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Hands On Preview - Spilling Guts Never Looked So Glorious

Ed Orr Posted:
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I might not talk much about it much but my current gaming compulsion really started in Realm vs Realm warfare. A lapsed relationship with video games meant I missed the wonders of Warhammer and Age of Camelot. That all changed with the release of NCSoft’s Aion and began running through throngs of aggressive Asmodians. Conquerors Blade is the latest MMO to tantalize us with epic battles and massive fortress sieges, and I got shipped to the front lines ahead of today’s announcement.

Billed as a medieval warfare MMO, Conquerors Blade initially presents as something akin to For Honor crossed with Total War. Much like both of these, it takes medieval combat and blows it out into huge encounters. Huge fortresses fall under waves of troops, trebuchets send flaming death hurtling through the air, and waves of arrows blot out the sky. It all looks incredible, but that first glimpse failed to capture the awesome scale of this MMO.

Players dropping into Conquerors Blade will find themselves in a fairly straightforward character creator screen, with a choice of classes and an acceptable range of characteristics for your very own general. It takes a similar approach to many combat encounters. Anybody that has played Mount & Blade, For Honor, or picked up an MMO will recognize this system. These all give the first glimpse of a game that looks silky smooth for such an early outing and provides a good range of play styles to choose from. While I opted to pick a plain old warrior with a traditional sword and shield, there are player classes that wield pikes, poleaxes, and bows, all allowing players to get to grips with a variety of weapons. All in all, there are six types of general available but I would not expect this to stay stagnant. Like many tactical combat games, there are a variety of skirmishes available, and beyond the light PvE questing there are PvP point capture, attack and defend, PvPvE missions, and a glorious anarchic open world. These are all ridiculously easy to jump into, either by harassing your local NPC, or strolling out into the world and picking a fight. You will spend most of your time in Conquerors Blade on the battlefield, and thankfully players won’t be alone. Like any great general, an army of loyal followers is vital to success.

With no obvious regional restrictions on the type of troops, you can march off to their death, a host of 13th and 14th-century conscripts are available for any encounter. Eleven basic types of troops are listed and the range of combat options available is just a sampling of the depth that awaits. cavalry, massive shield walls, muskets, javelins, pikes, bows, pole-arms, lances, and elite samurai all make an appearance. This can prove a little overwhelming for new players but Booming Games provides a flexible range of options, and the Maltese contingent of shield-men and swords prove quite acceptable, to begin with.

More experienced players will find that this massive range of options provides immense flexibility in battle. It also ties into a requirement for thoughtful combat and coordination with allies. There is even a range of upgrade options for these troops that incentivize players to drill their troops all day long. This flexible approach to combat is obvious as soon as you log into Conquerors Blade for the first time. An absolutely massive world awaits. As many as 200000 players can be clustered into an individual mega server. Players from a range of regional locations are able to mix and match their alliances using a clan system called houses, and the outcome of their encounters is visible on the world map. This tactical overview serves to track the exploits of thousands of players as they coordinate and capture enemy territory through a season. It also encourages players to roam out into this environment and take enemies to task in the open world.

Whether it is in PvP, PvE, or open world environments, there is something for players to do. Balancing the games open world sandbox against emergent behavior and snowballing effects was something that any developer has to consider at scale. After all, it only took months for ESO servers to stack for rewards and the zerg meta has proved somewhat unbreakable in Guild Wars 2.

Thankfully, the team at Booming acknowledge that emergent behaviors bring their own challenges. They are already working on ways to improve cross-language communication as they detailed during our walkthrough.

“We have already supported the display of multiple languages. In fact, we are working with some technical departments to consider automatic multi-language translation, which will be our next step.”

It is still early stages and even after 2 years of development with partners like Nvidia and Intel, the team is still taking an open approach, tweaking systems like seasons and the player economy, as they noted.

“In general, both the economy and trading are quite open. However, we are adding some restrictions to make sure that there is as little unfair trading as possible. We have put some limitations on how many, when, and what sort of situation some items can be traded. We hope we can create a balanced gaming environment for everyone, not just for a few individuals.”

While Conquerors Blade attempts to give everyone something to do, I really wanted to get out into the open world. Before I was let loose in the open world map, the team at Booming tossed me into an instanced encounter and stepping out onto the battlefield in one of several encounters is quite the experience. I’ve played Mount & Blade, Kingdom Come, Total War, For Honor, and a lackluster Tiger Knight. This managed to surpass all my expectations. Like an up close and personal take on Total War, this takes the third-party perspective and gets closer to the action. I’ll dispatch with any more of the preamble, however, and just get right into the cut and thrust of it. After selecting three troop divisions to bring into the battle, my first major siege opened in the face of a massive 15 vs 15 fortress encounter. The sky reigned fire, smoke rose from the fortress ahead and I had my paltry sword and shield. I was flanked by my mix of musketeers, and swordsmen, primarily chosen to cover me and compliment my own hack and slash playstyle.

Controls are largely split between two obvious alignments and facilitate easy troop and player control. Troop controls allow generals to select regiments using a set of successive function keys and utilize a limited range of formation and movement commands While troops can be given nuanced marching orders, when left to their own devices they will tend to loiter nearby players, acting as adequate cannon fodder when things get messy. Sieges might occur on a huge scale but you only have to execute a small slice of any plan. There are never more than a few operations to juggle at once, and while chaos erupts around you, managing your own troops is a consistent and controlled experience.

Successful sieges are, however, not just a product of doomed conscripts. The siege engines that are dotted around the battlefield are more than just flashy decoration. Alongside troops, generals can bring additional armaments, in the form of cannons, trebuchets, and even fireworks. This is only the tip of the knife and these ridiculous additions add some extra flair to any entrance. They are also open for your own misuse.

Fire a trebuchet and flaming projectiles can be arranged to fly over walls. They reign destruction down upon thine enemy as they huddle behind their walls. Defending generals can even produce cannons to create choke points and these are utterly lethal. Believe me, I died three times trying to scurry over a bridge and off into an enemy keep’s first capture point. My precious mount died, my general took a beating, and yet thankfully the respawn mechanics were not so aggressions that I felt anything but impressed at my decapitation.

When you do manage to get up close with your enemy, whether it is an AI or a player, things change drastically. Troop combat is largely dictated by the decisions you make prior to engaging. Formation, flanking, and firepower all count as you bark basic orders. It’s not unlike Total War, where AI can be cajoled in a direction but will ultimately continue to do what it wants when given free reign. Conquers Blade, thankfully, has a competent AI system that tries not to avoid fire and is unlikely to stand in a cannon's mouth.

A capable AI allows players to get into the action, and take other generals to task. A consistent set of controls allows for a fairly even-handed fight, that isn’t quite as nuanced as something like For Honor but still provides a solid and responsive experience. Each character combines their own customizable combat capability with a standard set of controls. This makes getting to grips with different generals intuitive enough and provides some additional customization through a progression system called weapon mastery.

Where this combination of ideas surpasses the comparisons, I have already made is the sheer scale of Conquerors Blade. This is not just a skirmish simulator. It is an MMO in its own right that is interested in finding a reason for players to fight. Crafting, a player economy, progression and levelling, mounts, clan systems, and even questing systems are all evident. While early beta impressions of Conquerors Blade found the game world somewhat overwhelming, these supporting systems bring together these disparate ideas and are intended to cement players in the game, as described by Booming

“There was no particular game that directly inspired Conquerors Blade. We all love a ton of different games and it shows. It is also really important that we give players

 a reason to fight. While we can make great play vs player combat people will enjoy that for a while but then ask why they are fighting. The trade, crafting, and other systems all work to give you a reason to log in and participate in the long term”.

Conquers Blade is a deceptively big game, while it could settle with just instanced encounters like, Conquers Blade blows everything up. Imagine a world with over 200,00 players and a single battle with thousands of units climbing the ramparts. Trebuchets crushing the mangled corpses of your enemies as floods of fire rip through the courtyard of a beleaguered enemy, all the while incredibly rendered by a game engine that takes no prisoners. The game itself brings this to its logical conclusion with the open world. This vast swathe of chaos allows generals to literally go out and pick a fight. Where it will really payoff is when everything I’ve seen spawns larger assaults, territory capture, and the political scheming that goes along with it.

Conquerors Blade surprised me. It showed me glorious victory, brilliantly rendered by Booming’s own CHAOS engine, and raised some hope that the days of political backstabbing and communal warfare are far from over. I’ll be waiting on war to come to our shores. Until then you can find out more about Conquerors Blade at the official website.


Ed Orr