost impenetrable mess of poor design decisions if they tried really hard. Even if you did somehow fall into that extremely specific niche, you’d have to be certifiably insane to shell out CoE3’s asking price: a full £20! Given the overall quality of this title, such a fee is quite frankly outrageous, hilarious and depressing; all in roughly equal measures.
If after reading this you still feel the desire to play Conquest of Elysium 3, you can purchase it for £20 over on Desura. May god have mercy on your soul.[review pros="High quality background music. Unique abilities for each race." cons="Awful presentation. Convoluted, awkward gameplay. AI controlled battle system." score=30]