Thursday, February 12, 2004

Seven Kingdoms: Ancient Adversaries (PC)

Rating: 2 out of 5
Pros: Unique system of espionage, fun gameplay and replay value; great multiplayer fun
Cons: Sub-par graphics and sound, tries to hard to be like other games

Seven Kingdoms: Ancient Adversaries is a real-time strategy game from Enlight Software, and published by Interactive Magic. It was released in 1998, a year after the original Seven Kingdoms graced the shelves of your local video stores. The man responsible for the game is none other than Trevor Chan, whom you may recognize as the genius behind Capitalism.

Seven Kingdoms: Ancient Adversaries is little more than a small expansion pack for the original, sold as a stand-alone title. Owners of the original Seven Kingdoms can download a 15 MB patch from Interactive Magic's website to update their game. The patch can also be downloaded from major download centers such as ZDNet.

Seven Kingdoms tries to pass itself off as the love child of Warcraft and Capitalism. While this works to a certain extent, it is sorely lacking in too many areas to pull it off effectively. If you were expecting the hybrid game it was supposed to be, it will leave you feeling cheated.

None of the complexity and depth of Capitalism are present in Seven Kingdoms.. there isn't even a technology tree. While Seven Kingdoms was busy trying to dress itself up like these other games, it neglected to make sure that the dressing would fit.

While there are seven different civilizations to choose from, they all play basically the same. The only difference seems to be the background music and the character graphics. The military of each culture is equally diverse, having only one type of soldier to pick from.

If you want to train anything other than a basic soldier, you must build a war factory. Nothing wrong with that, except for the fact that each unit you build (cannons, ballistae, catapults, etc) takes forever to research, then forever to build.

The only other type of unit you can use is a supernatural being, and it is unbelievably hard to summon. You first destroy a layer of Frythans. They are evil creatures who live in layers scattered across the map. Upon defeating them you get a scroll of power, which you can use to build a temple.

Each scroll is made for a certain people, so if you play as the Normans and receive a Japanese scroll, then you will have to go take over a Japanese town so that you have some Japanese people to worship in your temple. Then, only after ages of worshiping, can you summon this ultimate of creatures, who will be at your beck and call for a limited time.

The controls are really easy, having only to use the two mouse buttons to do everything in the game. Drag a square around multiple units to select them. Click on a person, then click on a building to have them enter. Not that you actually get to do that much, because aside from your forts and markets, most buildings have very little interaction to them.

If a mine is close to a town, workers will automatically mine ore with no help from you. If a factory is near-by, more workers will refine the ore. Build a market near there, and they will stock the market, and the market will then sell the products to your people and make you some money.

The only interaction you have with your markets, is to hire trade caravans. These caravans can have up to three stops, the first obviously being the market at which you hired it. It can then traverse the map and stop at one or two other markets, picking up resources and bringing them back to your market for sale. These other stops can only be at markets belonging to a culture with which you have a trade treaty though, and their caravans will undoubtedly stop at your market as well.

Forts are the other main building that has some type of interaction. Each fort can have a general (or your king) and up to eight soldiers. Soldiers start out really weak in this game, and only gain skills by spending a long time in a fort with a general training. Forts should be built next to neutral towns, and the town's resistance will (slowly) decrease, and when it reaches zero the town will submit to your rule.

If you don't have the patience for that, there are other ways to gain new towns. If your army is large, you can simply wipe out any resistance. Or, if you have more money than Bill Gates, you can give some to the people of the town to decrease their resistance a bit. The latter should usually be used when the town's resistance is already low (10 or less) so that they can cheaply and quickly be put under your rule.

Inns are another building that has some kind of interaction, but not much. The only thing you can do at an inn is hire additional people. The people you can hire are from random cultures and random professions. They are usually trained better than your fresh-from-the-village peasants, but they cost a bit of money to hire. Useful if you, for example, are under attack and need more soldiers. Just hope there are some soldiers at the inn with good combat..

The music is rather bland. It don't get on your nerves or distract you from playing the game. The sound effects are the same way, average at best, but what can you expect from a game that is seven years old? The graphics are slightly below average as well, and after playing the game for a few hours, you will find yourself wishing this game looked more like Age of Empires.

There are trees and oceans and things in Seven Kingdoms, but they are mainly there for decorative purposes. Trees cannot be harvested and chopped into lumber, as that resource isn't needed apparently, nor are most others.

Oceans can eventually be traveled by water units, but you will find that you never end up having any before the game is over. Before you are able to even build water units, you must research too many other ground units at the tower of science. I suppose this is to make up for the fact that there is no technology tree.

The saving grace of Seven Kingdoms is the espionage. You can train spies to infiltrate enemy kingdoms. Once there, they can start lowering the loyalty of the townspeople, or work their way up the enemy's ranks, eventually earning a place next to an enemy general. They can bribe enemy soldiers, who then become spies themselves. They can even try to bribe the general, or assassinate him.

The artificial intelligence makes great use of this feature. Many times during a game, you will see four or five spies executed in a single minute. The AI is pretty well-rounded as well. It does a good job of setting up towns, establishing trade routes, destroying Frythan layers, and attacking.

I've found that if I leave the Frythan layers alone, and just build up my forces, it is easier to kill off an enemy. Just wait until he finishes wiping out a Frythan layer, when his forces have been slightly depleted, then strike with your full force to wipe out his.

There are a few campaigns to complete in Seven Kingdoms, as well as the usual random maps. The multi-player are one of the most fun parts of the game, with the spying and espionage developed so well. There is support for up to seven players via LAN, modem, internet, or serial connection.

Minimum system requirements are low:
> Pentium 90 MHz
> 16 MB RAM
> 4x CD-ROM drive, Keyboard, and Mouse
> 800x600 resolution, 256 color graphics
> 45 MB free Hard Drive space

Overall, I like this game. It is really fun, and when I start a game, I find myself playing for hours. Despite all the down-sides with this game, it is fun and has a lot of replay value.

I would recommend Seven Kingdoms to anyone who likes real-time strategy games, as long as you can find it for a reasonable price. I got my copy for $10 at Wal-Mart, so I'm not complaining. If you like Seven Kingdoms, you may also enjoy Warcraft II, Capitalism, Age of Empires, or Majesty.

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