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Fate of the Dragon

Score: 70%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Developer: Overmax Studio
Media: CD/1
Players: 1 - 8
Genre: Real-Time Strategy

Graphics & Sound:

The graphics in Fate of the Dragon are very similar to most games of this genre. You have sprite-based characters walking around on an isometric map. There's a better sense of scale in Fate of the Dragon than in most games -- the buildings are genuinely huge, compared to the units -- but the game never gets away from the grey-and-brown Chinese theme that it starts with. This is understandable, of course, as the game takes place during the time period of The Three Kingdoms saga, but some more variety in setting would have been a pleasant change.

A note must be made of the rendering engine -- certain animations are not slowed down according to your computer speed. The little bobbing hand to show that something can be activated is just a blur on my computer. This is the sort of thing that we were supposed to leave behind in MS-DOS days.

The sound in the game is decidedly average. The sound effects are your standard ones, with the clinks on metal and chops of wood and everything else you've ever heard in this sort of game. The voice acting ranges from not half bad to laughably bad, as people seem to attempt to fake Chinese accents. A better move would have been to keep the Chinese voice acting and have faster subtitles, but the way the text scrolls is painfully slow. The music is all right, but it's nothing special, and I had some pretty serious problems on my machine with the music skipping. It played quietly enough that it didn't really matter. Keeping the unit acknowledgments in Chinese was a good call, however.


Gameplay:

And while the setting of Fate of the Dragon is intriguing, and it offers a few new touches to the world of real time strategy games, it really doesn't do enough. Combining a number of different entries into the genre, Fate shows that sometimes the sum of all parts is more than the end result.

The single-player campaigns are seen from the viewpoint of the three 'main heroes' of the Three Kingdoms time period. Indeed, much of the game's charm comes from the integration of the game with the tumultuous history of China during that period. It's a shame, therefore, that the main exposure you get to this history is from voiceless scrolling text before each battle, each throwing a large number of names and locations that never show up inside the game. Only fans will bother to really keep track of this, and the fact that the missions are terribly monotonous (stop the siege, siege, stop the siege) does nothing to ameliorate the problem.

The obligatory resource-gathering infrastructure in Fate of the Dragon is quite complex, reminding me more of the Settlers series of games than any other RTS. You've got wood and metal, but then you can grow corn and raise pigs for meat, then convert that into food and wine for the troops. Different things cost different amounts of resources, and balancing them all is a careful undertaking. This is made a little more difficult than it should be, as certain costs -- the amount it takes to build a plot of farm or a pig sty, for example -- are nowhere to be found. (It's forty, in case you're curious.)

There is also a higher level to the game than your standard city-building and unit-crunching. You can exit from your city to an overland map, where local villages await your liberation. Liberating them nets you more gold as you play -- the only resource you're unable to harvest. However, any combat units that leave your city start to weaken as they go without food. It is therefore necessary to build a supply line by constructing camps on the overmap. Switching between the various maps is painless, and it's quite a cool feature.

But combat is strictly grunt-rushing fare. There's no way to make formations of your units, so the basic tactic is to swarm your enemy and hope your folk are strong enough to fight them off. You can build siege engines to penetrate the walls that every town sports, or you can bash through the front gate. There are also the requisite research facilities and so on.

The game sports a multiplayer mode as well, which can be considerably more entertaining than the single-player game. Why? Because the AI in single-player is moronic. They simply throw units at your walls and hope they break through. There's no real sense of tactics. It's a shame, really. The completely idiotic pathfinding algorithms don't help.


Difficulty:

A few of the map challenges can be quite difficult, as things seem to run at warp speed when you're playing the game. Make sure to have units ready at all times, as cities will often go under siege and you've got to rescue them promptly. The game itself is not unbearably difficult, however, and careful micromanagement of your resources and troops will make you the victor in any encounter. Indeed, learning to balance the various resources that are available is a requisite skill to excel at Fate of the Dragon.

Game Mechanics:

The basic interface for Fate of the Dragon is well-nigh identical to that found in, say, Age of Empires. Anyone familiar with that series of games should have no problems grokking the way you do things in Fate. The instruction book and tutorial is rather inadequate when it comes to real details, but experimentation is sure to show you what you need to know. Watching wood disappear mysteriously is frustrating at first, however. The combat engine is strictly standard, and the lack of formations really hurts the tactical aspects of the game. Grunt rushes are the order of the day, sometimes preceded with siege engine rushes. The menus are simple and easy to understand, and while the interface is a little too machine-speed-dependent, it certainly gets the job done.

While Fate of the Dragon sports some new ideas for the real-time strategy genre, notably the need for supplying your troops and the breakdown of the in-city and overworld maps, the core gameplay is too derivative to really make enough of a difference. Fans of the time period would do well to check the game out, and those who have bested all their other RTS games may find some enjoyment in Fate, but the casual gamer would do better with other examples of the genre.


-Sunfall to-Ennien, GameVortex Communications
AKA Phil Bordelon

Minimum System Requirements:



Win9x/Me, P2 233, 32MB RAM, 270MB HD Space, 4x CD-ROM, 16MB video card, sound card
 

Test System:



Athlon 1.1GHz running Win98 SE, 512MB RAM, GeForce 2 GTS w/ 32MB RAM, SoundBlaster Live!, 8x DVD-ROM

Windows Far Gate Windows Feedn' Chloe

 
Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated