This game is really hard to rate. I recommend it because the core game is absolutely great and I love such games in general. I also don't want to harm the devs because they really tried hard and have created a real rough diamond but some mayor design issues will spoil the fun for probably most of the common players!
So I only recommend it to die hard 4x fans with masochistic tendencies and/or you might want to grab it on sale :)
My review became a mini guide so here is the overview and I will post more details in the comments.
- Very deep 4X game mechanics (with a focus on battles)
- Great turn based battle system (focus on tactics and not luck)
- Good RPG elements regarding the hero/unit development
- Many different units to hire and fight (most or all of the enemy units can also be hired if you are lucky to get an offer)
- Polished graphics and menus
- Nice humor (you can either play a good or evil “god” and the evil options are really funny to read)
- Not many armies to control or cities to build up so micro management doesn’t get out of hand
- Hard to learn even harder to master
- Endless playtime (if you can stand it - might be good for players who rather want to play in doses instead of one huge map/battle)
- Tedious game mechanics
- Monotonous game play (most of the time you spend doing the same over and over again until you finally see/find/unlock something new)
- Easy to get stuck in “dead ends” (as long as you haven’t learned how to avoid them or have the patience to wait (for lucky random events or gaining gold/experience over time) or reload/restart)
- Still some bugs (Happened once that an enemy unit was not removed from battlefield and I had to reload the fight)
So what to expect from the game?
I expected another Fallen Enchantress/Warlock - MotA clone but this game plays quite different. There are the same features in place but they are used in a different manner. Think of starting one of the mentioned games. Build/take over your first cities on an isolated island and form your armies, then, when you are ready to conquer the next island: you have to start over.
This is basically happening in Eador. You conquer a "shard" where you face 1-2 enemies (at the first shards) and as soon as you conquered it you lose (mostly) everything you had earned the last hours. The shards do work on a greater scale though. They unlock new buildings/units and give some mild benefits to the starting condition of the next shard. I also can only speak for the first shards because even though I played 16 hours I'm still on my second shard! (+ the good tutorial that took me 3 hours alone) According to the forums there are 80!! shards to conquer - go figure the playtime you need to beat the game. Though I have to say I always fought my battles and didn’t auto resolve them because I’m a control freak and don’t trust the AI so you can decrease playtime a lot by automated battles.
I also don't want to complain about a long playtime but the simple problem here is: motivation. I think it would have been much better to only have like 20 shards but instead increase the rewards you get for conquering each shard and thus give a better feeling of actual progress.
Which leads to the real problem here, because having an extrapolated playtime of 400 hours and making only small steps on your way from shard to shard don't has to be bad in general, but the real issue is: The start of each shard is tedious and often frustrating.
You start with you major city, the only one you can really build up (and if you lose it to an enemy it's game over). Even conquered enemy cities are just better "provinces".
So now you can start constructing buildings from different categories that either increase income, mood, get you access to certain military units, spells or items. You also have to hire a hero because there are no armies without heroes! So the heroes are the real stars of the game and they are significantly better than every other units you get (at least in early game). You can choose from 4 different classes: Warrior, Scout, Commander and Wizard.
The problem is: The hero alone is not able to win most of the fights even right at the start of the game. You need either supporting units, spells or items to make him capable of conquering the provinces around your city. More units sounds like a good idea but they cost money and upkeep and the AI tends to attack the weak units first so they most likely get killed fast. Also when you buy units you don't have much gold left to build up your city. So what happened to me in the first level was that I started with a warrior (because he was great in the tutorial), build up the city and tried to conquer the provinces around me.
When you attack you get a nice text that estimates the outcome of the battle. It also tells you how many units you spotted and which kind of units they are. It is still a little vague because when you spot 8 units of militia and bowmen it makes a great difference if there are 1 or 6 bowmen and you won't know that. So despite the text I at least started every fight and would have lost all of them (tried - failed - reloaded). So my only chance to finally progress in the game would have been to use another (great but overused) feature: Exploring.
Every province (or tile) has a level of exploration. You can send your heroes to explore the tile which will give them experience (very important, but very slow), lets them find locations (most of the time fights that are often too hard to win but bring very important loot and gold/ you can also find shops with special items or units to hire) and expands the province for the population (lowers effects of overpopulation).
So back to my problem: It would have taken ages until I got strong enough to finally start conquering the provinces so I restarted the shard and chose the scout hero. The reason is that ranged combat is a little overpower and the scout alone can win some battles as long as the enemy doesn’t have too many ranged units himself or too strong and fast melee units. I guess you can also use the wizard for that matter (not tried yet) but if you go for a melee character I suggest to invest in spell granting buildings (especially magic missile) so that he can deal some harm from a distance.
So with the scout I was finally able to gain some ground and get the game going. Eventually I was able to hire a second hero (which makes sense because just 1 army to cover ~30 tiles is difficult, especially when the enemy starts attacking).
Which leads to 2 more problems:
First, when you hire a new hero midgame he is starting at level 1. You might have some items and spells available to give him or perhaps even can give him the supporting units from your experienced hero (but then this hero is significantly weaker) but all the easy fights are already done by your experienced hero so there is no (comfortable) way to level him up and make him actually useful. You can only explore and trial and error random fights.
Second: The enemy is really annoying. He often has several heroes (more than you have) and can take every province by just moving on that tile as long as you didn't buy any guards there. The point is that those guards cost money and all they bring is defend the province against a possible hero attack (later on you get access to better units that have more benefits like auto exploring the province or even increasing the income of that province (still less than their upkeep though)). So when you start taking provinces you don’t want to spend your money on hiring guards but rather want to wait until you have an actual frontline. But when you finally have one it usually consists of 4-5 tiles per enemy.
I will continue my description in the comments as the text got cut off here in the middle of my explanation! :(