Eador: Masters of the Broken World is sort of like flying a turn-based Boeing whose cockpit has been mapped to a high-fantasy strategy game.
Alright, it’s not that obtuse, but that’s how I felt in the beginning, okay? My face still hurts from having been crumpled up in a ball of beta-induced angst.
I will be honest and admit that I didn’t like Eador at first, in much the same way that I don’t like a concussion before dinner. Good grief it’s dense, and it does not go out of its way to open up. I stuck with it, though, and I can say now with a modicum of confidence that this is a bit of a special game. It’s deep and complex, and impenetrable as the cold heart of Siberia. I don’t rightly think I’m qualified to play it, let alone talk about it. (Caveat: 4X strategy is not my home ground. If it is yours, you may spend as much time laughing at my confusion as you wish.)
Erm, right. So Eador sets you up as a “Master”: a demigod vying for the top of the pile in an astral realm filled with other godlets. The path to progress lies in conquering and unifying “shards” of a world that has been shattered all Bastion-like by some cataclysm. Each shard is a land unto itself, and adding it to your growing world requires that you lay some medieval on the locals and the lord of the realm, who may or may not be another Master. This means getting a few armed ruffians together under the banner of a hero and taking out your enemy’s capital before it takes yours.
The action unfolds on an overworld map that shakes a nod at Total War. You send your increasingly expensive heroes (picking from four possible types) out to explore, negotiate and conquer, while at home you build up your capital to unlock equipment, units, spells and the like. Each “province” you capture provides resources, and can itself be developed; thanks to a political system, unhappy provinces can also rise up and rebel.
How exactly it all fits together is a bit of a mystery to me; Eador is rather opaque, and a week later I’m still confused as to how to play the damn thing properly. Perhaps it’s because I didn’t delve into the original Eador: Genesis or something, but an in-game manual and a nice calm man wielding a cup of sweet tea would have been really, really welcome.
It’s worth the persistence, though. After the early-game grind and learning the basics, I really began to enjoy myself.
The battles in particular are rewarding, King’s Bounty-esque affairs that require the still hands of a chess master on beta blockers. Opponents take their positions at each end of the killing field, after which it’s all about taking advantage of terrain types and troop formations as you manoeuvre about the hexagonal grid and manage health, stamina and morale.
It’s here that your choice of hero makes the most impact; wizards, for example, can cast spells and summon stuff, while commanders excel at buffing and can rally a larger army. With each victory your hero and troops (and creatures, later on) gain experience, and can become quite powerful in time. If they survive. The emphasis is very much on quality over quantity; “armies” are small, and individual units are precious.
You can kit yourself out with an army of Kumbaya and play nicely, or you can head to the dark side and go all Darth Sauron on the world. Being evil has the added hooray of making the game easier in the beginning, though the most powerful units are ultimately on the good side. (Jerks.) The game keeps a righteous eye on the company you keep and the choices you make in quests, tracking your ethical peccadilloes with a karma system that, awesomely, expresses itself cosmetically rather than through a boring old meter.
It’s hard to say just how much I like Eador yet. Diplomacy and alchemy aren’t implemented in the current beta, so I can’t say what they’re like; I can’t say I would have known what to do with them, to be honest. It’s also difficult to get an idea of pacing in the build I’m playing, which unlocks the whole tech tree from the get-go (something that won’t be the case in the final release).
This is one of those games that unfolds itself slowly, like a coy flower bepetalled with razor blades. I haven’t played enough yet to know for sure just what I feel about it. I think it’s pretty good? It has seven unique endings, which has to count for something, right?
What I can say with some certainty is that Eador is reminiscent, as the marketing blurb suggests, of Heroes of Might and Magic, which is possibly my favourite strategy game series because nostalgia. Take that as you wish.