Tristan Kalogeropoulos
27 Dec, 2006

Heroes of Annihilated Empires Review

PC Review | Heroic promise annihilated by poor implementation.
When genres merge the end result can be either a beautifully balanced blend of the elements of each, or a complete and utter disaster. Heroes of Annihilated Empires promised to mix both the RTS and RPG genres and come out with something at the end that was a new way of imagining the two styles of gameplay. WarCraft 3 dabbled in creating a hybrid of the two but it but lent heavily towards the RTS side of things with a smattering of RPG elements spread throughout. HOAE attempts to move further towards a middle ground where both of these can co-exist in a harmonious fashion. The first of what is supposed to be a trilogy, Heroes of Annihilated Empires draws heavily from the mythologies of classic works of fantasy such as Lord of the Rings.

The game follows the journey of Elhant, an Elvin ranger. Elhant is a stubborn character and, as with most heroes, he is the proverbial cowboy, a lone man who works alongside the good guys to assist them, but never truly follows their rules. The kingdom of Atlans is under attack from an undead plague. What is causing this and how it can be stopped you will learn throughout the game as it will be your job to put an end to this blight upon the land. Whilst the story isn’t the most original the way that the game focuses on the characters is.

Role-playing and RTS manage to coexist relatively well and the developer’s goal to combine the two playing styles is pulled off rather decently. As with most RPG’s, your hero will gain skills as you progress through the game. There are also new weapons and spells to be picked up and alchemist’s stores available from which to purchase potions to further flesh out your inventory. Elhant is definitely the main character of the game and the armies, although there role is pivotal, are reasonably faceless entities. His role as protagonist extends to your survival within the game. While there is little punishment for having the rest of your forces perishing you must keep Elhant alive to be able to continue through the game. Although there are many RPG elements within HOAE the look and feel of the game will be more familiar to those well-versed in RTS games.

Atlan's was such a nice place before those undead started buying up all the waterside property.

Atlan's was such a nice place before those undead started buying up all the waterside property.
Similar to many RTS's you'll spend a lot of your initial time in many levels setting up your forces to gather resources. There's a few in this game and varied methods that need to be used to gather them. The fairies that are analogous to peons or peasants in Warcraft, are the units that you will begin with and the will assist you in creating a base and also in supplying the war machine. There are limited units which can be purchased but the what the this area of the game lacks in variety it makes up for in quantity.

If there's one element of HOAE that's implemented extremely well, it's scale. As you scroll your mouse around the map you'll get a sense of the grandness of the environment in which you'll be battling your foes. Add in a couple of armies and you really get chance to see that you're dealing with a huge world and each and every one of your units makes up just a tiny piece of that. All in all the developers have managed to create a game that blends some great gameplay styles together rather seamlessly. That said, the game has quite a few failings that walk alongside the successes.

Heroes of Anihilated Empires' AI is, quite plainly and simply, woeful. There are times when you are able to stand around regaining health, and casting attacking spells at an enemy whilst they either stand back and do nothing or continue to cast their attacking spell into the rock face that stands between the two of you. Secondly on occasion hordes of enemies can be wandering past your waiting army and are able to simply waltz on by unfazed by the fact that your troops are there. Your army, presumably as they're not on duty or something, also fail to acknowledge the fact that they're supposed to be guarding against the enemy and sit idly by as the go on their merry way. This detracts greatly from the experience of the game and, especially when there are so many other titles with more solid AI implementation, and is a real disappointment to say the least.

Isn't there a Johnny Cash song about this?

Isn't there a Johnny Cash song about this?
The prerendered CG intro and cutscenes look great. Extremely reminiscent of the Lord of the Rings films, they not only look great but the filmic direction behind them makes the game feel as though you are about to take part in an experience that is worthy of the game's epic name. Unfortunately the other, 'regular', cutscenes, like the gameplay, does not come close to being anything satisfying. Put simply, they look terrible. Instead of prendered clips you are presented with a comicstrip-esque visual description of events. The drawings that make these up are terribly average and look as if they were drawn in a hurry, or were coloured in storyboards, put in at the last minute as budgets ran out and deadlines were looming.

The voice work behind the cutscenes ranges from great to absolutely wooden and this inconsistency is as irritating as that of the storytelling methods. Another annoying trait of the voice work is that even if you skip in-game text dialogue the audio element of them continues on long after you’ve moved on to doing the next thing. This can be extremely annoying especially if you’ve moved from one NPC talking to another giving them the ability to talk over one another.

Be prepared for some big battles.

Be prepared for some big battles.
There is also the fairly limited multiplayer and skirmish modes in which you can play as one of the four races within the game. There are only a small number of maps available for these wich severely diminishes replayability.

It should also be noted that Heroes of Annihilated Empires uses Starforce copy protection. As we've said before we haven't experienced any problems with the software but there are many that wish to steer clear of it and it's important that they stay informed.

Heroes of Annihilated Empires promises so much and delivers about half of it. The mix of RPG and RTS gameplay styles fit together rather harmoniously and in ways that few other games have attempted, and even fewer successfully. The vast scale of your elven hero's world is also captured extremely well, and while the graphics aren't the best that we've seen, they are relatively good and do a great job of portraying the mythical world of Atlans. Unfortunately it's in many of the elements that should be holding a great game together that HOAE falls down. Poor AI and average looking cutscenes detract greatly from the enjoyability of the game. What makes this all the more frustrating is the extreme promise that the ideas behind Heroes of Annihilated Empires hold and it would have been great to see the title pull off its grand vision successfully, but this time it was not to be. Maybe in the next installment of the game the developers will be able to bring promises and realities together to form the fantastic game that Heroes of Annihilated Empires could have been.
The Score
It's a shame that a game that gets the mix of genres so right is hampered by such a great number of issues that all result in holding it back from realising its true potential. 6
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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