Whilst we all know games like Total War dominate this area, Oriental Empires takes a slightly different approach and allows the player to really feel like they’re building an empire. It’s hard not to draw comparisons to Total War and the like being that it’s the most recognizable and polished representation of these types of games. The familiar hexagonal map layout and the top down view with cities and unit stacks are all the same. One would think launching into the game would be easy if you were familiar with the previously mentioned titles, however Oriental Empires is a little different. There’s a veritable encyclopedia of knowledge the player is required to read to understand the somewhat flawed mechanics of the game, but the real learning comes with play-time.
Thrust yourself into the campaign mode, and you’ll soon find after the first 30 minutes or so (the game is slow to start, but worth it if you can stick through it!) you’re playing a game that has it’s own personality so to speak. Oriental Empires is different but similar all at the same time. The diplomatic interface with other factions is remarkably similar to Total War and any of the Sid Meiers series, Age of Empires etc – but how could it not be? The drive to secure resources and trade to improve your factions abilities in martial and civil life also exists as it does in other games, along with the land transformation options of clearing forests among other things.
The interesting and somewhat different aspect of Oriental Empires however, is the requirement to plan out ones entire turn in advance, and then click the go button. It’s interesting to see how your planned moves pan out. Whilst you may think you’re intercepting an opposing army by cleverly moving your unit stacks to a certain portion of the map, it could turn out that you’ve played right into their hands. The combat system is slightly different too. Setting your armies to attack, defend or harass is a new element – one which takes away the direct combat focus that other similar games have, but this adds to the difficulty and the challenge of commanding your forces which was a surprising and welcome change.
The same culture and authority rating system applies in game, whereby your happiness changes depending on how your subjects view you as a ruler, and how you govern and perform whilst at the helm. Other factions also take note of this and treat you accordingly. The tech system works in the same way as the aforementioned titles, whereby you focus on a specific area for a certain gain. Power, Craft, Knowledge and Thought are the categories in which they’re broken up, and you can focus on any at your will. New units, effects, edicts and structures come from your endeavours once completed which will advance your civilization further.
I would have liked to have seen more AI control in the form of settlement governers, whereby the intricacies of each city are managed by the PC. Checking in on your cities constantly kind of takes away from the game focus a bit – even the smallest little upsets in your towns can lead to a downfall in gold/food production and a dramatic decrease in efficiency and operational capability. You will find yourself hamstrung and unable to do anything of importance should you neglect this aspect of the game.
The combat side of this game for which it seems the game was designed around, does leave something to be desired. I still haven’t figured out how the battle outcomes are determined. By that, I mean how it was possible for my army of 200 strong to be defeated by a force of 40 troops of the same class and strength in standard terrain. On the flipside, I easily dispatched a group of 160 professional soldiers marching on one of my towns with a force of 40 peasant militia. The same ‘plan-your-turn-first’ scenario applies to combat, whereby you move your armies around and set their postures etc and then click the go button. Somewhat frustratingly, this usually turns into a merry go round by where each opposing army ends up chasing the other area the battle map. Sometimes though, they meet each other with cold steel and you get to see if Jackie Chan happens to be imbedded in the enemy army to heck you up no matter how much you outnumber them by.