I will be the first to admit that the medieval times are awesome. Not the theme restaurant, no, but the entire time period as a whole. When it comes to video games in particular, medieval times offer an oddly seamless transition from the believable to the unbelievable. Maybe it’s our fascination with magic and how it seems to relate to this time period, combined with the astonishing structures and massive wars that occurred during these times. I might be thinking too hard about it; maybe it’s just fun to use swords and arrows on your way through a game. Regardless, no matter how mysterious, no matter how fantastical medieval times are, leave it to Citadels to find a way to make it one of the most boring things in recent memory.
There isn’t much lead up before starting the game. You see a few pictures with text superimposed on the bottom before it dumps you off on a trail next to a river. Because I am new to the game itself, and have absolutely no clue where or what anything is, I’d expect a tutorial of sorts. I don’t consider myself the greatest RTS player in the world by any means, so I figured at least a for dummies tutorial for people like me. Unfortunately, I was sadly mistaken. They throw you into the first level and genuinely expect you to pick things up right from the moment you select the first campaign. The in-game quests tell me that I have to destroy the opponent’s Town Hall, and I have to locate my own. Looking down at the disturbingly barebones minimap I saunter my way down towards my little base…or what I could assume was my base since there wasn’t much of an indication of anything. After I made it there, I was instructed to build a House.
I wouldn’t think building a House would be so difficult, either. But this is Citadels, and because of that there was no indication of what a House was. I found the House and wasn’t given much of an idea of what it actually does. Given my previous experience with games like Warcraft I simply assumed that it would allow me to spawn peasants. Sure enough, once the House was built the Town Hall began spewing peasants out through the front door, who would proceed to stand around in a dopey manner. Beginning to resemble an actual game, I understood the next quest was to build a resource building and gather resources. A serious no-brainer, as I had moused over the resource button on the bottom right during my scramble to find the houses. I attempted to mouse over the peasant, but as I clicked it nothing happened. It turns out the controls reverted themselves in some way which made me have to position my mouse very specifically to the bottom of left of the unit I was interested in before clicking it.
The controls in particular are nightmarish, and it doesn’t stop with the inconsistent pointer, which is beyond awful. You cannot quickly drag and click multiple units, you have to drag it, wait for the game to acknowledge your action (which can take upwards of an entire second), before letting go of the mouse button and taking control of your units. You might be thinking “it’s only a second” but honestly, when a great deal of the game is spent building things and gathering, it becomes irritating to deal with. Besides, this is stuff that games like Warcraft perfected, what, almost 15 years ago? It isn’t an unknown concept to have instantaneous responses to mouse actions. It’s certainly something else when games like Warcraft are more intuitive than a game released in August of 2013. There’s absolutely no indication of what the resources are, and the game tells you to collect “four of the basic resources.” That wouldn’t be an issue if there was at least any indication of what those basic resources actually were. No such indication exists in this game. I could assume it’s one of the eight resources meekly displayed above the goals tab, but there’s no indication of how to get the resources. Many of them are self-explanatory: if you build a lumber mill then you will chop trees. Build a stone quarry and you will mine stone. There is absolutely no indication of where these resources are. A few of them are obvious. Others can take a great deal of time just to find. Hunting about the map for iron ore when I didn’t even know what it looked like isn’t a great deal of fun. After all, I am a new player, and I would read the manual if the manual had any worthwhile information on what any of this looks like. The fact all of this happened within the first 30 minutes of the game. It just did a great job of throwing all of the game’s problems in your face as soon as the game even started.
I don’t expect to have my hand held throughout a game, because that would be incredibly boring and not worth the time. Still, though, it’s just common courtesy to lead me in the right direction! It’s downright baffling how RTS games from over a decade ago are easier to understand than Citadels, almost as if they went out of their way to make the game as counter-intuitive as possible. The references are right in front of your face. You have games like Warcraft 3, Starcraft and Company of Heroes, games that have been released to the public for years and established the basic the basic principles of the RTS. They were fun to play, and absolutely successful while remaining more or less difficult as any other game out at the time. There is absolutely no good reason to throw out these basic principles, and one can’t even ague if Citadels was designed in such a way for difficulty’s sake. There’s a fundamental difference between difficulty and hiding the core mechanics of the game in the most cryptic way possible. When not even the manual can help light the way towards understanding, you know there’s something deeply flawed with your product.
It simply seems like the core concepts of an RTS are lost on the developers. Combining the haphazard execution with all the very small things that are wrong with this game, it’s not just the big picture that Citadels doesn’t execute properly. Don’t get me wrong: the large picture Citadels doesn’t execute well either, but it’s the small issues a game developed in 2013 shouldn’t have. There isn’t a justifiable reason why I have to click slightly off to the side whenever the game feels like it, or the lack of any sort of label. There’s no reason to make even the bare functions of this game so cryptic that it makes the game practically unplayable. It’s a shame because I truly love the setting, and I wanted to learn more about the story and why I’m building citadels in the first place. It feels as if the game just doesn’t want to show me, like a timid author that has an interesting story to tell but will do whatever it takes to keep you from glancing at a single word.
There might be an honest-to-goodness game somewhere in here, lurking underneath the slew of technical issues, uninspired gameplay, game-breaking mechanics and cryptic explanations for how everything fits together. Not that the game would have fit together in the first place, anyway. Whatever may be underneath the game, it’s really not worth the trouble of finding out.