Champions of Anteria – Review
During the week I watched a prominent Twitch caster commence a playthrough of Warcraft 3: Reign of Chaos. Gawd, I miss that game. I remembered the nostalgic joy of travelling through Azeroth as archmage Jaina Proudmoore on a noble quest to help the common people survive a horrible plague and unite Azeroth against the Burning Legion. I felt so small and insignificant in comparison to heroes such as Arthas or Thrall or Tyrande. I felt like a bit-player in the context of the larger war.
And then I started clicking the peasants repeated and giggling.
Let’s remember, I was a child.
You see, I love a game that doesn’t take itself seriously. Whether it is snippets of ridiculous weapon names in Diablo 3, or a random child breaking the fourth wall to explain how to save a game in Earthbound, I appreciate a game that laughs at the absurdity of its premise and the unlikelihood of its cast. That is what Champions of Anteria tries to do as a priority, possibly because it has some difficulties in meeting its ambitions.
My initial remarks about Blizzard’s historic RTS are on point – Champions of Anteria tasks you with rebuilding Anteria to its former glory, but tries to personalise it by drawing priority of rebuilding your village in the first instance. The visuals are gorgeous, warm and inviting, similar to Torchlight 2, and complementing the humour and charm of the storyline. Like my earliest experiences of playing RTS games, it encourages a delicate nuance between meeting the needs of your immediate community and preparing for world conquest. It even acknowledges the large leap between these two needs, in the form of a sweet little misleading NPC who endeavours to keep the tone light and amusing.
Of course, once it has established that dichotomy of “save the village, take vengeance on the world!”, it smushes it together into an interesting Venn diagram.
See, there is a nice little rock-scissors-paper-lizard-Spock component that is also present in Champions of Anteria. Players consider the benefits and detriments of abilities that harness the elements of fire, metal, nature, lightning and water. Don’t believe for a second that Ubisoft Blue Byte has limited it to when you are sizing up your champions’ abilities against foes – you had better be prepared to think long and hard about where you plan to place your buildings for maximum benefits of the elements around you. Unless you are careful and considered, you will not be able to benefit from the additional buffs that will help with the campaign, and it is not just strategic but logical. Want to build a watershed? Build it near a river. Want to build a lumber yard? Hop it near the trees. It is a mistake easily made at the beginning of your adventures, and may not be able to be corrected to full benefit later in the game.
After you set about the task of perfecting your village, you have an opportunity to attack or defend one of the sectors on the world map. This is achieved not only through managing your base, but also levelling your Heroes in order to have maximum impact on future conquest. A neat little cycle emerges at this point: building your base unlocks abilities for the heroes, and your heroes utilise these abilities to gain Renown. Once heroes have gained Renown, they draw other villagers to your town that can contribute new upgrades, and these upgrades are unlocked by spending Renown.
That Venn diagram gets a little cosier when you add in the Action-RPG component of the game. What I played I enjoyed – I appreciate that it takes inspiration from isometric RPGs and RTS games and that some of the more involved dialogue and character interactivity of recent entries such as Divinity: Original Sin are simplified in order to promote the action. Those elements that you were considering when rebuilding your village are also featured here, which is a concession made in order to harness a minimal homage to turn-based combat by planning your attacks against enemies.
This is where Champions of Anteria buckles a little under the pressure of its ambitions. Pausing gameplay in order to consider strategy is such a great mechanic, but it is not implemented in the best way. There are two big issues with Ubisoft Blue Byte’s approach – firstly, that your attacks are aimed at an area that is quickly vacated once gameplay is resumed (attacking an area may not have been such a large concern in a true turn-based mode), and secondly that there is absolutely no character AI that ffacilitatesyour character to start or continue basic attacks without your input.
There is no way that a gun-toting arrogant schmuck like Baltasar would stand by and let a pack of wolves nip at his heels. And is Nusala trying to commune with every single tree before she catches up with Anslem and Vargus, or is another broken AI component?
What is frustrating about this is how contrary this flaw is to the tone that is being set by the game. I want to click on things and experience the world and hear amusing anecdotes, and that is what I was excited about when playing Champions – I got to take myself less seriously. In my opinion, a game that is trying to engage you in humorous elements of the story should facilitate that by giving some automation to simple actions of the characters. Insisting that the player drills down to “wait did I tell my warrior to stab that bandit?” before they can restart combat is not a considered decision for longevity of gameplay – it messes with the pace when a player cannot see a good flow that reflects the ‘spirit’ of their decisions, and it is just poor AI planning justified in the context of strategy. It’s like interrupting an amateur comedian, and just seems disappointing and cruel to the poor thing.
However, that is the biggest gripe that I can find with Ubisoft’s hybrid fantasy adventure. Sure there were slowdowns in moments of more interactivity, but I am used to bugs being trampled over the life of a game. The voice acting is a little cheesy, but it can be justified as part of the B-grade charm being evoked. Overall this game is interesting and enough to give it a bit of a go, even if you want to start with the demo to see what detriments are forgivable with this charming experiment.