Warlords III: Darklords Rising
Review by dancingtofu
"Possibly the absolute best that a turn-based strategy game could be for the PC"
When SSG released Warlords for the Amiga, it was a huge step forward. Unlike games like Stratego and Chess, Warlords was the first major turn-based strategy game for the computer that was uniquely computerized. It used an innovative combat system that allowed the weakest units to defeat the strongest units, but still kept the strongest units strong. No unit was immortal, but strong units were still valuable. It turned the Amiga into a full-fledged, detailed battlefield in an era when Go and Risk were the next best thing; long before Age of Empires was a possibility.
Later releases expanded on the original game's intuitive system. Warlords II added more maps and units, and smoothed out the balance between factions. Warlords III: Reign of Heroes provided an enjoyable and challenging campaign, while still providing nearly infinite and frequently new multiplayer experiences with it's huge quantity of random map possibilities. The only other TBS game of that era which could approach it's depth of play, range of difficulty, and enjoyable combat system was Sid Meyer's celebrated Civilization series, particularly Civilization II.
However, it was Darlords Rising that really set the standard. Whereas Civ III dropped the ball with a totally broken corruption system and a lack of difficulty range, Darklords Rising simply expanded on the huge environment of Reign of Heroes. Numerous campaigns were added, random seeds were tweaked to be more effective and versatile, hundreds of units were added, including a range of dragons, and the army creation system remained perfect. One of the most enjoyable things about this series is that ability to create a faction from scratch, on a map that's been built randomly by an automated algorithm in just a few seconds, and have a battle with up to seven friends that would be nearly impossible to replicate. Because of how flawless Warlords III: Darklords Rising is, it has kept me satisfied for 6 years since I first purchased it in 2003, after playing Warlords III: Reign of Heroes quite happily for five years, and the original Warlords for five years before that. No other series has generated more gameplay, and more satisfaction, for me than my 16 years of playing Warlords, and Darklords Rising is the jewel of the series.
Even today, many years after it's release, Warlords III: Darklords Rising doesn't feel outdated. It feels a little bit retro, but like Cave Story, it's not the type of game that could be improved by better graphics. Being able to go out and buy a $20 clunker running windows 95 or 98 with a Pentium II processor and still be able to run this game at maximum specs is part of the magic behind this game. The quality of gameplay and depth of design make this game a timeless treasure. It's only flaw is its lack of publicity.
So, for those of you reading this review who are asking yourselves if this is a calculated and balanced game that will challenge the well-learned mathematician? Yes it will. If you are asking yourselves if it will entertain the young and inquisitive gamer? Yes it will. If you are asking yourselves if there is a game that you can play with a group of friends which will challenge your skill in diplomacy, strategy, cost and revenue management, and stealth, without breaking your bank? This is the game for you.
I sincerely hope that this review opens your eyes to the incredible potential of this amazing game, created completely and utterly from devotion to an underplayed genre for a neglected fanbase. So go find some friends, pick up a copy of this game for $10 from a discount bin or from an online retailer, and go have the time of your life.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 08/26/09
Game Release: Warlords III: Darklords Rising (US, 08/31/98)
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