You’re in the market for a civilisation sim, and you’ve taken a look at the Civilization franchise and wondered if there was a game that allowed you to take control over one of the many dynasty’s in Ancient China, rather than the global nations of Civ. What? You were? Of course you were. Well, luckily for all you seekers of Chinese Civ Sims, I may just have the game for you. Oriental Empires by Shining Pixel Studios and Iceberg Interactive brings you gameplay in a similar style of the Civ games, but set all around Ancient China. Hoorah!
If you’ve played any of the more recent Civ games then the basic premise of Oriental Empires will be fairly easy for you. You begin with a single Chinese settlement (out of the 24 available) each with its own pros and cons, and through use of research, diplomacy or just plain old military might, become the predominant super-power, or universally recognized Son of Heaven and ruler of the world as Oriental Empires has it. Now this may sound like a rather simple concept, but it’s a concept that’s made much more difficult by all the other settlements trying to do the same thing. You soon find out that managing trade, your civilizations welfare and a powerful army is not an easy task.
Oriental Empires is essentially turn-based, with each turn representing a season (and rather nicely, the map terrain changes according to that season. It goes snowy in the winter, and lush and verdant in the spring etc.) Rather obviously, it’s during your turn that you manage your dynasty, whether this is moving your units, building structures, researching new technologies or ideologies or contacting other leaders for diplomacy reasons. Research and building generally take a number of seasons to develop, as does improving your land. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and apparently neither was China.
As you build your magnificent settlements, you’ll no doubt by visited by marauders or other leaders who, rather than talk things out would rather see everything you’ve built burnt and your head paraded around on a spike. This is always a bad thing, and something you definitely want to try to avoid. The easiest way to avoid this is to ensure that you have capable warriors and defensive buildings. There’s always the ‘best defense being the best offence’ strategy which will ultimately see you parading around spiked heads. In either case, you need to manage your military.
Your units are the backbone of your army and therefore critical to your success. Units can be given formations and orders, each of which having a variety of benefits and costs. When your units and army’s meet, which could be between hundreds of soldiers, you’re presented with a fantastic battle scene that you can zoom right in to. Each unit acting out their orders, in the formation you’ve set. If comparisons between Civilization were to be drawn, this is one area where they have greatly excelled. The combat in Oriental Empires is immersive, and detailed. It’s not all a numbers game as it is often perceived to be in Civ.
OK, so the combat is immersive and definitely one of the features, but your combat means nothing if you don’t research better ways of living, fighting, farming and even thinking. The research is split into four areas, power, craft, thought and knowledge. Researching one area will likely open up one or more things to research. Some provide more units, and buildings, other research increases the effectiveness of existing units, while some will increase either your culture, or authority. In short authority is used to keep your nobles in check, while culture can lower the level of unrest of your peasants.
I’m going to top here on the gameplay because quite frankly it’s pretty deep, and if I spend much longer on it, you’ll be in danger of not getting to the end of this. Suffice to stay Oriental Empires’ gameplay is surprisingly deep and goes a lot further than initial impressions might imply. Try to overlook the limited tutorials within the game as they can be a little confusing. Find yourself a guide start-up guide and follow that.
Graphically, as you have probably already spotted by now from the screenshots and the trailer is rich and detailed. The ability to zoom all the way up close even to the degree of seeing the facial features of your individual troops is definitely worth noting. Sound wise, the plinky-plunky yet authentic oriental music will either set the mood for you or drive you to despair. Unfortunately, for me this was the latter, but it is in no way a game-changer and the music can just be turned off.
Turning your attention to its difficulty level, because Oriental Empires is a turn-based game, you could screw up and not know for many turns later. Mismanage your empire and all looks well, until marauders attack, take control of everything you’ve built just to burn it to the ground. This is just par for the course as far as civ games go. You build, make mistakes, lose and then do everything a hell of a lot better the next time around. I haven’t noticed any crazy difficulty curves myself though other players have experienced otherwise.
Would you come back to Oriental Empires time and time again? Well, it depends on your love of the genre of course, which I suppose it always does. They’ve also given you 24 leaders to choose from, and although I haven’t tried out all 24 yet the ones I have tried (as some are hidden behind a lock) all seem different enough to call for another play through. There are also various conditions of victory so, try a military victory once and then a cultural one. As strategy games go, there are certainly more reasons than not to try again.
If you wanted to give Oriental Empires a go, then head over to their official page on Steam as there’s currently 20% off the retail price.