Autumn Dynasty12 Jan 2013 0
Having written about the spectacular possibilities of mobile touch-based games in the past, I was rather excited to try out Autumn Dynasty, a real-time strategy game for the iPad released by Touch Dimensions. As I started up the game, the looming questions were already floating in my head: would we finally get a real-time strategy game that can take full advantage of the touch-based medium? Would we get a serious mechanism to deliver tactical and strategic considerations beyond the rudimentary arcade-like controls popular on mobile devices? If the trailer was any indication, Autumn Dynasty seemed like a promising test case.
Autumn Dynasty opens as a Chinese-themed RTS revolving around the strategic use of groups of men in units of a certain type such as swordsmen, horsemen, archers, etc. The management of buildings that perform various functions such as produce money, create units, raise unit caps, or become stationary defenses is also a cornerstone of gameplay. Buildings, however, can only be built in preset areas throughout the map. The units themselves also come with various attributes and special moves that require ?Acumen? points to be activated. Archers, for example, can be deployed in a stationary mode to deal more damage at longer range but cannot move reminiscent of the siege tanks from Starcraft.
The controls are mostly intuitive with the player's fingers selecting units and directing flow with, literally, the slide of a fingertip. Strategic choices are made in real time and are augmented by the rich Eastern aesthetic faithfully represented in the detailed artwork and interface all the way down to the map and units themselves. The parchment like hue of the map screen combined with the brush stroke cursor interface provide an experience of immersion into the Oriental atmosphere which might even find comparison in the highly acclaimed environment of Okami.
The game itself has three modes: campaign, skirmish, and multiplayer. The campaign mode follows the story of various key characters such as the luckless bureaucrat, a hot-headed general, and a femme fatale. This story evolves through different missions that provide a plethora of different staple RTS scenarios such as the default build and deploy, defend the base, or covert operation. The skirmish mode pits the player against an AI on equal terms for a one-shot battle. The multiplayer mode is similar to the skirmish mode except it connects the player with other people wishing to test their strategic mettle against each other.
For the wargaming enthusiast, this lush game amply provides strategic combinations and situations that feel fluid with the use of the touchscreen. Finally, it seems, I have found a game that lives up to the expectations of using the iPad to its full effect. The epic sweeps of cavalry flanking or the careful manipulation of enfilading fire from one's archers allows the player to finally feel like they are conducting a symphony of strategy with their fingertips. The beautiful graphics and flashing alerts and sound effects pull the gamer into a fast paced world of swords, fire, and arrows. Terrain and positioning become relevant and the acumen-based skills of the various units actually provide a higher level of strategic consideration rather than just run of the mill envelopment tactics. Difficulty for the campaign level is appropriate for any novice to real time strategy games, but the difficulty quickly increases to a fever pitch that will give any veteran his money's worth.
Multiplayer provides the ultimate crucible for the strategist and was a masterstroke addition to the game kit. In fact, the multiplayer aspect helps to give this game a very high replay value. The pacing is perfect for an on-the-go game such as this. Although it is not as demanding as the action-per-minute games such as Warcraft III, it is definitely not in the armchair general category of the Total War type games. However, it still provides a level of strategic depth despite the smaller scale of its theater. The preset location-based system for buildings in the game was a clever innovation to force players into strategic choices on the most efficient way to utilize the space given to them. Does one sacrifice defensive structures in order to build more gold producing farms? How many forts throughout the map should one build? This also cleverly avoids the boring cycle that has plagued RTS titles in the past of simply creating a massive base before moving on to the rest of the map. A scoreboard for campaign mode that takes note of record times for beating a level also gives incentive for innovative and risky play. This helps to augment the fast-paced battle system.
The game, however, isn't exactly perfect. A lack of a proper saving method inside scenarios makes things rather precarious and is inappropriate for on-the-go type gaming especially for mobile games that might be taken onto planes or otherwise shut off at certain times that are out of the player's control. It is also takes a little time to get used to scrolling across the map with two fingers. Although this solution was a clever one to distinguish in-game commands, it is a bit counter-intuitive for most people with an iPad who are used to scrolling with one finger only.
The biggest complaint I would have aside from the saving issue is the storyline and dialogue of the single player campaign. Writing for games might take a secondary role when it comes to wanting to play a game based on the mechanics. People who play the Total War games, for example, might only do so for the purposes of expanding their own prestige and power. However, with a game like Autumn Dynasty, the campaign mode can be better compared to games such as Fire Emblem which give each mission importance in the storyline. I found the missions, while mechanically and strategically excellent, to lack emotional impact, urgency, or even a sense of glory or prestige. This necessarily blocked my immersion and enjoyment of completing each of the early missions.
Furthermore, the characters are one dimensional and difficult to connect with. The supposed main character is a bumbling coward at first and barely featured in the opening act except as an attachment to the headstrong general. Most successful and meaningful mission-based strategy games such as Fire Emblem, Final Fantasy Tactics, or Der Langrisser provide an emotional core to their characters right off the bat. This helps the player become emotionally invested in each mission from the very beginning. Although Autumn Dynasty does provide some of this, the opening sequence is a mess of unsavory initial characters and an overall conflict about something as boring as taxes. This same setup was used in the debacle known as Star Wars Episode I. Most games that leave a lasting impact on a player make the conflict be personal to the main character such as a robbed birthright, the quest for adulthood, or other such tropes that place the player into a connection with the otherwise utilitarian and dry missions.
Despite these reservations, if one is looking for strictly a functional and visually rich real-time strategy, Autumn Dynasty epitomizes the fast paced and intelligent experience we've been looking for. For five dollars, it's also quite a bargain especially with the multiplayer support that serves as a guarantee that one will get hours of fun gameplay out of this well crafted offering for the iPad.
About James Tanaleon
James Tanaleon grew up in the sunny suburban sprawl of Orange County, California and has had a long history of console and computer gaming thanks to his avid gaming father and his tech savvy friends. While receiving his education from both the University of California in Irvine and Franciscan University in Ohio?graduating with a Bachelor's Degree in Western and World Literature?he never lost his enjoyment for games. During this time he also cultivated his knowledge in music, history, religion, and international studies. He currently works in Orange County as lead writer for the startup game company Diecast Studios LLC and produces freelance writing on the side. James once served as editor-in-chief of Paradox Interactive Forum's monthly magazine The AARlander, and has written over a thousand pages of after action reports in his preferred genres of grand strategy and RPG.
Forum username: Aristocrat