Dawn of Fantasy First Look - A Fantasy Tactician's Dream?

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There are MMOs, and there are RTSs.  With originality in the genres at an all-time low as studios scramble to emulate the big names in the industry and collect precious day one subscribers and sales, one would think weÂ’ve seen it all.

Along came Dawn of Fantasy, the game that gave me hope for the industryÂ’s ability to innovate once more.

Dawn of Fantasy is a hybrid RTS/MMO that has features from both and has multiple modes of play.  There are single player options to practice with the armies of men, elves, and orcs.  Single player campaigns exist to get you used to the flow of the world map and resources, and once you're ready there is the online realm where you can put your skills to the test in real time whether youÂ’re online or off.

There are no hexes or grids to move on the world map of Dawn of Fantasy.  Your units take the most direct path available.

The RTS factors are unit and resource management, but you donÂ’t need a million actions-per-minute to be competitive in multiplayer.  This game is about positioning and timing rather than tedious individual unit control.  Your units are squads of soldiers that gain experience and can be trained anyway you see fit.  You might see an opponent with multiple groups of cavalry, but theyÂ’re actually fully trained in defense to tie up units for as long as possible rather than act as shock attackers.  While that may be a crazy example, itÂ’s certainly a possibility and you have no way to know how the opponent has leveled their units until you decide to engage them on the battlefield.

The MMO factor is how you actually move your armies around like Risk on the battlefield.  Your armies travel or heal a set amount every unit of time, and it can take a while to get around on some maps.  The anticipation of getting into a fight in a few hours can be exhilarating, especially if itÂ’s an opponent you have yet to clash with.  Should you need an army in the event of a defeat or sudden invasion, you have to come to terms with the fact that units take several minutes to actually train, so the loss of an army can lead to the loss of territory since it takes so long to train a battle-ready army. 

Sieges are long, brutal affairs.  My outer gate has fallen, but not all is lost.  I've retreated into the town to put up a last stand and get out of range of their artillery.

Battles themselves play out slowly, which is a good thing.  Even cavalry arenÂ’t exactly fleet of foot, and the slow pace enables you to adjust your unit positioning, formation, and abilities as needed.  Telling your swordsmen to raise their tower shields instead of their swords is the difference between pitiful damage and lethal damage to many of them when an arrow barrage is incoming.  Being able to actually react to your opponent leads to a lot of feint tactics and ranged offense, be it with archers or siege units, before the melees begin happening.  This is especially true during city/castle sieges, where hordes of units will clash and the management of distance, siege, and flanking is absolutely critical to bringing down the superior town defenses.

The presentation is merely sufficient, with good camera control and a below-average graphics engine powering your battles.  Even though these battles may resemble something from Total War, youÂ’ll have to deal with the lack of AAA-graphics. While the stills of the game may look wonderful, in motion is another story--animations are very sparse and jerky. Voice overs are rare and repetitive as well, but that is actually being rolled into their next few patches, so your army will feel more responsive and personable as you order them about in combat.  Volleys of arrows and flaming boulders crash down on unsuspecting armies, sending men and orc alike flying.  Towering treants and siege towers will pummel your walls, and men will scramble up them to take on unsuspecting ranged defenders.  It may look like something from a decade ago, but it plays well, so donÂ’t take these screenshots at face value.

So we have a game that could be capable of being called MMO Total War on our hands, but not all is well in the world of elves, orcs, and men.  In-game documentation is in a small, horrible font and takes forever to come up when youÂ’re idling on an icon or unit.  Wherever there is no in-game documentation, youÂ’re pretty much forced to experiment until you figure out how it works, or works well.   You might cry foul at some of the balance as well, as high level archers resemble the killing machines from the Myth universe—accurate and deadly on every shot.  As people get creative and try new strategies though, thereÂ’s no doubt weÂ’ll eventually strike a good balance with the game.  The developers are active and patching it constantly.

Even if you donÂ’t like the slow pace of the MMO version, the single player kingdom management can be sped up to an acceptable rate as you see fit, and the single skirmish sieges are great practice and are just fun to massacre units in.  Dawn of Fantasy definitely gets props for doing something different, and as it gets refined and upgraded over the course of its beta, will be a lovely niche title with zero competition.  Check it out if you get the chance!

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