Eador: Masters of the Broken World has improved my life.

No, I don’t think you understand. On my way to totally play the blazing tally-ho out of the game, the following things happened: I washed the dishes; I cleaned the sentient mildew from the bathroom grouting; I started a budgeting spreadsheet. And that was just the start. Further avoidance tactics included starting an online course, and picking up archery as a hobby.*

You see, after having played a work-in-progress build for our preview, I haven’t been in an overwhelming hurry to play it again. It was as confuddling as it was deep. To be honest, I had no idea what the hell I was doing, and I sucked splendidly at it. So when the game was released, I considered taking up the harp. Yodelling. Advanced knitting. A carefree life of adventure on the high seas. Anything. ANYTHING.

I was halfway through arranging my visa to Greenland when I caved. Just play the damn game, I told myself. How bad could it be?

Not bad at all, actually.

My main concern with the preview build was waved aside summarily: where the pre-release dumped me into the thick of things with zero pomp, the full release has a gradual ramp into the tricksies of full-blown play.

First, a caveat: this is finger-down-the-throat high fantasy with an extra helping of cliché gravy (though it does, thankfully, poke fun at itself). After easing you into the basics, the game slots you in the ethereal, wingéd shoes of a “Master” – a goddish sort of chap who lives in airy-fairy astral realm and wants to hoard all the shards of a world torn resoundingly asunder by Magic with a big “M”. Enter all manner of elves, orcs and spangled etcetera.

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Kitsch but self-effacing high-fantasy setting aside, Eador is a solid and absorbing piece of 4X. Its feedback loop is a touch clunky, but it delivers plenty in the depth of its combat and overarching strategy.

Using hired heroes (all men, sadly; this universe appears to be thoroughly low on women) as your godly conduit, your job in each shard is to assail the dashing tarnation out of the lords – or fellow Masters – who hold sway. Which is pretty damned difficult, I’m just saying, what with all the exploring, cashmoney-managing, skirmishing, sieging and constructing going on.

In the grand tradition, the trick lies in knowing which way to lean, what to develop and what to let lie, progressing quickly enough to outpace your opponents but slowly enough to avoid being overstretched. The astral realm adds an extra layer of strategy: the other Masters are snapping up their own shards as you grab yours, and just how it all goes down can be influenced through diplomacy.

It must be said that the more abstracted, strategic side to Eador lacks a certain ka-ching factor. It can get grindy and repetitive, and a lot of basic actions don’t have much snap to them. (Although obviously a different beast, Diablo is a perfect example of what I’m getting at, being the sort of game that sets up a good reward pathway for every level of play – from simple clicking through to the completion central quests.)

The combat makes up for it, thankfully. Taking place on a hex-based living-chessboard type affair, there is room here for some profound and subtle tactical play. Your hero’s class; the number, type, mixture and rank of your units; the way you play the terrain; the equipment and spellcraft you have at your disposal – all this and more weighs on the outcome, and battles can get brutally tough. Just don’t bother letting the computer handle pushover fights for you, because it’s unable to tiff its way through a flight of one-winged butterflies without losing half a squad of high-level troops.

In a nice – if not even vaguely unprecedented – touch, it’s possible to shape your Master into a good old chap or a right bastard, with actions and units that cater to both styles of play. Mixing up units with different persuasions (say, a phoenix with a giant spider) incurs a morale penalty, adding to the balancing act that goes into optimal play.

It’s all pretty damn neat, all told. Indeed, Eador’s release version came as a welcome surprise – I was expecting to do battle with altogether too much confusion and crushing inadequacy; instead, I got gently but compellingly addicted.

Eador: Masters of the Broken World is available on Steam for US$19.99.

*All fabricated for dramatic effect.