It’s a great time to be a strategy fan. Alongside a resurgence of AAA titles from some of the most capable developers in gaming there’s been a massive uptick in indie strategy titles.
This means a huge number of quality games for the discerning fan to pick through. It also means there’s an unfortunate glut of lower-quality also-rans trying to cling to the coattails of more polished releases. Eador Imperium is caught somewhere in the middle.
Eador puts you at the helm of a fledgling empire and tasks you with shaping its future, exploring and taming the surrounding lands, conquering and subjugating enemies, and guiding legendary heroes toward their destiny. On paper it’s a recipe for epic adventure. In execution, it’s more often a recipe for tedium and frustration.
It’s certainly not short on ambition. Imperium is stuffed to the brim with content. From the number of buildings and heroes available to the number of gameplay systems and mechanics layered atop each other.
Unfortunately, this ambition isn’t always to the game’s credit. Sometimes these systems and baubles appear in such overwhelming numbers that they’re more confusing than enticing, as in the case of the game’s elaborate and sprawling building browser. Every incremental upgrade is assigned to its own discrete building. This has the dual effect of making each construction feel less important and creating tremendous clutter, both in the UI and in the home screen that represents your capital.
While in some ways the game is unnecessarily complicated, in other ways it feels mechanically light. The combat, a turn-based affair that plays out on a hexagonal grid, is immediately familiar to anyone who’s played a 4x of Eador’s ilk. It’s usually very rote and predictable with the outcome all but decided before any actual combat takes place.
The introduction of magic does tend to spice things up and add a bit of much-need tactical complexity. On the whole, though, the combat is repetitive and fairly bland. I found myself auto-resolving most battles as a campaign wore on.
One of the heaviest anchors dragging Eador down is its inexplicably poor performance. It’s a perfectly serviceable looking game. But nothing about its graphics or technical complexity suggests it should be a massive performance hog. But even on a relatively high-end gaming PC it often chugs along, framerate dipping inexcusably when units make their way across the overmap.
There are also significant issues with balance. Strategy games, especially those that pit players against AI opponents, don’t always need to present perfectly balanced units or factions. Eador has an unfortunate tendency to back players into corners that are extremely difficult or impossible to fight out of.
If you find yourself in a resource strapped starting position, you’ll quickly bleed resources while simultaneously not be able to support an army large or powerful enough to acquire more. The cost of unit upkeep is not balanced in a way that incentivizes growth and expansion, and the number of territories that aren’t worth the cost of conquering them is baffling.
Imperium is, at the very least, upfront about what sort of game it is. The tutorial is largely huge blocks of dry, grammatically imperfect text. It immediately launches into the cumbersome building system with its unfortunately designed browser and nonsensical tiered UI. Despite the aforementioned walls of text it somehow manages to incompletely describe many of the systems its trying to describe, and leaves you hunting for the proper button (often amongst hundreds of them on-screen) without having the courtesy to highlight, or indicate in any way, the one you need to press.
It’s an appropriate introduction for a game that in same ways wildly over-explains itself and in others is bafflingly dense and mysterious.
Lots of it
The game isn’t without charm, of course. The sheer volume of content, from the various resources available on the campaign map to the deep grimoire of available spells, to the huge number of buildings and units available, mean there’s a lot to sink your teeth into if you can overlook the host of flaws.
It’s a game that clearly intends to eat tens (or hundreds) of hours. Particularly if you play on larger maps and against more opponents. And there is fun to be had, though it’s often the sort of fun that comes from overcoming punishing difficulty or near impossible odds rather than the more straightforward fun of exploration and conquest that better examples of this genre offer.
Should you buy it?
In all likelihood, Eador Imperium is not for you. It’s very difficult to recommend a game with so many substandard features. So many better examples of the genre crowd the marketplace. Unless you’ve wrung all the fun and joy out of the truly excellent 4X strategy games currently on offer and are looking for a difficult, meaty experience whose flaws you’re willing to overlook in exchange for sheer quantity, Imperium is not a game you should add to your library. Even at the fairly modest $19.99 price tag.
While it’s not entirely without merit, it is a game that will frustrate and annoy more often than delight you.