Conqueror's Blade is a game that you've likely read about a few times now. From my first ever look at the game back at Gamescom, which really took me by surprise, to key giveaways, giving access to recent betas. Recently I was able to have a hands-on with the game during the open beta, where I was joined by two friends, and we at the site were also able to have a behind the scenes look at the game with the team at Booming Games and My.com.
Looking first at my hands-on impressions of the game, I left certainly more impressed than when I first had time with the game at Gamescom. This isn't to say that it was all positive, I was left with questions - some of which will undoubtedly be answered in future tests and when the game is finally released - but also with the impression that certain aspects could be improved or at least explained better.
Jumping in Conqueror's Blade was an easy enough experience, that much can be said. The tutorial makes it very easy to get into and understand the battle system, making the game easy and accessible to any player wanting to jump in. This applies to both types of battles, which are split into field or siege battles. Both were made available during the beta and it was easy enough to create a group with my friends once I'd figured out how to work through the menu system.
Fighting the Fight then Missing the Rest
Actually participating in the fights was considerably better than the aforementioned preview of Conqueror's Blade. This is primarily because I got to see what the game will be like in action with and against other peoples and not the curated setting that was my earlier preview. This highlighted how chaotic the battles can get but also tactical opportunities.
Whether it was a siege or a field battle, you had a lot available to you. From the units you take into battle with you, letting you choose between a variety of different types, to the weapon and armour that you personally have should you decide to wade in yourself. If you happen to work together with others it can make for excellent gameplay. I personally took some sword & Shield blokes in as my primary unit and in one field battle positioned them to create a wall between them and my friends' archers which were positioned on some excellent high ground. It allowed them to shoot freely at anybody who attacked us directly but also those passing by at the bottom of the cliff.
In siege battles, the ability to take control of siege weapons, call in a trebuchet strike and directly move siege tools like ladders, battering rams and towers all make for exciting gameplay as you attempt to break through a steadfast enemy defence. The verticality of these maps also allows for excellent teamwork, using the map to flank opponents, opening up further avenues of attack.
All of this while remembering that you have your own band of troops, allowing a few hundred highly detailed units clashing at any one time. Aside from the fact that I didn't see any hint of friendly fire, the best way to tell people apart is by the customisation option. If you're grouping with certain people and all have similar outfits and banners (I went for the Somalian flag), you'll be able to pick each other out.
Then you decide to wade in yourself. Slashing at regular units until you come into contact with an enemy commander, another player. You have special attacks like a kick or a shield bash to knock them off balance, opening up the chance to do some real damage with normal attacks or your ultimate. It's even better when it's more than a one on one fight, letting you take an opponent out of action quickly, if only for a small amount of time.
This isn't to say it was perfect. It came with the common online problem of cheaters. While I only had one battle out of over twenty suffer from somebody cheating, it revealed one huge problem - there's actually no way to currently report an account that is cheating. This meant the person firing arrows like their arm & bow were a minigun in disguise could continue with impunity.
Despite that one moment, neither of the three of us were disappointed with the game as a whole. Sure, it desperately needs to include blocking and a reporting option, but there's time for that. I already have an account for the game, given to me by My.com. The best testimony for the game is that Conqueror's Blade gained two purchases in the few days my friends were fighting against all opposition, with a lot of that being anticipation on what's to come in the more open side of the game.
Looking Down the Line
While the battles were displayed well, keeping up excitement levels and drawing people into the Conqueror's Blade, the same can't be said for the RPG and open world elements. The beta was explained as a way to truly get hands-on with these elements and maybe it was possible, but nothing was explained. Field battles against AI armies were possible but other than that I wasn't able to attack a town or village, capture them or do anything else that could be described as interesting.
Part of this could have been my issue for not knowing how to do it, but the game lacked a tutorial to actually explain it to me. This is where the 'and more' part of the preview comes in. Just before the open beta, we were able to speak to Community Manager Danny Preusker while he highlighted more aspects on this side of the game.
When it comes to attacking the towns and cities owned by an enemy, time is a core element. Owning one of these areas you'll be able to set times, stipulated by the options made available in-game, for when you can be attacked. This lets you know that when you're asleep or at work, depending on what you pick, somebody can't attack your city and take it from you. It does limit the 'O' part of the MMO Conqueror's Blade is going for, but it does help matters.
It's the development of your territory, as explained in the presentation, that interests but concerns me the most. From my experience in the beta, you will need a cart to carry supplies, that's reasonable. My army needed food on its travels. What wasn't explained is if you can automate supply lines or if there are any lines at all. If you own a farm or mine, do the supplies - which is used in the growth and development of your territory and personal gear - just get used automatically or need to be sent to the town?
Also, is there strategic value in attacking these areas other than a quick influx of supplies that need to be carried by cart? While the use of these resources in developing your army and territory was explained, there were elements that could have been explained further. Another element that couldn't be touched on is the resource management system, which has you refining base materials into advanced materials which will be used in developing your army and land.
Just how you develop your land was explained to a good bit of depth. A city can be increased over a number of levels, each of these introducing new NPC's and options. The higher level the city, the harder it will also be to siege - directly affecting the battle map and resources available for defence. Naturally, this will require increasingly higher quantities and also some rarer resources to develop, making exploration and battle if only for these a necessity.
Of course, this moves into the MMO aspect. To actually build an empire, you're going to need people. There's a lot still to be completely revealed on this but expectations for initial launch are for regional servers, which makes sense when thinking about the allowable times for territory to be attacked. Eventually, though, it was highlighted that global servers are an idea. This would certainly be a challenge to implement, but also move the game to a sort of realism if your territory is invaded by a literal foreign power. Trying diplomacy in that situation could certainly be interesting - Google translate maybe?
Of course, being an online game also means you will want to stand out. Maybe you and your faction will want to look the same, maybe just personalise yourself however you like. The game will have in-game microtransactions but there are no guarantees at the moment how this will work. The monetisation system is currently in development, though there is input from the community management, PR and marketing teams to ensure the game remains fair to players. As for the premium account, the intentions are for the premium account to offer increased experience and more speed up development rather than being a pay-to-win element.
Looking at Conqueror's Blade I see a game that I honestly think I'll sink quite a bit of time in. While yes, I have questions on how the world map and territory system will work, there are also concerns that the monetisation systems could be changed before it's released. However, there is still time for the game to develop into the game it wants to be, with other tests for me to explore and see exactly how the game is turning out.
I once said that Conqueror's Blade is a "Brilliantly Gory Battlefield" and in combat, I stick by that. Let's hope everything else becomes as refined and engaging as hacking away at enemy soldiers.