By Farhan Gazi
Romance of the Three Kingdoms is about three kingdoms (duh) in classical China. The story focusses on the last days of the Han Dynasty, with the three main powers effort to either take over or save it. The original tale is part history and part legend, but the book itself (written by Luo Guanzhong) is considered to be one of the great works of literature in our time. Comparable to the works of Shakespeare; if Shakespeare ever had his books turned into video games.
Rage of Three Kingdoms follows the battles and trials of the main characters of the book as they each try to establish their superiority over their opponents. At least that's what I've managed to gather; being an online strategy game doesn't quite lend much time to story telling. While the effort is much appreciated, there's a feeling that the medium doesn't quite do justice to the nuances of the original story. Although, that could just be because of the translation work.
One small issue with the story is that there are literally hundreds of characters in it, translating into what ends up being hundreds of named mooks to fight. Though that does beg the question: if the faceless henchman has a name, is he still a faceless henchman?
The first time you log into the game you are greeted with beautiful visuals and vivid graphics. The splash screens that appear while loading might as well be desktop backgrounds with the way it spans across the screen; depicting major battles or characters in the story.
The map screens are more than a little disappointing. With all the effort that went into making the promotional art look good, you would think that the in game graphics would share the same attention to detail. The first screen you see is your town; which is your generic Chinese fortress. There are some water effects going on, plus the art puts quite a few details into creating palace that evokes a sense of peace and serenity. Like how one would picture a fantasy Chinese palace with all the gardens.
This quality of art design follows the game into the local battlefield, which is for some reason named the 'scene'. The backgrounds look like a painting that someone decided would look nice as a battlefield in a game. Which is nice in a way, but is ruined by the addition of the brightly coloured cartoonish unit markers that players need to defeat in order to progress to the next area. This clash of art styles doesn't quite sit right, and takes away from the effort put in by the artist.
Scenarios - Battle
Gameplay is somewhere between Pokemon and Heroes of Might and Magic, with a little bit of the Command & Conquer MMO thrown in. Players each have a series of bases that they can upgrade to provide better weapons and gear for their troops. These bases are also help generate resources to be used. The style is similar to most RTS games where you will need to follow a certain tech tree before gaining access to better buildings.
Troops are represented in the classic rock-paper-scissors format: swordsmen will beat spearmen, but spearmen will beat cavalry. There are two other unit types, in the form of archers and healers. Archers are long range units capable of shooting from behind the front lines and doing massive amounts of damage, but are terribly soft and won't last long without protection. Healers are pretty much what it says on the box.
Each unit of troops is also lead by a hero, who can learn special skills and equip items. A hero's level and equipment will give the unit bonuses during combat; while the special abilities do things like allow the unit to strike all enemies in a line or throw fireballs.
Unit types can also be upgraded into more specialised units, that do more in their chosen role. The names of these upgrades get even more ridiculous as it goes along, so it's definitely worth going out of your way to upgrade fill out your armies with a Balrog, Thor and an Airbender. Besides the odd names, the addition of specialised units does create room for a greater variation of tactics. It also lets players build their armies to their own style. Whether it's the wall of steel approach, or the player who prefers his enemies fight in the shade; there is the option to build the army.
The strategy elements also come from the fact that you're supposed to arrange your battle formation beforehand. There is a 3 x 3 grid for players to fill with formations, but there are limitations. Only certain parts of the grid are open for use at any given time, and players will have to research to open up more slots. This forces you to choose the best troops with the most suitable formation for that particular battle.
Overall, Rage of 3 Kindgoms is a decent MMO for playing during your lunch hour at work. It has a decent level of PvE elements that prevent the game from collapsing into a mess of everyone attacking everyone else. Some other MMO games of this kind make the mistake of focussing completely on PvP, which ends up driving casual players out and leaving the entire server full of people with nothing better to do than watch their imaginary armies.
*Review account courtesy of OffGamers