Part grand strategy and part real-time strategy, Medieval Kingdom Wars is one of those rare games that draws from multiple genres yet doesn’t suffer from an identity crisis. While there are some conceptual flaws and questionable mechanics on both sides of the ledger, in general the two approaches to strategy are balanced and complementary. Taking place during the Hundred Years War, Medieval Kingdom Wars is about — unsurprisingly — controlling an ever-expanding territory and the rich resources contained therein.
Graphics are rarely the first element I notice in a strategy game — or even worry much about. In the case of Medieval Kingdom Wars, the screens are both decorated with detail and obscured by muddy, dark shadows that make “dark ages” more than a metaphor. Sometimes, more is simply too much and there are times when the screen is almost indecipherable clutter of fuzzy-edged stuff. Movements and animations sometimes suggest budgetary limitations and although the UI supplies the essential information, it needs refinement and a visual makeover. While we’re talking about aesthetics, the musical score employs the delicate strings and nasal shawms and krummhorns of the medieval period without actually adhering to the harmonic and melodic practices of the era. In other words, it sounds musically “authentic,” but it really isn’t. Battle sounds are effective while the limited voice work is unremarkable.
The heart of Medieval Kingdom Wars is its extensive campaign, which places the player in royal command of a small amount of rural real estates and a couple of undeveloped towns. Whether playing in the grand strategy overland map or in the RTS mode, controlling peasants and units and building structures, the order of the day is growing the economy in order to raise a fighting force capable of laying siege to neighboring cites. Placing structures and assigning workers to mine, mill, harvest and store goods and supplies — and collecting taxes — generates silver that can be used to build an army and several medieval engines of war. Structures can be upgraded to gain economic and technological efficiency or additional resources.
As economic sims go, the system powering Medieval Kingdom Wars isn’t terribly subtle or sophisticated. Neither is the diplomacy model in which neighboring towns and rulers are in a binary state of at war or not at war. Further, it seems to be up to the player to initiate diplomatic relations as the AI ignores this element.
Conflicts are always fought on the real-time battlefield, where the player takes control of various unit types and siege weapons, always with the same basic goal of destroying a city’s defensive structures and overwhelming enemy troops with sheer numbers. Some of the battles can be protracted. Because structures must be built on pre-determined locations, both the player and AI have limited options when it comes to designing artful and effective defensive systems. Offensively, there are quite a few ranged and melee types of units but controlling the sprawling mass of soldiers is confined to rudimentary movement and lacks the sophistication of facing commands or formations.
At first glance, the European grand strategy map is intimidating, large and densely packed with towns to invade and countryside to conquer. It’s a bit disappointing to find that the overall rhythm of the game — gather, build, and fight — never changes much or is even temporarily upended by a wrinkle in the campaign. The game’s story is there but scant more than an excuse to drive the basic gameplay loop. There are lots of little things — a confusing tutorial, bland and pervasive loading screens — that alone aren’t huge problems but over time start to degrade the overall experience.
Games that hybridize several genres often suffer from a confused identity, but Medieval Kingdom Wars succeeds in fusing the grand and real-time strategy genres in a way that makes sense. The problem is, both modes lack the kind of sophistication that a single genre game might be expected to have. I wish it had a more compelling narrative and varied campaign and that each battle didn’t replay the same basic beats, but Medieval Kingdom Wars is both a reasonably successful proof of concept and should be of at least passing interest to both RTS fans and grand strategy gamers.