Sweden Game Conference Preview: Bannermen25 Oct 2017 0
In a world of increasingly MOBA-like titles, it feels paradoxically refreshing when an RTS draws inspiration from very old games. As every new products gets decidedly more micro and shamefully less macro, concepts like base building and “tactics” get thrown to the wind, and strategy gets replaced by “how fast you can click your mouse”. Luckily, leave it to indies to make games people really want to play.
Harkening back to the old days, Bannermen is a RTS title inspired by Age of Empires and its sequels. Last week, I flew to Sweden to report on the Sweden Game Conference -- an industry event which reunites both international and local talent -- and had a chance to play a demo alongside one of its creators, Christoffer Andersson from Pathos Interactive.
A medieval fantasy game, Bannermen is set in a world ravaged by decades of war, starvation, and natural disasters. In charge of the forces of a fallen lord, you must reunite the people under one banner and save them from the evil that ruins the kingdom. For that, you will of course have access to staple units like archers and catapults, but you will also get help from up above in the form of elemental powers.
Taking the form of special abilities and interactive objects, these dynamic environments can completely change the way a battle progresses. Some of them, like avalanches, can be triggered by arrow fire, while more esoteric ones like meteors and lightning strikes are accessible once a temple is built upon a holy spot. Their power means they are limited in either quantity or timing, and add an extra degree of strategy.
The basic gameplay itself feels very much like AoE. You order your builders to gather resources, use those resources to construct buildings, and then queue those buildings full of units. From knights and archers to spellcasters and catapults, Bannermen has most units you would expect to find in a medieval game -- though the developers did told me they don’t plan on having cavalry in the game. The combat between units is somewhat swift and simple, with units mostly automating their targets and following your commands -- a few special abilities like mines or spells can be activated, but they are far from the focus like in modern RTS atrocities.
The elemental powers, however, require direct input and precise usage. Snowstorms reduce visibility and can freeze lakes solid, allowing soldiers to march on top of the ice. Lightning strikes can set forests on fire or electrocute damp targets, and meteors fall from the sky causing devastation and leaving pools of fire on their wake. Using one of those at the right time can completely change the flow of battle, and even turn defeat into victory.
In the demo, I played the first level of Bannermen, learning the basic gameplay in a very linear tutorial level. After building some resource gathering buildings and training a couple of archers, I set about to explore the map and find some of the scattered forces I was meant to reunite.
I encountered a couple of knights and a lone catapult under attack by enemy skirmishers in a small canyon, and quickly proceeded to wipe the attackers out. Merging the rescued troops into my small army, I marched them forward til we reached a precipice at the end of the canyon overlooking a small enemy camp. At the sides of a mountain, a dangerous concentration of snow gathered, and I order my catapult to open fire at it. The landmass came roaring down, the avalanche wiping everything in its path and creating a slope for my troops to move down.
At the bottom, we found a big sized stone foundation with a glowing rune on top -- one of the mystical stones that give you control over the elements. I ordered the peasants to build a temple on the stone surface, channeling magic into my command while my army explored the surrounding area. South of the temple a lake blocked our path, so my troops just stood watch by its edge as the building neared completion.
Once finished, the holy construction gave me control over snowstorms, and I immediately invoked it to sweep the map. The blizzard swept the map violently, freezing the lake’s surface solid as my troops’ field of view were reduced by half. Marching my troops over the lake & through the storm, we reached the enemy camp and destroyed it.
Bannermen looks like an interesting title, very reminiscent of Age of Mythology both in its gameplay loop and the godly powers. Though notably less ambitious, this indie RTS wants to encourage players to interact with the world in the forms of environmental traps and elemental powers, but without forgoing the basic need of standard troops like melee and ranged units. According to the developers, each unit has a specific role, and the core gameplay revolves around building a powerful combination that can counter your opponent forces.
The final game will contain a single player campaign and several multiplayer modes, and you can test out the game right now by downloading its free demo. Bannermen has no release date yet, but if like me, you’re tired of recent abominations like Dawn of War III’s take on “strategy”, keep your eyes on this Swedish indie title.