The best way to describe Armies of Exigo, the first real-time strategy game offering from Black Hole Entertainment and published by Electronic Arts, would probably be the following: take the game design of StarCraft, add some game-play and graphical elements from Warcraft III, throw them into a blender, add a few new twists, and hit the “mince” button. What you get is a delicious, but familiar-tasting, RTS smoothie.
The first thing that hit me when I booted up AoE was the fully-3d intro movie. It just instantly reminded me of the high-quality movies Blizzard has included in their own Warcraft and StarCraft lines. Even the characters in the 3-minute-or-so intro look like they were taken out of a Warcraft-style game environment. The quality is almost Hollywood-studio like, and this is the kind of full-motion video you would expect to see in a feature film.
When you actually get into the game, the feeling of deja-vu continues. The layout of the screen is very similar to Warcraft or StarCraft, with your “supplies” and “gold” totals on the top of the screen, your unit status on the bottom, and a menu of options in the lower right-hand corner. The controls are, no surprise, about 80% identical to Blizzard’s games. The actual races you are allowed to control are extremely similar to the races Blizzard has used: there is an Alliance-sort of race that includes humans, elves and dwarves; there is an Orc group that incorporates all kinds of monsters that are called the Beasts; and then you have a third faction that is a strange combination of the Undead from Warcraft III and the Zerg from StarCraft. There are a lot of bug-like creatures that look like they could be the cousins of the Zerg, and the ground you build on with this race becomes covered with a purple-like goo…which was called “the creep” in StarCraft and was pretty much blatantly taken from that game.
Okay, obviously there are a lot of similarities between Armies of Exigo and Blizzard’s past RTS games. But what is new and unique about this game? Well, for one, all of the graphics are fully-3d and beautifully rendered. The voice-over acting is also above average, although there are a few known audio bugs with the game. The selling point of Armies of Exigo is a new, dual-level system. Basically, every map has not only an “overworld,” but a totally separate “underworld” beneath. This sets up for unique strategies like a two-pronged attack, or an ambush by going underneath your opponents and then attacking them from both front and behind at once. This is the first time the dual-level system has been introduced, and it’s definitely interesting.
Ultimately, the worth of a game is determined by its game-play. How do the borrowings from Blizzard’s past RTS games, and the new dual-level system, add up to be a complete experience?