Realms (Second Review)

Title		Realms (Second Review)
Game Type	Strategy
Players		1
Publisher	Virgin
Compatibility	All (1 MB)
HD Installable  Yes with WHDLoad Patch
Submission	Angus Manwaring Profiled Reviewer

Realms could be described as a strategy game set within a fantasy
world, similar to that created by J.R.R.Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings.
I say "could" because in fact the game is actually quite a lot more than
this, in that it demands your involvement in the governing of your
subjects. This includes taxation, public health, nutrition, the
development of your towns, the formation of your army, and of course, your
attempts at conquest. You are not therefore solely responsible for the
generalship on the field of battle, you must also govern effectively.

When the game starts there is a brief pause and the text, "Creating Game
World" appears on the screen. I wonder if this was a coincidence or a
salute to Carrier Command where exactly the same thing happens.

The visual presentation of the game is particuarly interesting, although
in principle it is graphically similar to games like Bullfrog's Populous
and Powermonger, the 3D isometric display is so nicely rendered that it
could almost be texture mapped (at least for me). In any case, the
landscape is ripe for battle, and presents many possibilities to the
commander mindful of the importance of terrain.

Briefly, the background story has you mourning the recent death of your
father; a great and well respected leader. His death has created a power
vacuum which many competing warlords will now clamour to fill. You are
obviously not going to allow this to happen, and calling out for divine
support you are duly struck by a heavenly bolt of lightning which
conveniently allows you to view all sorts of details of the surrounding
countryside from the safety of your castle, thus neatly explaining the
almost (but not quite) godly viewpoint of the player. Possibly this element
of the game, portrayed by a crystal ball, was inspired by the palantir
stones used in The Lord of the Rings.

The game is played from a number of different screens, starting with the
impressively named "inside the fortress" screen. You can set the tax rate
here, save and load games, monitor your expenditure, and plan your
strategies on the large map. Initially you can choose which side you wish
to play of the various inhabitants by clicking on the corresponding
capital. This expands the game significantly as on some of the maps there
are as many as four different races to choose from.

Having chosen sides you can use the "focus pointer" to click on an area of
the map which will take you to that location; portrayed in glorious
isometric 3D on the "playfield" screen. You can click on various troops or
towns here, but it should be remembered that all the time you spend on
this screen allows game-time to pass. This is only true of the "playfield"
screen, so cogitation should be done elsewhere, ideally on the "fortress"

Unsurprisingly clicking on a town takes you to that town's screen, where
various options await. You need to be careful about a town's food supply
and its health in particular, but if things are going well you can also
recruit people for your infantry or cavalry, setting the wages and
choosing the armaments of that specific formation, you can also fortify
the town with either wooden or stone walls, and you can build up the town
and enlarge its borders. Obviously all these things cost you money so you
will need to be careful that you don't bankrupt yourself. Your people are
not automatons, and if you treat them poorly their morale and loyalty will
decline, and you may find they go over to one of your rivals' camps.

On the playfield screen, when your forces make contact with your enemies,
unless large forces are involved, you will simply see them moving around
each other and observe the effects of attrition as their numbers gradually
decline. In a larger conflict however you are given the option of entering
the battle screen and directing your forces personally. This screen is
much like the playfield screen except you are that much closer to the
procceedings and cannot change your viewpoint. The single soldier or
horseman that represented up to a thousand infantry or cavalry
respectively is now portrayed by impressive formations of men ready to
follow your orders for better or for worse. The battlefield can feel a
little cramped, but the game had to work on a 512K machine, so this is not
surprising. Directing your forces about the battle is pretty painless, at
least for you, and you certainly have the chance to show how good a
commander you are, by effective use of your various assets in combination
with each other. It is, of course, highly satisfying to see the remnants
of the enemy infantry, who moments ago were boldly advancing towards your
smaller force, take to their heels and flee like scared rabbits.

In my view, and certainly as far as I was concerned, Realms suffered
because of its similarity in appearance to games like Powermonger. Many
prospective players probably expected a similar experience only to be
confused by a game with an entirely different approach. In fact Realms
doesn't really feel like Powermoger at all, and initially, back in 1991, I
was put off the game, as I didn't have the patience to see what the author
actually had in mind. To exacerbate this effect, Realms is not an
extrovert of a game, more of a quiet and thoughtful type; much of its
depth will not be observed by a cursory inspection, and even with a more
detailed examination you are unlikely to discover many things taking
place within the game without repeated play. Its not a stodgy game, but
clearly it lacks the immediate fun factor afforded by Populous, or the
state-of-the-art accessability of Powermonger. Instead you must tease out
the appeal with Realms, like a prospector panning for gold - but it is
there, and it is a deep seam.

I haven't mastered Realms, not by a long chalk, but that is more a
criticism of me than of the game. Even after considerable playing time I
am still confused as to how best to defeat the enemy in the more
challenging scenarios, but I am repeatedly lured back by the game's
feeling of authentic depth and a genuine game world that seems to have
been designed with enthusiasm and dedication.

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