Early Access Preview: Ancient Warfare 330 Jan 2018 0
Ancient Warfare 3 brings to life multiple historical periods and sci-fi settings into a sandbox strategy action game, where unit composition and unit placement matters. In this indie blocky title, you can generate different battlefields set in arenas, zombie survival outposts, and classical battlefields with towns, villages, and wide open fields. Alternatively, you can replicate your favourite battles or design your own combat settings for unique scenarios.
The main element of the game is the custom battle scenario. You generate an environment, and model it your preferred taste with random seeding optional. From there you can expand menus to explore the variety of buildings, cover systems, and different era of units to start creating the conditions and setting of your battle. For me, my first battle I created was a night time raid on a river encampment with surrounding walls. It was around 40 footman, equipped different swords, shields, axes etc, escorted by slingers, siege shields, and catapults for breaching. In the camp, there are mob spawners for military armed units, and other spawners to simulate a peasant population with no armour and wielding weak knives as their only defence.
Upon simulating the battle, the guard towers with Frankish inspired crossbow units opened up on the exposed militia of the attacking forces, only to be bombarded by the siege equipment opening a safe way into the fort. With the attackers, gaining entrance to the fort, the peasants were in range of the commotion and so bravely marched towards the immediate death. Although the numbers gamer eventual took the the attackers out as the forts actually equipped troops arrived to slay the rest. I took a few different takes at "balancing" my map so that it was possible for the attacking team to gain a victory in the storming of the fort, but that has proved rather difficult.
Despite the enjoyable combat log of how my first creation went, the actual playtesting was slightly disappointing. Originally, I never intended to include catapults for breaching the fort. The original premises was the gate was unguarded at night time, with only sentries posted in the guard towers. To my surprise, the infantry has some bugs with choosing what to prioritse. This ended up in the full brunt of the attack force swinging manically at one poor guard tower, taking each others heads off whilst toppling the tower, only to continue on their barbaric path of destruction by eliminating themselves and the remaining palisades. This continued until the defence peasants and militia forces arrived to kill the remainder of the low IQ attack forces. As much as this was annoying and a testament of the Early Access AI decision making, it made a for an enjoyable surprise - Note that the devs have said this is one of the current bugs that are being worked around, and should be patched up within the next update.
For inspiration into some custom battle design, I downloaded some items from the Steam Workshop. Now some of these custom battles helped me to understand how to go about designing my own, whilst helping me decide what to do with limited decoration and scenery items currently available in its Early Access state. Some of the most popular maps are more modern orientated maps like D-Day and other WW2 scenarios. The quality of these maps when it came to playing them myself was good, and seemed balanced for either side. Clearly by putting more time into the custom battles, to fight around the bugs, and the scenery issues, it is still possible to create fun battles.
For nostalgic purposes, this process of correcting and continuous playthroughs to get everything to work reminds me of the time spent playing Halo 3's Forge and the Timesplitters' level editor. Both games had their issues of assets and limitations of design, but the ability to make quality maps was still possible.
Which got me thinking on the ability to make fun maps, rather than custom battle simulators. This inspired me to make a map a simple map for two spear horseman units to joust. Like with my first map, i couldn’t go into the detail of designing a classical iconographic interpretation of a kings joust tourney, as both horseman spent more time destroying their enclosure rather than themselves. So I settled for some simple wood decorations to lock them in their confides, that they wouldn't attempt to destroy, and for the map to work. Finally, the two horse man managed to circle around the fences in the middle and come flying straight at each other, after a few laps, a winner would be determined. Success!
Other than that there are some quick gamemodes to get into for some quick fire games. You have arena, which places you into arena with rapidly spawning mobs that you have to survive against. There is also a zombie mode which gets harder as time goes on, due to military armoured zombies spawning and stronger weapons being random drop from air supply. There is a conquest, objective taking mode and a king of the hill game mod, with several maps, and troop choices to make. However, the play button doesn't work on conquest and king of the hill so I presume they will be available soon.
Only one gun remains, zombies are surrounding me and my supplies on all sides, looks like I am about to lose.
For those that want to theorycraft a tactical fight, there is an armoury system on the main menu where you can cycle through different weapons in the game, to see the damage and the weapon type. This tool is useful for those needing background knowledge on the eras military style, so they can balance their custom game modes.
The final option on the multiplayer screen is the create unit feature. For those that want to create their own unit types, to wear specific armour designs, and weapon choices. You can then search your units in the custom battle maker, and place them into the world. At the moment, there's a no customisation on vehicles, siege equipment, and mounted units, whilst there are bugs with the system.
In term of in game mechanics, the game has a nice blocky combat interaction with specific weapon types. Playing with sharp weapons like swords and axes can decapitate heads and separate limbs, as long as you get a clean cut through unprotected body parts. Whilst blunt weapons are much better at dealing with armoured troops. For modern units, helmets and kevlar means increased damage resistance on the protected parts, meaning tougher military units. This is the part where strategy comes in with unit composition, map design for placing traps etc.
Although combat can seem bland at the moment due to the lack of formation rules, which means units cant do any military strategies you’d expect to see. Formation rules are a feature of AW2 so expect to see them implemented some time soon.
Overall, Ancient Warfare 3 is a interesting sandbox game that I thoroughly enjoyed playing. It has interesting game mechanics and engaging battles with the custom battle maker. The arena and zombie survival is good to play every now and then, but is not the most luring aspect of the game. Despite the enjoyment, the games combat feels very stale when looking at military strategy, whilst the games environment can feel very bland for those that want to make pretty towns and cities in their worlds. It's for these reason that I won't continue playing until further game development has occurred, but it really does have the potential to be a great indie sandbox strategy.
Ancient Warfare 3 entered into Steam's Early Access program on December 21st, 2017. At the time of writing, version 1.0 is due to land 4-6 months after this date.