Praetorians - game review

Date: 2003-04-01 10:27:00
The review was based on the PC version.

I don't believe it ... I thought I knew a lot about real-time strategies. I knew the games were similar to each other like two drops of water, and there is no point in playing the second if you played the first. I thought that they were practically arcade games, in which the name of the word "strategy" came only by accident or as a result of unbreakable dreams about what they would not be. I did not see any hope that anything from this species would ever sprout that would catch my attention for longer than it was necessary to write something about a given game. Yes, I admit, there were gems that were extremely pampered and cute, and even slightly different in idea, but the basic idea of the ertees was always the same - collect as many of your units as possible in the shortest possible time and hit your opponent with them. The whole strategy was to crush the enemy troops and kill them piece by piece. I can't count how many ertees I've played in my life, but I remember well that the last one I had no fake fun at was the first "Warcraft". However, I can count how many texts on real-time strategy I wrote for Gier-OnLine - there were fifteen of them. And probably in each of them there was my grumble about how much I do not like RTS. That's why I still can't believe that on my computer there is a game that represents this boring genre - a game that not only enjoys playing, but also: a game where victory depends on strategic and tactical solutions, not the speed of clicking the mouse. "Praetorians" ... what a beautiful title ...

I think that each of us, players who do not shy away from more or less strategic games, have a well-established idea of how such a game should look like. I also think most will agree with me on the belief that good ertees should look like "Starcraft" or "Shogun". Possibly like "Age of Empires". "Starcraft" is primarily an attractive variety of fighting sides, but it goes hand in hand with such a balance of their forces that taking up the struggle after any of them gives the same opportunities as the others. "Shogun" is momentum - large armies, large spaces and focus on commanding all of your forces, instead of fragmenting yourself to give orders to individual subordinates. "Age of Empires", in turn, is a painfully classic RTS: a fragment of a story, a bit of inventions, a bit of building, a bit of training, a bit of a fight according to the rule, who is larger is stronger. What if you tried to combine all these approaches in one game? Find a compromise that allows you to get a bit of everything? History knows similar cases - at least theoretically, because usually it quickly forgets about them. All kinds of hybrids conceived against God's will have a difficult, unhappy and short life, and certainly cannot have children. Examples are strong and sterile mule, Jeff Goldblum fused with a fly, or the boring and irritating "Celtic Kings". Here and there half-humans half-animals possessed divine laws, but that was mainly because everyone was afraid of them, nobody wanted to play with them, and it wasn't brave to kill them. That is why they were planted somewhere high and far away where the eyesight cannot reach. It turns out, however, that genetics have really moved on in recent times, and the best proof of this is the emergence of the "Praetorians". A game presenting various sides of the conflict, approaching the fights with great momentum, and at the same time requiring precise planning from the player at the unit level. And it's a game that is playable by all means. How is this possible?

Providing an honest answer to the question "how to achieve success" is practically impossible until there is something to look at. And when someone succeeds, there is no one who does not know that this is what it should be done, and anyone could do it. (But not everyone had the conditions for it, lucky enough, he didn't want to be so smart ... there were plenty of reasons why others failed, but it had nothing to do with the fact that they couldn't.) I know how it should have been done. :-)

First of all, it was necessary to make the game nice and decorated with good music and natural-sounding effects. The first impression is the element of the reception which sieves the greatest number of interested parties. It is difficult for us to convince ourselves to use ugly things and it takes a great deal of self-denial to discover their usefulness. That's why the Praetorians are a cute game. The completely three-dimensional engine allows you to enjoy the eyes of both the diverse terrain and the varied animations of individual soldiers. There are hills, rocks, groves and forests, rivers, fords - in a word: all those elements of the terrain that on the real battlefield have a significant impact on the strategies taken. The men, though tiny, bravely wield their weapons, move on foot, run, and ride horses (or camels). If you look at the army of several dozen, standing in the bushes and getting bored, the eye pleases the eye with such a detail that individual soldiers are animated in different stages. Yes, the authors of the game made a few compromises that allowed them to finish the work in a finite time, but they were thought carefully - so as not to spoil the whole fun. I am thinking about the slightly stiff movement of some units, the lack of animation of horses turning back on the run or bushes bending under the pressure of the troops passing through them ... Well, the appetite grows with eating, but wouldn't I want too much? As for today.

Another good idea is to let the tired players build and develop new (and the same for each mission) structures. And it's not like that at the beginning of the level, a lot of the backstage has already been prepared, but simply: donation. Since the appearance of "Dune 2" we have built a lot of space ports, dragon hatcheries, repair facilities, mages academies, radio stations, archery schools, studs, kennels, altars, forges, cemeteries, rocket launchers and sacrificial pits. We have built up enough and a little more, all with the sole aim of being able to deal with the necessary inventions and the construction of the base as quickly as possible, deploy the best army in the shortest possible time and go into battle. In the "Praetorians" new units are recruited and that's it. It is all the more natural that the leitmotif of the game is the expansion of the Roman Empire, and yet the legions moving forward did not build cities and did not turn into farmers to sow crops and feed cows. Legions occupied the cities. This also happens in the game. We find a settlement; if it is in someone's possession, then we gain it by attacking a military garrison; we set up our own garrison, and introduce the chief to the village and start recruiting troops. No gold mining, no tree cutting, no solar panels, no gathering spice-spice-mud. It was all there. In "Praetorians", the recruitment possibilities are limited by the natural population growth (which we have no influence on) and the number of glory points that we earn in victorious battles. Access to more advanced units requires one or two of these points.

With such an easier approach to building an army, the game had to appear in the game, a mechanism for limiting the number of troops that a player can dispose of. However, if it were not available, then in a limited time each player could construct such large armies that there would be no room for them in the field. However, it is not strictly quantitative. Although both the number of troops and the number of units they make up are limited, different formations have different requirements for human resources, and thus the choice remains: to create a large army consisting of the simplest soldiers, or to honor quality over quantity.

If the authors of "Praetorians" focused on the tactical side of the game, it should be expected that it will not be reduced to a very disliked scheme: they will buy a pile of them, gentlemen. And she didn't. When I try to recall any real-time strategy in which skillful use of my forces would be of similar importance, I only think of such great titles as the already mentioned "Shogun", "Warrior Kings" or "Medieval". The "Praetorians" won my heart at the very beginning of the game, when, by chance, in an attack on an equal opponent, I suffered losses ten times smaller than him. This case was not accidental, because it was caused by the fact that my subordinates actually fulfilled the orders given to them, and their execution had an effect in line with my expectations. This pleasant state of affairs is the result of at least a few well-coordinated elements.

Above all, the use of numerous troops was refined. The player is in charge of several dozen or so units, but from a tactical point of view, they behave like units. It just looks nicer 90 archers laying a barrier ... a shot against a hundred attacking barbarians than three bows against four spears. The unit that moves in the field also looks much better than individual men, it regroups, moves in formation or in a loose group, and on command it accepts one of the available formations. It is they, better than aesthetic reasons, that justify the use of numerous armies. The formations are not limited to the selection of geometric figures (square, column, wedge), which do not have a great impact on the effectiveness of attack or defense, but allow you to change the behavior of a given unit in such a way as to make the best use of its potential. Pikemen, who are naturally good at cavalry, can adopt a positional formation in which they spread out in a long line bristling with spears forward, plus the front row of squats to make the action feel more real. If the attacking cavalry does not decide to retreat, then it is ready to fly without doing any harm to the attacked. Very flexible legionaries are my favorites because of their ability to use shields. Arranged in a "turtle", they become a kind of tank that can perfectly resist any attacks - with the possible exception of catapult fire. Archers, on the other hand, at the cost of limiting their mobility, can adopt their own positional formation, in which they are able to hit targets at a fantastic distance. And so on.

Hand in hand with the skillful use of formations is the use of field conditions. The hills obscure the view, and the units occupying them gain an invaluable advantage. An attack on archers located in such a way, if they are still supported by infantry that does not give them access to them, is quite a challenge and may prove impossible to carry out even with extremely fast cavalry. In such cases, the least advanced auxiliary infantry, whose main task on the battlefield is to construct machines, come to the rescue. Especially catapults - a powerful but very delicate weapon. In "Praetorians", it does not happen that a boulder fired from a catapult takes some health points from its victims - a speeding stone, falling into the crowd, kills everyone within a few meters. On the other hand, a few lit arrows fired at the wooden structure will end its existence in a moment. It is not possible to win any battle with one favorite formation. The player is forced to use both infantry, archers, cavalry, catapults and pikemen - all depending on the situation. The regrouping of units is not a problem, because individual units have no problem finding their way, they do not stumble over each other, and they carry out orders quickly and efficiently. When necessary, they are capable of running.

With so many tactical options at hand, it is of great importance to recognize the enemy's terrain and forces before each battle. Units can hide behind obstacles, on hills or in forests, and scouts are used to find them. There are two types of them: Scout with Wolf and Scout with Falcon. The wolf is able to run into the forest and pinpoint the position of the enemy hidden in it; the falcon cannot see what the trees hide, but covers large areas of land with its (eagle-eyed) eyes and is able to cover considerable distances in a short time.

Fortifications as well as their acquisition and defense are a separate quality in the game. Attacking high walls requires you to use siege ladders, catapults and heavy infantry that will deal with the enemy on the walls in the shortest possible time. Here too, it is not the number of own troops that is decisive, but the issuing of orders wisely. Reasonable use of the combat capabilities of your subordinates can give you a lot of satisfaction when you manage to deal with theoretically more numerous and stronger enemy with a well-planned and performed attack. The more so because computer players also do not fall asleep pears in the ashes, and the actions carried out by them only prove how important the correct interaction of various formations with each other is.

In order for the player to be able to learn and master the possibilities of the game as painlessly as possible, the authors have prepared four training scenarios for him. They also managed a rare art: they are interesting, and the fighting techniques learned on their occasion make us wait impatiently for further challenges. In fact, it's hard for me to find in "Praetorians" something that I would like to get under my orders, and that the authors of the game would not take into account. The only criticism I have comes from the inadequate view of the battlefield. It sometimes happens that the situation asks you to see a larger space, but the camera does not move away as I would like it to. Then it seems to me that my strategic genius is suffering because I cannot see everything. But this alleged strategic genius has a lot to show off anyway, and even more: while playing "Praetorians" you cannot explain your defeats by the fact that your subordinates failed something, because they got lost in a grove on the way, did not follow an order or were not up to something capable. They are capable of fighting, as in rarely any game.