Review: Eador: Masters of the Broken World

It’s only fitting that Eador: Masters of the Broken World would be a somewhat broken game. Never doubt that this is a strategy RPG with some depth to it; it just so happens to have some technical hiccups that regrettably get in the way of the experience, as well. That being said, there are refined elements to the title, but do they outweigh those missteps?

Eador: Masters of the Broken World is inspired by genre classics like Might and Magic, Civilization and Kings Bounty. To its chagrin, it’s never anywhere close to being in the same ballpark in terms of caliber as those from which it’s drawn influence. Nevertheless, in its mimicking of these titles, Eador turns out to be a turned-based strategy RPG with some map exploration thrown in food solid measure. And there’s plenty of journeying to be done because Eador’s most original aspect is its atmosphere and narrative backdrop. Snowbird Game Studios’ high-fantasy world is unlike most in that it’s literally been torn apart and scattered across the cosmos. It’s then up to the player to traverse the stars in order to visit each shard of land to grapple it away from enemies. Each piece of land has its own difficulty setting, so this task becomes a game of picking and choosing which one the player is ready to tackle. Once a shard has been taken over, players will earn additional resources, building structures and combat benefits, making the conquering of each one rather significant. Regardless of which location is decided on, however, the gameplay will be relatively the same.

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When players visit the different lands, things unfold practically the same – and this is where the true game begins. On each shard there are enemies to cut down, provinces to invade and strongholds to capture. And players will want to engage in all of these activities because each dictates how well they will progress through the adventure. Exploring and holding provinces is vital in that it’s the sole way to gather gems used for spells and various other items and gold to fund one’s intergalactic conquest. Outside of sightseeing around the kingdom, most players will spend a large chunk of their time in the combat. It’s too bad that this is where the game begins to derail noticeably.

For starters, the battling is layered with tactical intricacies. There’s a whole heap of micromanagement happening in each combat scenario. Units possess specific weaknesses and strengths, and each has their own weaponry specialties, meaning that a keen sense of battlefield awareness is key to success. A soldier’s placement on the battle map can make or break an entire encounter. Deciding which unit is best against another is also of importance to consider. Moreover, the place where each clash occurs will also impact tactical decisions, as players will receive environmental bonuses and disadvantages. It’s a shame, then, that the system ultimately comes down a well-hidden scheme of rock-paper-scissors, which sort of steals a bit of the game’s strategic thunder. On top of that, the random nature of the encounters feels antiquated and pulled from the design book of a really bad JRPG.

Adding to the worst of it is the slow, plodding speed of the combat. Characters animate at an almost painfully tedious rate. Now, this can be sort of remedied by turning up the game speed, but even still, it’s dull and boring to watch. The battles are meticulous by nature, as they are in any game of a tactical kind, but this takes things to a new level.

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Where the bulk of the game will be spent, however, is in the province management menus and systems. Growing a province into something worthwhile takes patience and a series of effective choices. Keeping the peace is of the highest importance. What that means is making sure bellies are full and faces are all smiles, as unhappy citizens could spell disaster. Revolts poor productivity and the like are just some of the awful things that can happen as a result a grumpy populace. One of the critical components to maintaining good vibes in the kingdom is through those decision making skills talked about earlier, as denizens will respond to how players choose to deal with brigands, passing through adventurers and invading enemies. It’s a system that feels rewarding and deep, making it the game’s primary draw.

Then there’s ensuring that players can freely move between kingdoms. This relies on the game’s rather rudimentary morality system, which impacts troops who may adhere to an evil/neutral/good alignment. Ultimately, troops will acquire or lose morale as a result of the units with which they fight. Their alignment will impact their combat performance, as will changes in battle situations. meaning to say, if a players units start getting killed off right and left, their remaining troops will begin to suffer from the distress of losing comrades. It’s a nice system that adds a sense of complexity to each fight.

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So, as one may be able to deduce, the core mechanics of Masters of the Broken World work. They are rooted in design philosophies that have remained strong, regardless of how long they’ve been around. Therefore, the fundamental gameplay is in fact competent. It’s just too bad that the game is buggier than some of the worst Paradox games — and that’s saying a lot. For starters, the game earned itself a patch on launch day mostly because the game was practically unplayable. I said before it’s a somewhat broken game, but before the patch, it was just a broken game — literally, it just didn’t work. So right away, we were off to a stellar beginning. Then there were bugs that stopped me in my tracks during battles, not allowing me to click the “next” action to continue to the following phase of the combat. This required me to restart from my previous save spot. The worst part? This continued to happen. Over and over. It got to the point of almost being funny, because of how truly awful it was making the experience.

To compound matters, the game is just generally unstable and fragmented in its performance. I experienced several lockups, occasional crashes to my desktop and some seriously severe chugging at more points than I ever care to admit, though I’m still not sure why — there was nothing graphically demanding happening on-screen. So that one was a bit of a mystery. I’ve also heard of folks unable of being able to install the patch and subsequently play the multiplayer, which sounds maddening to say the least.

Speaking of multiplayer, that exists. There’s online and local hotseat types, however, the whole thing is barebones. Currently the online war-waging consists of choosing one’s hero, soldiers and spells, and you just hack away at each other until there’s only one person standing. There are no modifiers, customization options or really any kind of intrigue involved here. Just straight up versus battling. Stop traffic. Then there’s Broken World‘s sloppy interface. The menus here are unresponsive and ugly, offsetting the surprisingly great visuals of the environments and characters. It’s just too bad that those slow animations talked about earlier are not pretty to look at due to lacking fluidity. The soundtrack is at least decent, and does a fine job at playing on the high-fantasy theme with grand melodies and powerful crescendos aplenty.

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Closing Comments:

We simply can’t get over how appropriate Eador‘s subtitle is: this is a broken game on so many levels. To some degree, it’s almost insulting to play the thing. It was buggy, choppy, unstable, and generally lacking any kind of true gameplay adeptness. There’s a scant few saving graces. The management of one’s province, and the decision making involved in that task, is rewarding thanks to some serious depth. Furthermore, the combat and all involved there isn’t inherently flawed, just devoid of any kind of merit. But those merely capable mechanics aren’t enough to save the game from it being a mess. The poor graphics and overall tedium that sets in from the mind numbing pace certainly don’t do it any favors, either. I’ll just say it because I’m sick of beating around the bush: don’t buy it. Or do so only when you’ve run out of every conceivable option, and someone has a gun to your head demanding you purchase it. Until the bugs are ironed out, it’s just not worth the headache.
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Platform: PC