Eador: Masters of the Broken World is a recently released turn-based strategy indie title from Russian developer and producer Snowbird Studios. Why is this important? Because the game is also in Russian for those that are interested. Eador is set in (or “on” in this case) a world that, well, like the title says, is broken. Literally. There are shards of it floating throughout what appears to be space. Many of these shards still hold the remnants of civilization with towns and little encampments scattered about them. Others hold great kingdoms, commanded by Masters or others that have risen up to control their tiny realms. Those with the ability are able to teleport across the nothingness to each of these shards and some are even able to tether it to their own homeshard, creating a vast network of connected chunks of floating land.
Eador itself focuses on the idea of a Master, or a person who is essentially a powerful demi-god of sorts and is able to do much more than the regular people living on the leftover shards of civilization. Players control one such Master for the campaign mode, building up an empire and an army to bolster it and then spreading among the shards. Later into the game, once players have exhausted their rampaging armies across their own little shard for control, they are able to strike out and locate other shards scattered around and begin to piece together some of what they are as well as what the hell is going on.
The game’s singleplayer experience is quite enjoyable and long and follows the tale of one of these Masters who is striking out into the world after being discovered by a wizard. He basically sets the player up with a sword, some magic, and a few lackeys and tells him to go out and learn a thing or two. Thankfully, during this little portion it offers an excellent tutorial that I do advise players take advantage of. Originally, I decided to dive right into the skirmish mode of the game and get a feeling for it, but I found myself so overwhelmed and lost that I couldn’t figure out up from down.
The game is deep, but it follows the standards set by others in the genre to a “T”. There are major pieces to the overall game, each a different aspect that come together well for this title. The main overworld is split into almost a grid like system – players are able to move their characters from section to section. There are towns, goblin encampments, bandit-controlled backwoods; all of them are ripe for the taking by the player. Controlling these provinces are key to keeping your small (or large) empire running smoothly – generating the necessary gold to fund your army’s upkeep as well as magic crystals to aid in the mystical side of the game. Aside from this, there are a number of buildings that can be built at the main keep that provide a variety of bonuses. New armories will grant access to better weapons and armor, while new training facilities will allow players to recruit more advanced units into the fold. Small buildings like granaries can be built to aid a town’s happiness and overall well-being.
While on the overworld map, players are also able to explore their provinces, spending their time searching the backwoods behind their castle or the outskirts of the villages. Many turns spent doing this may not amount to much, but there are times in which you will discover a previously unknown ruin or treasure trove to ransack. It’s actually a neat addition and a fun way to bolster the treasury or go on a little mini-adventure. These can also unlock new shops in provinces or open up side quests for the player to embark upon. Much like the exploration of provinces, the side quests leads to more enemies to take down and more places to see. They also lead to some pretty difficult spots and unless players are prepared to take on a challenge, I do not recommend necessarily tackling these immediately. Thankfully, the game will forewarn everyone before letting them dive into a fruitless battle.
Battling is a much different beast from the overworld and empire-building experience. Players are given a pre-battle chance to establish their lines and place their troops wherever they like on a hexagonally aligned grid. Once they’ve finished, it becomes a turn-based matter of positioning troops to best tackle the opponent. Each unit type has a certain number of movement spaces and an attack range; some like stone slingers and bowmen can reach a bit further than the unit with only a shortsword, making it a giant game of careful planning. Along with whatever units that have been hired, the player’s hero unit will be present on the battlefield, towering over everyone like some mythical god of some ancient era. Not only does he look the part, but he plays it as well – the player’s Master on the battlefield is a literal killing machine in relation to any of the other units.
I have only lost one battle during my time in the game and it was against a group of tough, A.I.-controlled sorcerers, raining fireballs down on me from across the map. Beyond that one match (their magic hurt!), I have literally watched my Master unit stand his ground against a variety of bandits, lizardmen, and zombies without the benefit of an army backing him. While I cannot complain that my unit is overpowered, utilizing an army at that point seems just as pointless as it is troublesome as well.
It’s never a bad thing to bring friends to a fight, but I found that a number of the troops available to hire into service aren’t worth the time or hassle, especially the early level troops. Throughout my gameplay, my units felt completely underpowered in comparison to their leader. Many battles I would find myself lose units to only one or two hits at most even after letting them level up and gain some extra perks. Damage done to them is also persistent, lasting over the course of a few battles if players do not take time to stop and relax a few turns. This will prevent overzealous individuals in multiplayer battles from storming across and seizing everything another player owns in a matter of turns. There is some finesse involved! Later on though, players can employ other hero characters similar to the Masters that can command their own armies, letting players branch out much faster if they are on the warpath.
Aside from the fairly robust campaign mode, players are also able to spend hours in the Custom Game portion of Eador. Here players can establish a variety of settings, creating huge multi-shard games that can take an exorbitant amount of turns to complete. Like many other titles within the same genre, some of these games can potentially last a few days and take an incredible amount of time to complete, but the ability to play with up to 16 total kingdoms on the map is a bit hard to pass up for those that want to really test themselves. Along this same vein, using the Steam platform, players are able to compete against others online. They pick a number of hero characters and then support them with armies, all while keeping under a set point limit. Each unit is assigned a point value and balancing an effective set of armies is the key to succeeding online.
At the core, Eador combines a multitude of different genres, carefully extracting different aspects of them and injecting them into this melting pot, brewing a concoction that not only works, but does it very well in fact. I’m a fan of turn-based strategy games – I like the time to plan an attack, research my new abilities and skills, etc. Eador fits nicely into a niche group that is fiercely loved and defended by the fan base that supports it. Sadly though, the game has a steep learning curve that without some guidance from the in-game tutorial, it makes it very difficult to just leap in and play without hesitation. There are also some minor glitches in the game that will potentially confuse players (I’ve never gotten a ritual to work yet in-game), but beyond that it tends to play very smoothly. If you are looking for something similar to titles like Heroes of Might & Magic or Crusader Kings (or even a toned down Total War), then this might be the title for you.
Note: Eador: Masters of the Broken World was reviewed on PC. A digital copy of the game was provided by the publisher/developer.