Categorized | 5: Games, PC

Galactic Civilisations II: Dread Lord and Dark Age Of Camelot - Darkness Rising Reviewed on PC

pc game reviews console xbox 360 ps2 game reviews scifiPC Games Reviewed By Alan Fraser

Galactic Civilisations II: Dread Lords and Dark Age of Camelot – Darkness Rising

This month our postbag has included a multi-player online role playing game and a space conquest strategy game. In my last column I praised the simulation game “The Sims 2”, and that now has a new expansion pack “Open for Business”. This primarily adds the (challenging) resource management required to run a successful small business, but it does have one SFnal element – robots. Instead of hiring Sims to work for you, you can buy a Robot Crafting Station and make several different types of robots to carry out tasks in your business and home. They don’t need to be paid, but the downside is that they can break down with very negative consequences – for example a robot that runs amok can kill Sims. The new expansion pack has been very well received, although some players were hoping that much-loved packs available for the original “The Sims” game, such as holidays (“Vacation”) and pet-keeping (“Unleashed”), would have “Sims 2” versions released first. (The “Pets” expansion pack will in fact be released in Oct 2006).

Galactic Civilizations II: Dread Lords – Paradox Interactive/Koch Media [Strategy]: £29.99.

galactic civilisations two dead lords coverIn this game (GC2), released on 24 Feb 2006, and a follow-up to the successful “Galactic Civilizations”, you play the leader of one of ten races scattered through the galaxy in 2225, facing a threat from the “Dread Lords” of the Drengin Empire. This game does not require you to own or have played the first game, of which this seems to be a revamp rather than a sequel (as “The Sims 2” is a revamp of “The Sims”). The hyperdrive has just been discovered, and every game starts with a mad dash to visit new star systems and found as many colonies as possible. At the same time the other civilisations in the galaxy are doing the same, and it’s your job to lead your race to victory or defeat through warfare, diplomacy, technology or culture. Each race has its own characteristics, but you can also design a custom race if you don’t like any of them. The galaxy size can be set between 9 and 256 sectors. There are 12 Difficulty settings from “Cakewalk” to “Suicidal” and 8 Intelligence settings for opposing races ranging from “Fool” to “Incredible”.

It’s best to start small and easy to gain experience on how the game works. It consists of missions with specific victory requirements. There are also cut scenes between missions advancing the story. There is an element of puzzle solving required to complete a mission, and there is flexibility in the game play so that you can achieve success through various strategies, opting for diplomacy and trading instead of warfare, for example. Opting for warfare can bring you quick gains but then lead to difficulties later on when you run out of friends… You don’t meet the title’s “Dread Lords” until you are well into the game.

New to GC2 is the addition of shipbuilding and customisation – in the first GC you had to choose generic ships, but here you can choose from around fifty hull designs and then customise the ship with engines, weapons, defences, cargo/passenger carrying ability, etc. How you customise your ships depends not only on your money but what threats you face – each weapon or defence works best against a specific type of enemy defence or weapon. Ships can be upgraded if needed.

To create a colony planet you have to bring colonists to it, and then provide homes, farms for food, factories for production, etc. The game offers many choices to the player in how you develop your planets. When the population gets high overcrowding can bring dissatisfaction, so you have to provide entertainment facilities. Unhappy planets can defect to other empires, although their unhappy planets can defect to you too. Most players will choose to build specialist planets for farming, industry, technology, research, etc.

As well as planets you can build starbases – these are not just military but can also supply extra resources to their areas, increasing your influences both internally and externally. Economic starbases boost planetary production and trade revenue within their sphere of influence, while military starbases boost your firepower and defences. However, the rival empires will not stand back and watch you colonise quadrant after quadrant unopposed – if you expand too fast they will declare war on you.

The game’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) plays your opponents in very believable ways, even at the low intelligence settings, and also has some flashes of humour – most unusual in a strategy game. At the higher intelligence levels you will have to work really hard to beat it. This is a game that takes a long time to play, but it doesn’t require lightning fast reactions like the shoot-em-ups. The graphics are nothing special, but each screen supplies all the information you need without being crowded. Recommended if you like a challenge. Competitors are “Master of Orion” and “Civilization”.

Dark Age of Camelot – Darkness Rising – GOA/Image Entertainment [Multi-Player Online RPG]: £14.99.

dark_age_of_camelot_darkness_rising“Dark Age of Camelot” (DAoC) is one of the most popular fantasy-based multi-player online role playing games (usually abbreviated to MMORPG). The original game of DAoC was introduced in 2001, and followed by three expansion packs: “Shrouded Isles”, “Trials of Atlantis” and “Catacombs”. “Darkness Rising” is the fourth expansion pack for DAoC, and requires the base game and the three previous expansion packs before it can be installed. (“Catacombs” gave the game a new engine with vastly improved graphics, and that engine is used for this game.) Purchasers of the expansion pack get a month’s free subscription to the online service, after that it’s £8.00 per month to stay in the game (longer subscriptions are available up to £75.00 per year).

When I logged on over 10,000 people were already playing on the European servers alone, which testifies to the game’s popularity, but I didn’t get to meet any on Day 1. First I had to pick my character and start the first of many tutorial sessions – only players who complete the tutorial and the practice missions can enter the actual game. There are three realms: Albion, the former realm of Arthur, Hibernia, a Celtic mythology-based world, and Midgard, based on Norse mythology. Each has different types of characters you can choose as your “avatar” in the game world, such as warriors, magic users and sages. Experienced players band together, build strongholds, and then defend them against all comers. From what I’ve seen so far most communicate in “text” (phone text message speech) for speed. Players also communicate with one another outside the game on several fan web-sites.

I have tried online gaming before, several years ago, but the delays associated with playing using a phone line and a 56Kb modem made it boring. Here not only are the graphics excellent, but on a 1Mb broadband connection you’re not aware you’re playing an online game. The game screen is busy, but at the lower levels the game is easy to understand and move about – even combat is not difficult once you learn the basic skills. The quests are well-explained and straightforward to accomplish. I’ve been killed several times, but the game does automatic saves and restores you to the last automatic save point.

“Darkness Rising” gives an experienced player the chance to become a King’s Champion, with new weapons and the ability to ride horses from the King’s Stables around the three realms on the new quests. Higher characters can ride more powerful horses, with the best mounts reserved for Champions of the highest level. Characters can now gain new skills from outside their type, so that warriors can learn to cast spells, magic users can learn to use weapons, and healers can kill people. The capital cities of the three realms have been completely revamped for this expansion, so there are new areas to explore.

This pack requires you already to be skilled in the DAoC game and start with a powerful character of level 30 (each level requires you to earn about 32,000 points). There are three chapters: the first requires level 30, the second level 40, and the third level 50. Consequently this expansion pack is not where you start with DAoC, nor would it be a reason in itself to buy DAoC. However, if you’re already a keen DaoC player, this expansion pack offers you new features and quests you won’t find elsewhere in the game, and the chance to make your character even stronger.

If you’re a newbie like me and want to try multi-player online gaming, DAoC looks like the one to go for (the original game and all three previous expansion packs can be bought in a pack). Warning - it’s the kind of game that can become very addictive. Fantasy-based competitors in the MMORPG field include “Final Fantasy XI” and “Everquest”.

As I’ve come to realise, if you’re into multi-player online role playing games, you can only choose one – playing more than one and finding time to eat and sleep is not possible!

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