We've covered Immortal Realms: Vampire Wars a few times so far. Last year, at E3, Francesco got to see the game and wrote a preview about what he saw. I got to see a little more at Gamescom last year and wrote my own preview. The only downside with these previews is that both were very limited in their scope, one being hands-off and the other being very curated.
With Immortal Realms: Vampire Wars launching on the 28th of August, I've been offered a chance to get hands-on with the game, with a fair amount being made available to play. I've played through the first two parts of the campaign as well as a few skirmish maps and I'm not completely sure what I think about the game and the multiple aspects it brings in.
So, as I've said, I've only played through the first two parts of the twelve-part campaign. These are the first two missions for the Dracul faction, with there being four missions per faction - I aim to explore the campaign when it's time to review the game when it's closer to release on the 28th of August. From what I've seen so far, it does look reasonably interesting with the first part of the story taking a path of revenge as humans have attacked and killed Vlad Dracul's partner.
My main hope is that the later missions aren't as linear as the first two. This does seem to be the case, with the third campaign mission opening up somewhat. Let's explain how the game works. You've got the world map which, in a way similar to older Total War titles, is divided into areas and your movement takes place from area to area, each move taking up an action point. On some of these areas, you'll find unit recruitment buildings, villages to keep your economy flowing as well as other structures to give you a few boosts in one way or another.
It's in this area you'll also find yours and your enemies' armies marching around, as well as a few random animal-based armies holding around their areas. Come into contact with these and that's where the grid-based turn-based tactics gameplay comes in. The battle will take place between the two armies shown on the world map with all the relevant stats and pools, including your mana pool - something that is incredibly valuable during battle thanks to the next layer of Immortal Realms: Vampire Wars, the cards.
Actually, before I talk about the cards, I should mention the fact that your faction - as with generals - has a levelling system. As you level up, you'll move down a legacy tree that is unique to each faction that unlocks passive bonuses. Levelling up, naturally, comes from gaining experience in battle and through completing different stages in a mission.
So, the extra layer of Vampire Wars is that you essentially have two decks of cards. One deck is active within the world map, giving you a myriad of functions from directly recruiting new units or healing one of your current armies to ones that actively sabotage an enemy unit, stopping them from performing an action in their next turn or simply damaging them. These cards use blood to activate, blood being the only resource of the game. You also use blood to build buildings, buy weapons, armour and accessories from a blacksmith and also to buy extra cards from a library.
Blood is also used to recruit units and also for their maintenance, with you gaining it from each village and city you have conquered, the more developed they are, the more you gain per turn. Think of it as gold in any other grand-strategy style title. It offers an interesting balance of resource and army management. At least it would if it wasn't for the fact that I'm certain the AI doesn't have to follow the same rules. Maybe it's because some opposition were humans and they don't consume blood, but they should consume something. I've found that human armies just keep coming, and coming, and coming. Their only limitation is the number of action points per turn.
I suppose it balances itself out because if you actually fight the battles yourself, you've got the edge. This is advisable because each lord you control has several abilities, represented as cards, which you can use to give yourself that edge in battle. Enemy lords also have their abilities, but the primary advantage you gain is simply due to being a functioning human being. That is to say that the AI is easy to beat. In battles that, when auto-resolved would be a huge defeat, I've found myself winning with reasonable comfort since you can lure enemy units into bottlenecks and just take them out a few at a time.
Part of this is because of how cluttered these combat maps seem to be. The game is sorely in need of some open maps, large fields and more, despite the fact that armies are only limited to a set number of units. It would place even more emphasis on army strength and composition, rather than each army being a winner if you have half-tank, half ranged - preferably two units having the ability to heal, not to mention your lord and their abilities on top of that.
So far I've found myself moving between enjoying Immortal Realms: Vampire Wars and finding it needlessly frustrating. The frustration has come from what I've already mentioned, the seeming ignorance of the rules from AI factions and the fact that it can lead to you facing what seems like an endless wave of armies. Should this be just something I've been unfortunate to face or it's something that is to be tweaked a little, I can see myself enjoying the game a fair amount.
Coming out on the 28th of August, there's still a month and a half for Palindrome Interactive to tweak whatever they need to. More interesting to me is that the game is planned to release on consoles, including the switch, next year. With twelve missions across the three factions in the campaign, I can see that alone providing a fair amount of content and value for those interested in a grand-strategy mixed with turn-based tactics. I'll certainly be playing more when the review version comes around and you'll be able to see my full opinion of the game around that time.