Lost Empire (PC)

Written at launch, early 2008.

Let’s get this out of the way so you know what to expect before reading any further. Lost Empire is not a simple game, it’s not a game you can drop into for five minutes and have an enjoyable time not using your brain. Even in a genre that is often quite complex, Lost Empire: Immortals takes complex to a whole new level and then makes each mission excessively long just to make sure that you know this is ‘hardcore’. Also, don’t start thinking it’s a sequel or an expansion pack to Lost Empire, it’s not, it’s a ‘new game inspired by the old one’ according to the developers Pollux Game Labs. If you’re still reading by now, then well done. You’re obviously a real fan of either Lost Empire or turn based strategy games; and I say well done to you. There are many great turn based strategy games in the world, not least of all the Civilization series and the Total War series; both admirable examples of a genre that although often slightly daunting at first, turns out to produce some marvellously addictive gaming. However, in the case of Lost Empire, it’s a real test of even the most hardened of turn based strategy fans.

As is almost always the case with this type of game, there’s an awful lot of juggling the world (actually, the universe in this case) economy, combined with diplomacy with your rivals and resource management. Unfortunately in the case of Lost Empire, it’s not very well explained despite the tutorial offered. The storyline is also just as messy and ultimately you probably won’t care much because you’ll be more interested in the gameplay offered. To sum it up briefly, it is the very distant future. The once powerful Eonian Immortals (so that’s where the name came from) are a ruined civilisation thanks to a war against a rival faction. Luckily two survivors decide to rebuild their people with the aid of six mortal races, which is where you come into it. As is often the more interesting way in games, the two survivors have different views on how to rebuild their civilisation and a war commences (you’d think they’d have learnt from the last one), so it’s down to you to choose what to do: take a side, ignore them or defeat them.

All six mortal races are available to play as, ranging from humans to horde (no relation to the Warcraft type). The only real difference being their racial bonuses. Once you get started in a game, prepare for it to be far from short. Each game can take many hours to complete purely because the maps are so large. At first, you’ll mainly be concentrating on expanding your civilisation and ensuring you have enough resources to survive and grow. As the game progresses, you’ll make first contact with the alien races which is where things get messy. The game AI is somewhat unpredictable, sometimes first contact will be very peaceful, other times it’ll be all out of war and you’ll have to concentrate more on defence than resource gathering. Sure, it’s realistic in its way because why would any opposition in reality be predictable? But realism doesn’t always make a good game, especially not here. Instead, you have a huge balancing act on your hands which will test even the most hardened of strategy gamers.

Unfortunately the battle system is also somewhat poor. For some reason, while the rest of the game is complex, there’s seemingly few tactics to the battle system. For the most part, the battles are not interactive which can get a little dull although a welcome break for your brain at least. The battle replays also show how much the game engine is lacking on the graphics front. Despite the scale of the galaxy, which is quite astonishing, it doesn’t look overly exciting, just massive. It doesn’t need impressive graphics but they are often welcome. Throw in the poor audio and it’s not very welcoming for many more casual players. Just a touch of voice acting here or there would have been nice.

There are some nice bonuses such as being able to design your own ships, but they’re poorly implemented much of the time and just feel like missed opportunities. The game actually has quite a pace on it, certainly once first contact has been made so it might have worked better as a RTS, a la Age of Empires, rather than this board game like appearance.

I’ve got a strong feeling that Lost Empire: Immortals is a true marmite game. It’s a bit of a cop out to say in any review, but this really is an example of a game you’ll either love or hate. The hardcore strategy game fans amongst us will adore this. It’s a true challenge and it will last a very, very long time. However if you’re any less than a hardcore fan (and I mean the type of fan who will forego sleep for a week just to play networked Civilization) you might not like this at all. The game starts out complicated and the further you get, the more demanding it becomes. On the plus side, it will really last you forever, especially with an always welcome multiplayer option. It’s a very traditional strategy game underneath the surface, it could quite easily get by as an ASCII based game years ago as it’s all about the gameplay; to some that’s a huge draw, but to others (including me) it’s just a turn off. Excluding the somewhat unpredictable AI, there’s nothing essentially wrong with Lost Empire: Immortals, it just offers nothing that makes it worthwhile playing over other, better turn based strategy games, or even a good old fashioned board game like Risk.