Conquest of Elysium 3: the blind leading the blind

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Conquest of Elysium 3 is so streamlined that you can easily zip through a game on your lunch hour, scooping up units and marching them across the map to discover and conquer new lands. I figure you can easily finish a game in one sitting. Less than that if you lose.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here is a game that will reward however much time you’d like to spend with it.

After the jump, when is an hour way more than an hour?

Calling this game streamlined is only part of the picture. It’s also detailed. Exhaustively detailed. Perhaps overwhelmingly detailed. If you’ve played the developer’s previous game, Dominions 3, you know how much these guys love their numbers. You also know how much these guys love sharing those numbers with you. Right clicking a unit brings up a detailed screen of stats. Not as detailed as a screen of unit stats in Dominions 3, but still plenty detailed for a game that can slide by in an hour.

What’s remarkable about these stats is how Illwinter uses them to express their imaginative world. Let’s look, for instance, at the Pale Ones. At first glance, these might seem like a more boring version of the Troll King, another faction that starts with a massive bruiser of a commander who can single-handedly sweep through the early game without fussing over the details of bringing an army along (although the Troll King’s back-up, which arrives several turns into the game, is pretty hilarious and even adorable in her own trollish way). As a point of comparison, a powerful human leader might have 10 hit points. A troll king has 125 hit points. Just don’t try to put magic boots, hats, gloves, or armor on these massive units, as they won’t fit. There are no XL-sized magic item in Conqeust of Elysium 3.

So if you boot up a Pale One game and run through it in your lunch hour, it might feel a bit like a Troll King game. However, you might get the sense that you’re not winning battles as easily as a Troll King. What gives? That’s where Illwinter’s fiction and those lovely stat screens come into play.

Reading the text description for the Pale One reveals that they’re basically a bunch of Gollums. This race of underground half-blind amphibious goblins thing with a giant troll leader has just crawled out of the Huge Cave that is their starting location. One of their defining traits is bad eyesight because they’ve been underground for so long. Every Pale One has the attribute “bad sight”, clearly indicated by an icon on his stat sheet. Right clicking the icon reveals the pertinent gameplay effect: “Misses one third of all attacks”.

What’s more, Pale Ones have only a single eye. Since units can sustain battle damage in the form of life-long injuries that affect their stats, a Pale One who ends up losing an eye is at an even greater disadvantage than his two-eyed counterparts. Check out this poor guy’s stats screen.

Each of those cracked heart icons is permanent battle damage. One heart is battle fright, which just means he has a lower morale than usual. Morale isn’t useful until you’re fighting creatures that cause fright or spellcasters with spells that target morale. That’s no big deal. Carry on, soldier. But the tooltip on the second cracked heart reads, “Lost his only eye”. Uh oh. Right clicking on the icon reveals the pertinent gameplay effect: “Almost always misses with attacks”. Right. Well, at least he can soak up damage. Carry on, soldier.

The tactical battles are entirely hands-off in that you have no control over your units (magic is a minor exception to this). You can zip through battles on fast forward (press the “S” key) or just skip them entirely (press the “Q” key). But if you want some insight into what Illwinter is doing, or if you want to see the narrative of your game spun out, battles are the equivalent of the action scenes in a movie.

On the battle display, most events have a clear visual indicator. A unit animates when it attacks. Its target flashes a color-coded number based on the type and amount of damage it takes. Most spells have unique effects. Poisoned units are shaded green. Sleeping or stunned units are dimmed. If you want more information, if you want to watch the inner clockwork in action, check the text box in the lower left corner. For instance, here are my Pale Ones attacking a troll and his goblin companions defending an iron mine that I’ve decided would look nice in my empire.

Here’s the text along the top.

You can see there are only two defenders left, as this is near the end of the battle (the troll started with 16 goblins). The units are in an iron mine, which is rough terrain and therefore gives the defenders a defense, or “defence”, bonus. This bonus applies directly to their armor rating, which is the number of points subtracted from damage after a successful hit.

By looking at the units, you can see that two of my Pale Ones have recently sustained five points and two points of damage, respectively. Furthermore, that white +4 over the enemy troll means he’s just regenerated four hit points. I can right click on the troll to examine his stats and see that he’ll regenerate 10% of his hit points every round.

For even more information, I can refer to the text log in the lower left hand corner.

Here I can see my Cavern Guard, a hearty armored Pale One with a hard-hitting halberd, just whiffed his attack because of his bad eyesight. Smooth move, dude. I also see the troll attacked a Pale One, but the Pale One’s shield intercepted four points of damage. By right clicking on the Pale One, I can see that he has three hit points left. That shield saved his life.

There is no reason I need to know this while playing Conquest of Elysium 3. It will happen whether I see it or not. Conquest of Elysium 3 can be the story of my Pale One armies roaming the land while their leader, the King of Deep, single-handedly whoops ass. And it can be a more detailed story of a battle over an iron mine occupied by trolls and goblins. And it can even be a personal story of the lone Pale One whose shield saved his life while his blind compatriots flailed uselessly. That’s the beauty of this much detail, and a defining feature of Illwinter’s games. The deeper you look, the more you’re rewarded.

Up next: Lightning bolt! Lightning bolt! Lightning bolt! Stone skin?
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