Conquest of Elysium 3: I came, I saw, I totally got pwned

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The Senator faction is one of Conquest of Elysium’s weirdest factions. Because in a game full of crazy imaginative fantasy races with unique gameplay mechanics, the vanilla humans are the weirdos. This faction is basically Ancient Rome, but with occasional Greek revelers and Gandalfy wizards thrown in for good measure. To offset their plainness, they get a hearty bonus to gold income and trade capacity. Trade is a way to buy or sell your other resources. Got extra iron? Sell it with trade! Need more iron for your heavy units? Buy it with trade!

The Senator leader is — I hope you guessed it — a senator. This unit is good for not much of anything. He is awful in battle. His fist does one (1) point of damage. He has no special abilities. He cannot summon anything, gather anything, or cast any spells. He can’t even orate. As far as I can tell, he’s supposed to stay at home and eats grapes. Considering how many games I lose because I get my last commander killed in battle, the senator could be single most useful unit when it comes to not losing the game.

So why am I fighting the AI faction’s senator in battle?

After the jump, it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s whether the AI loses first

Illwinter’s previous game, Dominions 3, is “primarily a multiplayer game”. That’s a nice way of saying the AI sucks. Conquest of Elysium is primarily a single-player game, so the AI has to do some heavy lifting. I’m not convinced it’s up to the task. But I’m also not convinced it needs to be.

For the most part, I’m happy with the moment-to-moment AI. It assembles mostly reasonable armies and does mostly reasonable things with them. If I try to lure it into foolish attacks, it will mostly decline. It can be aggressive about stealing my territory, although it seems about as sloppy at defense as I am. But when I see it rushing its useless senators into battle, I can’t help but wonder what other aspects of the gameplay it doesn’t understand. As a battle against enemy factions, I’m not convinced Conquest of Elysium 3 holds up very well.

This it the kiss of death in a game like Civilization V, which is all about vying with other factions. In some games, such as Heroes of Might & Magic, which is all about exploring and clearing a map, a bad AI isn’t as fatal. Heroes of Might & Magic is a bit like a dungeon crawl. Take a hero (i.e. army), level it up (i.e. advance your troops), get more gear (i.e. recruit more troops), and spelunk the dungeon (i.e. conquer the map).

The way I’ve been enjoying it, Conquest of Elysium 3 has much more in common with Heroes of Might & Magic than Civilization V. There is no diplomacy with the other factions, so they’re a bit like powerful groups of wandering monsters who happen to also have home bases. The maps are generated based on your choice among scripts that determines what kinds of neutral enemies you’ll face and what kinds of sites you’ll find. So when you choose a map script, and stack up which factions you want to face, it’s almost like building a dungeon and then deciding which faction you’ll use to clear it. The faction dynamics are almost like character classes for how much character they have, and how much variety they offer, and how the evolve as you play them, often in unexpected ways.

At the default difficulty level, the AI gets no resource bonus. Playing one notch above that level, giving the AI a +25% bonus, I lose plenty of games. Usually because I do something reckless or misunderestimate the opposition. A beholder? Pshaw. Let’s get it.

I suspect the AI has the same reservations about me that I have about it. “Why did Tom Chick rush his last commander into battle against that beholder?” the AI might ask itself. “Why is Tom Chick defending his last citadel with only five archers?” “Why did Tom Chick’s wizard drink up the health of his entire army with that battlefield wide health drain spell?” The AI must think I’m pretty stupid. The AI is often right.

I also win plenty of games before even meeting the other factions. They’ll suicide themselves by losing their commanders. But I’ve decided that winning games of Conquest of Elysium 3 is something of a booby prize. At the moment of your victory, you get the tiny “You win!” announcement, after which you are immediately and unceremoniously dumped back to the main screen. I really hope Illwinter puts in some sort of scoring system and persistent records, or at least some sort of log of my exploits. The tiny “You win!” screen is a minor slap in the face. How much did I win? By a little? By a lot? Could I maybe get some stupid achievements, or at least a historical comparison? Did I do better or worse than Dan Quayle would have done? Right now, Illwinter does nothing to ease me out of my game. I can’t even look at the map. I get no debriefing. I can’t even check the most basic of stats. It’s a bit like the screen instantly going white after a movie. It’s enough to make playing the game far better than actually winning the game.

Up next: the review
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