Chariots of War

Published by KOCH Media
Developed by Paradox Entertainment/Slitherine Software
Platform: PC CD-ROM
Released – 4th July 2003
Price : £29.99
Chariots of War puts you in the ancient world where combat is inevitable and peace is an impossibility. Developed by Slitherine Strategies, Chariots of War is similar, in many ways to Slitherine’s previous strategy game, Legion. Instead of focusing on the Roman Empire though, Chariots of War covers the ancient east and places you in a hotbed of mistrust and savage attacks. There are a staggering 58 ancient nations included in Chariots of War such as the Lower and Upper Egyptians, the Hittites, the Troglodytes and the Assyrians to name but a few. Let’s take a look at some ancient warfare.

If you haven’t played Legion you’ll probably be surprised by the nature of Chariots of War. The game is a turn-based strategy game but if you were under any illusions that the game is a Civilization clone then you’d be way off the mark. Chariots of War doesn’t offer multiple ways to win and is focused on battles. You don’t get to start new cities as they are already created at the start of the game. You do get to develop your cities though and the purpose of this is that you get to build more advanced troops if your city has the relevant building to provide them. You also have to allocate the population work in the appropriate locations in order to gather reeds for instance. It is all uncomplicated stuff though and takes seconds to perform. Research is carried out automatically and you’ll be informed when new technologies become available.

To build units and buildings you’re going to need to get your hands on the nine resources in the game. The nine different resources are food, wood, building materials, copper, tin, horses, gems and incense. Whilst food and building materials can be grown and created, resources such as copper and horses have to be traded for (although you could always capture a city that has the resource you require).

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Each building you construct takes a certain amount of months and each turn equals one game month so in effect a building that takes 5 months will take 5 game turns to build. As each city gets bigger it will have more building slots available to place new buildings. Cities begin life as small encampments and can be developed all the way to a large city which has 8 building slots. It is important to build the appropriate buildings and facilities not only to keep your armies nicely ticking over but to also maintain the happiness of your citizens, after all you don’t want them revolting. Education, health and religious buildings are available to help you keep your people happy and as the game progresses, and your cities increase in size, you’re going to need all the help you can get to keep everyone happy.

There are six different arenas to do battle in. You have the Grand Campaign and Advanced Campaign that astonishingly sees you controlling one of fifty-eight nations. Whilst both campaigns are similar, there are some key differences. The Grand Campaign begins in 2500BC and the Advanced Campaign begins five hundred years later, in 2000BC, and begins with more technologies, and more developed cities. Other campaigns, which are more confined and don’t include so many rival states, include Anatolia which is set in Asia Minor (1500BC), Egypt (2750BC), Mesopotamia (3000BC) and Levant (2500BC). There is also a small tutorial which teaches you the bare basics of the game. You can choose to play these campaigns as ‘historical setting’ or you can alter a few details and create an alternate history setting if you wish. Each nation belongs to 1 of 10 ethnic groups (each of these ethnic groups has its own special unit) and of course each of these ethnic groups will have their own particularly hated rivals which makes it all the more interesting. There are five difficulty levels ranging from easy to impossible, which does seem impossible (to me at least).

Battles, as we’ve already said are the bread and butter of the gameplay in Chariots of War. They do have an unusual style about them though and not everybody will take to them. When you attack an enemy, or are attacked, the game will switch to the battle deployment screen. This shows an overview of your army and the enemy army (as your scouts see them which is usually wildly inaccurate, because your scouts are unable to locate hidden enemies, which can lead to nasty surprises when the battle has actually begun). All units have scouting abilities, some are better than others, so it pays to have those units with good scouting abilities as part of your army to increase the chances of locating as many enemies as possible before the start of a battle. The battlefield is split into three equal thirds on the deployment screen with you being able to position your troops in the first third only. You have the option to instruct your men to take up simple formations and you can also give out attack orders such as advance, outflank, seek etc. When you’re happy with all this you simply click the button to start the battle and sit back and watch the outcome. You can’t get involved with the battle except to tell your men to leave the field (which is suicidal because if you lose the battle all your units will disappear).

Initially I was disappointed with the lack of interaction in the battles but if you read up on the battles around this period in history then you’ll find that once battles had commenced, there was no control over the troops at all so in this respect it’s very accurate. From a gameplay point of view though and from somebody who has enjoyed the excellent battles in the Total War games, it can come as a massive shock to be able to do absolutely nothing to effect the outcome of the battles. What will please wargamers though is that morale has been modelled quite well. Your units have four states of cohesion. The four states are ordered, disordered, shaken (a 50% penalty is applied) and routed (where a 75% penalty is applied to their combat rating and your men have all but given up). What makes the battles interesting though is the variety of terrain that the game covers. The battles can be carried out on plain ground, desert and marshes (which is hopeless for heavy troops) etc. You also have to contend with natural obstacles such as forests, mountains and hills, which can hinder the use of certain units. It’s clear that although you can’t do anything once in a battle you have to consider many variables before you actually enter into battle and this gives the game a unique feel.

The main problem with Chariots of War is that it appears to oversimplify areas of the game where most turn-based strategy gamers require depth. The diplomacy model used in Chariots of War is virtually non-existent and deeply dissatisfying. Your diplomats can be sent to countries and recalled from countries and that’s about it. You are informed about the countries attitude towards your country, not by a message though you have to constantly check the diplomats status yourself which is unfortunate, but other than that there is little point in having diplomats. There are no peace treaties, no trade deals, no compromises over territories etc. At first I was dismayed at the seemingly pointless function of the diplomats but the more experienced a diplomat becomes, the more he will be able to influence the mood of the territory, where he is located, toward you so it pays to send diplomats to places which you perceive to be a future threat. This is all handled transparently though and you have no part in what the diplomat does. What is good is that if you choose to evict a diplomat from your city you can choose a method to remove him. There are seven different methods ranging from showing him to the border to the rather more grotesque method of just sending his head back to where he came from. Trading is another aspect of the game that has been kept simple. Clicking on the trade button brings up a menu which allows you to trade goods. A trade can either be a reoccurring event each turn or it can be a one-off trade. There are no moving caravan units like in Civilization II.

Chariots of War, visually speaking is very similar to titles such as Civ III and Trade Empires. The resolution is fixed at 1024×768 and whilst the graphics are in no way the best out there, they certainly do the job very well indeed. In fact functional is perhaps the best way to describe the graphics. There are no fancy 3D visuals here that enable you to spin the campaign or battle maps, but there doesn’t need to be. The city views and the battles all provide enough detail to show you the information you need. Of course a major benefit of the game engine that has been used is that you don’t need a high specification machine to run the game.

Chariots of War is fine for deaf gamers. All information is given in text only and any events that occur are placed in your message log. The messages button will have a number on it to indicate how many messages have been received for that turn. The tutorial messages are all placed in your message log so again you’ll have to click on the message button in order to receive the instructions. There is verbal unit confirmations (which aren’t in English) when you instruct your units to move and these aren’t showed in text but in all honesty they add nothing to the gameplay and it is definitely no loss without them.

If you haven’t played Legion, Slitherine’s previous title, it’s difficult to know what to expect when playing Chariots of War for the first time. It’s actually closer to Warlords III than Civilization III in that the battles are the heart and soul of the gameplay. Like Civ III you do get to develop your cities but the trade and diplomacy aspects are not as fleshed out as a Civ III fan would want. It’s difficult to put into words what makes Chariots of War so addictive as the gameplay experience is definitely greater than the sum of its parts. It’s also the kind of game that will please casual gamers because it doesn’t go into too much depth. In fact I feel that Chariots of War would make an ideal game for anyone looking to get into the turn-based strategy genre as it doesn’t come on too strong but it still shows how addictive TBS gaming can be. Hardcore TBS players will also appreciate a game that doesn’t require encyclopaedic knowledge of the game in order to be able to enjoy it, which is refreshing. A multiplayer mode would have been great but it still offers unlimited replayability as a single player game.

Overall Game Rating: 8.2/10
Chariots of War may not be the deepest turn-based strategy game but it’s a very addictive experience and is certainly more inviting to casual gamers who are usually put off by TBS games.

Deaf Gamers comment:
No problems at all for deaf gamers. All information is given in text that you can read in your own time.

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