Dawn of Fantasy: Plenty of Potential
By Jake “Kibeth” Winters, OnRPG Journalist
MMORTS? That’s a word not often used, though Dawn of Fantasy might just change that. Released in September 2011 by Reverie World Studios, the game combines a little simulation, a lot of RTS, and a tiny pinch of RPG into one neatly packaged box. Despite an earlier-than-planned release and a number of other challenges, Reverie is slowly turning Dawn of Fantasy into an MMORTS masterpiece.
Mythador – a land set hundreds of years ago during the advent of swords, magic, and siege weapons – plays the centerpiece of this tale. Suffering the aftermath of a bloody and gruesome war, the land is torn, corrupt, and on the edge of collapse. As a fresh-faced young Knight, it is your job to turn the world around, make a name for yourself, and become a hero. Now that’s a sales pitch.
This hero wears his underpants on the inside.
Dawn of Fantasy features three game modes:
Kingdom Wars plays like a mix of Total War and Civilization. Starting with a single city, the player can build armies and battle the AI to take control of the world without having to worry about economies or building. This is an offline game mode, but shares the same game map as the online version making it ideal for testing strategies and refining tactics.
Skirmish allows the player to step into the shoes of a city being sieged as either attacker or defender, and fight an epic battle against AI opponents. This game mode has no need for economies or micromanagement, and is the perfect pastime for bloodthirsty siege-addicts to practice their moves.
Online Kingdom brings the game together, and is the focus of this review. Combining aspects of city building, questing, siege warfare, PvP, and exploration, Online Kingdom brings players together on a single game world to fight over Mythador.
Choosing a Faction
Should I be a noble Human knight, clad in chainmail and fighting for King and country? Or perhaps a bloodthirsty Orc; dumb as a post but with a mean right hook. Maybe an Elf… or maybe not. The game’s three races boast incredible variety, with no two races sharing units, buildings, or even play styles.
Elves, typically, have some of the best archers in the game.
What Orcs lack in intelligence they make up for in brutality, and with armies a thousand strong they can zerg the field before the enemy has a chance to realize that they’re missing several limbs. The Orcs have allied with Goblins, Worgs, Ogres, and all other forms of ugly brutes to field a bloodthirsty army.
Elves, on the other hand, are entirely the opposite. What they lack in numbers they make up for in tactical gameplay and skill. Boasting the best archers in the game, and the unique ability to turn invisible, Elves scout the field and strike when the time is right.
Humans sit somewhere in between, being good at generally everything but with nothing particularly ‘wowing’. Their modest foot soldiers might look like easy targets, but the cavalry most certainly are not.
Along with a starting choice of faction, players also get to pick various attributes for their kingdom, as well as where they want to be placed (mountains, forests, grasslands, etc). These choices are vital for any tactical commander, as each comes with a number of benefits and drawbacks. Customization allows players to tailor the game to their own style: hiding behind walls and turtling through the game is far easier in a mountain, while grassland might afford you an epic economy; the combinations are endless.
Life in the City
Every new player starts with a city (mine affectionately being called ‘Bacon’), and a small pile of resources: food, wood, stone, and gold. From here the game plays very similar to Age of Empires; players can build houses, barracks, archery ranges, siege workshops, farms, and a variety of other buildings. Peasants and workers are ordered around, and armies rest ready for the next huge battle.
Alongside the four ‘key’ resources is the final resource (only available in Online Kingdom mode) called ‘Influence’. These points are won from quests and PvP, or can be bought directly from Dawn of Fantasy’s cash shop, and are used throughout the game for research, building powerful units, buying resources (for those too impatient to farm their own), and upgrading a town’s defenses.
Perhaps the most important feature of Dawn of Fantasy is the scale of it. While the maps are vast and armies can number in the thousands of units, the most noticeable aspect is just how long the game takes to play. Unlike many RTS games where buildings are constructed in mere minutes, Dawn of Fantasy’s scale means that these projects might take hours. Indeed, the whole pace of the game is drawn-out; though it rarely feels dull.
Growing a city from single house to medieval metropolis.
Unlike games like Age of Empires, where a city is built and a battle is won in an hour, there’s a true sense of accomplishment in Dawn of Fantasy whenever a milestone is achieved. That Archery Range you waited eight hours for actually feels valuable, rather than the fast-paced and spoon-feeding games that plague the gaming market today. Additionally, the game runs even when you’re offline; waking up after a 12 hour break (who sleeps that long anyway?) to see your peasants handing you stacks of resources is its own reward.
The game doesn’t feel ‘slow’, though, merely ‘paced’. An army can be assembled in a matter of minutes and at the enemy’s gates shortly after that. While sieges might last up to an hour, the thrill of pounding down the enemy’s walls with burning trebuchet-flung boulders makes the waiting worthwhile.
Combat & Questing
Combat itself is involving, and despite all sides having wildly different units the game feels (for the most part) balanced. Building on a typical army, the game employs a ‘level up’ system to every single unit in the game, and these levels are rewarded with points to be spent bolstering a unit’s defense, attack, or various other stats. While this seems like a lot of micromanagement, being able to tailor your army to suit you provides an astonishing level of customization.
Combat follows the general rule that melee suck against archers, archers suck against cavalry, cavalry suck against melee, and dragons are good against everythi… DRAGONS?
Along with typical units, the game throws a few curveballs here and there. Players also gain a ‘hero’ character, a super-powered behemoth with the power to take down entire armies by himself. Anybody that invests time and/or money into farming Influence points gain access to a variety of powerful units, ranging from Dwarven cannoneers to fearsome Royal Dragons. Even a small number of these units can turn the tide of battle.
Dragons + Forest = Forest Fire. Who would have thought?
It’s tempting to scream ‘pay to win’ at this point, bearing in mind that players can buy the best units, research and resources with real money, but Dawn of Fantasy avoids this issue with its smart ‘player matching’ system. Every player army has a ‘strength’ figure, and the game will only ever match players with similarly powerful players. Even buying your way to a huge empire means you’ll only ever face other huge empires, so smaller players without an investment don’t feel punished.
If PvP isn’t your thing then the game offers a number of AI-based quests, as well as cities to siege. Throughout a play-through, quest givers regularly have need of aid, whether it be delivering messages or razing armies. For those with a particularly large death wish, an army can also be assembled to siege NPC cities.
During a successful siege (whether player or NPC), both sides receive a large number of resources and Influence (even if they lose), but nothing is ever captured. Indeed, players start the game with a single city and will keep that city forever, never gaining more or less. It’s this constant stasis that keeps the game permanently online, since there’s always a new target available. Unfortunately, for those wanting to go down the route of world domination then Online Kingdom mode might not be the right game mode for you… yet. Check out our interview if you haven’t already to get a sneak peak at some future content in the works.
Dawn of Fantasy doesn’t have a specific ‘end game’, but the fact that no land ever changes hands means that players are limited to questing, sieging NPCs, or PvPing, with very little activity in between. While the first several days of gameplay might be watching a brand new city burgeon, repeating the same set of quests on the same identical maps eventually starts to wear thin. Every win or loss has a heavy tax on your army and resources, and rebuilding after a win or loss takes hours. This delay might leave end game players spending a lot of time twiddling their thumbs.
My money’s on red.
The Bad and the Ugly
Picking fault with Dawn of Fantasy isn’t a difficult job. The game was released months earlier than intended and the number of problems, bugs, and bad design features remains pretty high. It’s really hard to slam the game, however; Reverie have been incredibly efficient with dealing with bugs, releasing over 30 patches at the time of writing this review, and the developers of the game remain incredibly active both in-game and on the forums ready to deal with new issues.
Some persistent problems that plague the game are how difficult it is to find a PvP match that will actually play; the game suffers ‘sync errors’ meaning that even if a match is found, it can never actually be fought because players can’t sync up. Smaller issues like workers ignoring orders or units in combat standing idly around whilst an ogre beats them senseless are less problematic, but detract from the gameplay all the same. The constant need to reboot the game to fix the various errors is both time consuming and immersion-breaking, and isn’t something a player should have to do in the first place.
One of the most unapproachable aspects of the game is the interface. While it’s obvious that Reverie intended to give the interface a medieval/fantasy style theme, the end result is a cluttered mess with nigh-unreadable text and an irritatingly intrusive chat panel.
The game graphics themselves leave much to be desired. While environments look well-presented and have a realistic feel to them (weather effects, water shimmering, forest fires spreading), unit presentation feels a little disappointing, as do close-up shots during quest-driven conversations.
Graphics of quest-driven conversations feel lackluster.
While the graphics lack finesse, the overall look and sound of the game work well together. The game feels fantasy-like, and the music sets the tone well. Unlike an increasing number of games with an overly fond affection of anything grey, Dawn of Fantasy has no problem with using color; battles look vibrant and towns look busy and full of life. Despite limited graphical capabilities, the game still impresses, and this issue isn’t something to get overly hung up about.
MMORTS or SPWAHORTSAPVP?
(Single Player with a Hint of RTS and PvP)
Even with every single player sharing the same map, the game feels incredibly restrictive about player to player contact. Indeed, no player towns show up on the world map, and all PvP action is governed by the match system. For the most part, therefore, the game feels like a single player game with a built-in chat function. Reverie took the first steps towards addressing these issues this year by introducing co-op siege missions. A sign of good things to come.
The End of the Tale
Dawn of Fantasy feels so unique in a market bogged down with cheesy grind-fests and high-powered bravado. Occasionally it’s nice to take a relaxing back seat, watch a city grow, and then take your army deep into the bowels of hell to torch some Elvish settlement to the ground. Perhaps ‘relaxing’ was the wrong word.
The game offers such an immense range of features, and is certainly worth a go. While the initial step into the game might feel a little off-putting, losing yourself in the world of Mythador is almost inevitable. The gameplay is rewarding, making players want to come back for more, and it’s rare to find a development team that sees their game as more than just the next pay packet, but as a project to be proud of. It’s certainly not hard to agree with them.
Graphics – 3 (detailed environments, but disappointing unit presentation)
Controls – 3 (short learning curve, but the UI needs an overhaul)
Features – 4 (multiple game modes and in-game activities)
Customization – 4 (variety of races, units, and unit customization)
Community – 5 (incredibly active and responsive development team)