Eador: Masters of the Broken World Preview

A universe quite unlike our own: an astral plane where inhabited chunks of land are afloat, the parapets of their kingdoms’ towers renting the night.  Between these asteroid-like shards of rock, there is only the void of star-strewn space – an empty expanse known to the people as the “Great Nothing”.  This world is called Eador: a haunting and awe-inspiring realm to behold and the setting of Snowbird Game Studio’s upcoming PC release Eador: Masters of the Broken World – a fantasy strategy game that combines traditional turn-based combat with a building and resource management system similar to Civilization or Age of Empires.

Eador: Masters of the Broken World’s beta looks promising from the get-go; upon starting it up, one is treated to a beautiful main menu complemented by an orchestral score worthy of an epic fantasy movie.  The player is then able to choose from a series of beautifully illustrated portraits and create a banner that will represent your character and capital city, both of which you are able to christen as you please.  After making your choices and selecting a difficulty level that suits you (Eador has seven), it’s time to delve into the gameplay itself.

In Eador: Masters of the Broken World, you play as one of said “Masters”: a god-like being that seeks to unify the shards that are drifting about in the Great Nothing.  You do so by selecting a shard and conquering its various provinces, most of which are inhabited by beings of other races that, depending on your actions, may become your enemies or allies.  As you triumph over shard after shard, they fuse together, forming an ever-expanding celestial body.  Additionally, just as you are up against rival colonizers in Civilization, you are not alone in your struggle; you will encounter NPC Masters attempting to unite Eador under their rule.

To become a shard-conquering legend in Eador takes a great deal of strategy and patience.  This is not a frivolous game that can be completed in a single sitting; from what I have experienced of the campaign, it is a lengthy undertaking.  Fortunately, much of the gameplay will be familiar to the majority of fantasy and/or strategy gamers.

From your capital, you employ various classes of Heroes – the classics: Wizard, Warrior, etc – that lead a garrison of soldiers to fight, explore, pillage, or negotiate with neighbouring provinces on your behalf.  Choosing to attack your neighbours will trigger a turn-based combat stage, in which you must maneuver your troops across the terrain toward your enemy and either certain victory or bitter defeat.  Pleasantly, the combat in Eador is neither mindless nor cumbersome; to those who have played tactics games in the past, the mechanics will feel intuitive, and defeating your enemy is not stupidly easy or frustratingly difficult (I played this beta on Easy and Skilled difficulty).  When you defeat enemies in combat, your units level up, allowing you to choose new abilities or handy power-ups, such as increased HP or upped counterattack damage.  You can also equip weapons, armour, and accessories to your main Hero.  You may either buy these yourself or earn them as loot from your grand conquests.

Alternatively, choosing to go the peace-keeping route by negotiating with the other residents of your current shard entails navigating through a series of dialogue options by which you will be given tasks, solicited for gold, or infuriate your acquaintance to the point of battle or retreat.

When you are not fraternizing or antagonizing, you are cultivating your civilization by constructing buildings in your various settlements.  As in games of a similar nature, you must pay attention to building and technology trees, as erecting certain structures requires that your city meet certain criteria beforehand (e.g. you must build a forge before you are able to build an armoury).  Buildings have benefits; one type of building may make your citizens happy, another allows you to research spells, still more provide you with stronger mercenary types or better weapons.

Periodically, your villagers will humbly approach you, their mighty Master, with their earthly requests or in search of your divine guidance.  Should they clear a forest and sell the lumber for gold, or should they conserve said forest to harvest a unique variety of mushroom that grows only within its glades?  Should they venture onto toxic sands to mine for dark crystals or, in your opinion, do the potential casualties outweigh the potential profit?  I very much enjoyed these little distractions from building and fighting, as the scenarios were consistently creative and interesting.  At one point, my hunters discovered a wounded unicorn, and I had to decide between spending my gold on healing its wounds, harvesting its meat, or selling it to interested parties (of course, I set it free, you fiends!).  Whatever you choose, your decisions will undoubtedly affect both your godly rapport with your subjects and the amount of gold that you earn in a given turn.

Eador: Masters of the Broken World is nice to look at: the graphics are pretty and brightly coloured, and the landscapes are intricate and varied.  The combat segments are quite well-animated and, though presently lacking a few animations and sounds, look to be very promising.  The soundtrack consists of upbeat battle tunes and soft lilting melodies that are fitting and well-composed and do not become repetitive or boring as you play.

One of my only real criticisms regarding Eador’s beta lies in the conspicuous lack of a female presence: there are almost no player portraits featuring female characters, and I played for several hours in multiple campaigns before encountering a female unit.  To me, this was rather disappointing, as I wish women weren’t so under-represented in modern games.  The tutorial was also very lacking, leaving a few elements of gameplay mysteries to me, but I expect this will be remedied in the final game.

There are several aspects of Eador that Snowbird Games has announced, yet I did not experience in this first look, namely, a “karma” or alignment system that gauges your goodness or evilness based on the decisions that you make.  It sounds reminiscent of Black & White, in which players also took on the role of a deity.  I believe this system will add much to the final game, as it lends a certain weight and sense of responsibility to your actions.  According to Snowbird, Eador also boasts 150,000 words of dialogue and 10 (“technically 12”) different endings.  The beta’s lack of an in-depth tutorial deepened my feeling that I was only glimpsing the tip of a complex and intriguing iceberg.

Eador: Masters of the Broken World is an ambitious project, and, incomplete as it is, it is already enjoyable.  Snowbird Games seems extremely passionate about this undertaking, and the work that they have produced thus far is commendable.  This beta exhibits a great deal of potential, and fantasy/tactics fans should look forward to playing Eador in its finished form.

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