Longtime PC strategy gamers may fondly remember Triumph Studios’s Age of Wonders, an excellent series of fantasy, turn-based 4X games. Those same gamers may also remember the Heroes of Might and Magic series and, more recently, the wonderful King’s Bounty reboot. Eador: Masters of the Broken World is an ambitious strategy title that takes parts of each of those classic series to form its own, epic strategy experience. It is a grand idea – so grand, that the game is downright overwhelming. It is exceedingly complex, and comes with a steep learning curve that can overwhelm even highly seasoned strategy gamers. There are payoffs if you can endure the punishment that the game dishes out while you learn how it works, but you are going to have to be very dedicated to experience them.
Eador: Masters of the Broken World is a strategy game that features both high level, Civilization-like strategy and low level, tactical combat. Each map represents a shard – a piece of a broken world that you have to conquer before you move onto the next shard. Each space on the map represents a province. Like Civilization or Age of Wonders, you capture and control these provinces. In one of them, your stronghold, you build all kinds of improvements. Some improvements enable you to recruit new units, while others improve some other aspect of the province’s performance. Unlike Civilization and Age of Wonders though, you don’t build combat units the same way as buildings. Instead you'll recruit them for gold, ala the King’s Bounty series. When you meet enemies, the game switches to a tactical combat map, where you and your enemies take turns moving, attacking one another, and using special abilities. You gain experience, gold, and magic crystals when you win, allowing you to buy more stuff and level up your heroes and combat units.
Even seasoned strategy may find their heads spinning when faced with the complexity of Eador: Masters of the Broken World to. Each combat unit has 12 different attributes. “Attack” is a different attribute from “counterattack”. “Ranged defense” is a different attribute from regular “defense”. Every unit also has a maximum amount of stamina (not the same as hit points), which gets used up when the unit moves or attacks. There is also a morale stat, and ranged units even use up ammunition. Units gain experience and can improve abilities when they gain levels.
When you go beyond combat to economics and choosing what to build, the game becomes even more dizzying. Building A gives you access to building B, but excludes you from building C. Building B allows you to recruit unit type X. But you have lots of unit type Y in your army, and Y doesn’t get along with X. Some buildings give you positive karma, while others give you negative karma (karma is the game’s morality point system that carries over from shard to shard). Some buildings allow you to recruit stationary guards for your provinces, while others give you access to certain spells.
With systems interacting with each other, it would be a challenge to figure out how to play the game, even if it provided you with a good tutorial. It doesn’t. The tutorial explains some basic mechanics, but it is disastrously inadequate when it comes to explaining how all of its systems work together. As a result, you have no way of knowing what decisions to make, other than perhaps calling upon what you have learned in other strategy games. Consequently, you will find yourself getting chewed to pieces repeatedly, without any insight into what you did wrong or what you could have done differently. Some of it is explained in the manual (how morale and stamina work , for example), but never to the extent that you need it. The biggest failing of Eador: Masters of the Broken World is that it never gives you the information that you need to make sound strategy decisions. Your best bet for survival is to consult youtube or the game’s forums.
Allow me to provide an example of the level of confusion and frustration that the game provides. On one map, I started off with a hero and a few combat units. I soon took over a few provinces, but then I noticed that my treasury was running a deficit. My army at that time had only three combat units, with another two in reserve at my stronghold. Thus, with a grand total of five combat units, I was losing money. That army was too weak to take over more territory, and my nearby rivals showed up with powerful armies more than double the size. I could build no improvements to generate more income. I was hopelessly weak very early in that game, and I have absolutely no idea what I could have or should have done differently.
Another of the game’s problems is its way of putting you into most battles. Every province has a number of areas that you can explore, however they don’t exist on the map. Instead, the live in a drop down menu, and you simply find them by ordering your hero to “explore province”. Laying siege to a fortress is an option in a menu, instead of something that you see manifested on the screen. The lack of visual representation for much of the game's events makes playing the game feel a lot like spreadsheet management.
It probably comes as no surprise to you that Eador is a hard game. Most encounters are impossible to survive, even after playing a particular map for 20 hours or more. The game is very stingy with loot, and meaningful upgrades are expensive. Your enemies appear to have no economic limits, which means that they can replace entire armies immediately after you slaughter them. The 75-page manual teases you with dozens of buildings or units that you can build or recruit, but it gives you no path to unlocking these. For dozens of hours, you are stuck with a small selection of mundane units like spearmen and slingers. Since you accumulate gold slowly, you will find yourself grinding for long periods of time until you get rich enough to purchase the upgrades or units that you need.
While these complaints are significant, it needs to be said that Eador: Masters of the Broken World is not a complete failure. It blends high level strategy and low level tactics in a way that is unsurpassed. Once you learn how everything works, you can defeat armies that are significantly more powerful than yours with some clever moves during battles. It still occasionally provides you with the addictive stretches that great turn-based are known for. The campaign is massive too, and it will easily provide you with more than 100 hours of gameplay for less than $20. Conquering a shard once you have finally figured out what you are doing is a very satisfying experience. The game also has some pretty nice production values too. The world map looks beautiful, with lots of color and detail in each space. The music is very nice to listen to, although it kind of just loops over and over and the battles use the same music as the world map. Unit animations on the battlefield are good, albeit rather ordinary.
Eador: Masters of the Broken World has a lot going for it, but it buries a lot of its strong points under layers of monotony and frustration. It is a tough, but not impossible, game to recommend. If you are a hard core PC turn-based strategy junkie, your options or rather limited. Eador can satisfy your appetite for a long time, if you can tolerate the early monotony and the meat grinder learning curve. On the other hand, the great strategy titles that this game shares elements with (Civilization, King’s Bounty, and Age of Wonders) are generally more fun this one. If you are hungry for some addictive turn-based strategy, you might be better served playing (or replaying) one of those titles.