Today I'm going to talk a bit about an RTS called Armies of Exigo. My LP is not yet finished, but this will contain spoilers for both the game and the LP if you're a viewer.
Without further delay,Armies of Exigo
I entered Armies of Exigo with zero prior experience, only the brief summary of Wikipedia to guide me. Wikipedia claimed that AoE was an RTS "like Starcraft", a claim I'd immediately find out to be utter bullshit.
Armies of Exigo is produced by a Hungarian developer, Black Hole Entertainment, whose recent fiasco regarding Heroes of Might and Magic 6 remains fresh in my mind. For a quick summary, Ubisoft basically gutted the developer halfway through the game's production and left them out to dry while they milked the unfinished game for what it was worth. Typical Ubisoft. For some reason, EA was the publisher for Armies of Exigo. Wow. Out one asshole and straight to another? Whoever was responsible for putting this developer in the hands of western publishers is retarded.
In HoMM6 we saw a lot of potential destroyed by the West. But I knew nothing of this game. Would Armies of Exigo follow the same road as its son? My LP came in to this challenge swinging. Armies of Exigo was developed in 2004 and was thus competing with the likes of Warcraft 3.
Armies of Exigo crashes at the same point in the introduction cinematic with an access violation 100% of every test. I cannot record the cinematic because I cannot watch it. It simply crashes. At times it crashes trying to skip the cinematics as well. From what I can see of the cinematic it was easily Blizzard-level quality graphically.
I chose to play the campaigns on Hard, seeking to see some European flare in an otherwise uninteresting genre. No RTS I've played since Brood War has offered any kind of innovation or twist to the RTS market. They've all fucked it up one way or another. Dawn of War was hard countery and boring with all other Relic RTT's following suit, Wc3 was a failed experiment that was immediately dominated by Dota, and those bold enough to try to make more experimental titles under suffocating publishers like THQ with supreme commander all faced certain failure.
The year is 2012 now, with Starcraft 2 proving to be about as cookie cutter western as you can get. The campaign especially is a failure from every imaginable perspective. Gameplay in particular failed to advance any further from Brood War, instead retreating backwards, trying to make the game more appealing to preteens that feel good about beating games on "hard" difficulties without any effort.
In most games, most especially RTS' and most recently of note Supreme Commander 2, all difficulty sliders do is ramp stats or upgrades. In Starcraft 2, units are generated through triggers at a faster rate or with extras. Enemies get more upgrades than you, things like that. In Supcom 2, enemies seem to either get stat ramps or massive upgrade bonuses over you. Never has a difficulty in an RTS yet actually made the game harder
, just more weighted.
Without previous difficulty experience in Armies of Exigo I didn't know what to expect.
Immediately upon starting the game I was struck by several very notable elements.Don't you wish Starcraft 2's cliffs looked anywhere near as good as those? Blizzard couldn't even UV their textures properly. And no one cares because it's Blizzard.
First of all, Armies of Exigo is 3d. I thought it was bold for a company to make a 3d game in 2004, especially an RTS - 3d is something companies in 2012 still don't really understand. They flail around incoherently without any idea how to program, relying heavily on third party engines and assets without any clue how they work. As displayed by Starcraft 2 and Diablo 3, it's perfectly possible to make a game 8 years behind in technology still insanely performance demanding. Thus, in 2004, when developers couldn't try to bullrush their way through inefficiency with hardware, making a 3d game was bold indeed. Warcraft 3 was a disgusting blend of mislead art direction in a flimsy pretense with little effort placed in quality. I expected Armies of Exigo to be sprite-based, but I felt a distinct fear of re-enacting Warcraft 3's many graphical failures when starting it.The style of Heroes 6 seems reflected, even 6 years prior.
AoE though has a few advantages over wc3. Notably, they put effort in terrain textures - something we wouldn't see even in Dawn of War or Starcraft 2. Without any of the graphics features that at the time were only starting to become standard, later to be abandoned in a confusing display of incompetence by Diablo 3, Armies of Exigo was going to be fighting an uphill battle against titles with bump mapping and dynamic lighting. Its texture work, at least for terrain, was up to that challenge, and even today looks better than aforementioned recent titles.
Armies of Exigo's models look much superior than wc3's, despite some backfacing and clipping issues. The important detail is that their proportions are more accurate, and thus the game is much easier to read. The confusing, blocky mess that is Warcraft 3 was rendered difficult to follow because of the silly, untested modeling ethics. Exigo is easy to follow. However, the animations for Exigo certainly weren't up to par. Feet commonly slide on the ground, attacks lack motion, Exigo seemed only on par with wc3 in this regard. Both games have bad animations. The texture quality for the models seems out of place when compared to the terrain, the reverse problem of Starcraft 2 and the Dawn of War series. Units are needlessly blurry in Exigo. It was unusual indeed. On the other hand, the portraits were quite nice.
Where Exigo really fell behind, however, is particles. The particles in Exigo are nothing compared to Warcraft 3. They are reminiscent of four years past, when 3d was first entering its real swing for these kinds of games.Exigo's lighting doesn't seem quite as solid as Unreal 3, but it has shadows that, at the time, were unthinkable for Western developers to attempt in homeland RTS'. It seems to me that Exigo's development was accelerated by EA, and it lost a lot of potential splendor elsewhere in the game.
Despite its increased overall quality, Exigo performs leagues better than Warcraft 3, which doesn't come at all as a surprise. Overall, I'd say Exigo's graphics are about average. They are what I expected out of Warcraft 3 when it came out in 2002, but some elements remain strong even to this day, in 2012. That is a frightening prospect: to realize that games are actually losing
quality in graphics because of bad design and bad programming ethics. Yes, that bridge can be destroyed/repaired.
However, Exigo is not short of graphical bugs. Unusual tearing, vertex lighting issues (not unlike wc3's), and very peculiar water placement all lead to some areas feeling extremely incomplete. The game also only supports a maximum resolution of 1280x1024 which, by 2004, was rapidly being replaced. I believe wc3 supported at least 1600x1200.
The next thing that was immediately apparent was the audio work. While wc3's graphics fell in a heartbeat to our comparison, the audio was left with a hilarious stand-off - Blizzard's terrible editing compared to EA's terrible everything.
I assume that Exigo is dubbed, because it was produced by a Hungarian developer. I can only assume that EA did the localization, because it's fucking horrible. The voice acting and overall audio work is so bad I cannot put it into words. Only two characters I've seen so far aren't completely out of tune and unemotional, being Alric and the elf chick, the latter of which you only get a few lines from. Black Hole must have been working on a barebones budget, because the sound effects are all over the place and wholly inconsistent.
The audio volumes are extremely inconsistent. That and the speech for events is tied to SFX and not actual speech. The speech ranged in volume from moderate to very low, seemingly at a whim. Balancing the audio for the LP was incredibly challenging. Some of the unit and event speech were very obviously mashed together from separate takes, with the most common one being the No Gem warning that you will hear often. It's like Starcraft 2 all over again! The diction and prose are pretty much all off. Almost no speech sounds believable diction-wise and, when it does, everything else is still comical or stupidly forced/over the top. I get the feeling not a single line was read from a paid actor except for Alric, and when Alric's actor read the lines, he probably thought it was a rehearsal for a school play and not a game. It's about as bad as Diablo 3.
What the fuck is hard about voice acting? Seriously? I was doing better voices when I was 11 years old then what multi-billion dollar companies can shit out today. I'm not even any good. It's not a hard thing to do. Why? Why is everyone so incompetent?
The music is like a cheaper Jeremy Soule without the talent. It's not very interesting. During the human campaign you only get sparse bouts of music, and during cinematics it's often loud enough to overpower the dialogue even when the dialogue volume is louder. During the Zerg campaign you don't hear any music at all. Ever. It just doesn't exist. I haven't gotten to the final campaign yet, but I assume it won't be much better.
Overall, Exigo's audio work is certainly less than what the graphics set it up to be. The lack of proper audio robs Exigo of immersion and leaves it feeling cheap and woefully incomplete. The speech often leaves you laughing instead of actually interested in anything. Typical out of what I expect from a game with the EA logo on it.Gameplay
Exigo is very, very different from starcraft. It's even more different from Starcraft than Warcraft 3 is.
There's 3 races sure, with one having a zerg-like creep mechanic, but there's 3 resources, underground like in a TBS, over 8 armor types, smart casting, the ability to click on and control group buildings that haven't even been started yet, intelligent worker AI, per-unit veterancy, and more.
Exigo's gameplay diverges from Starcraft immediately, setting you up something that seems a blend of Spellforce, Warcraft 3, and Supreme Commander. The per-unit veterancy is a sideline feature where it belongs, and the armor types are only relevant in specific circumstances, again, where they belong. Exigo's gameplay plays like an RTS should, with similar values to Starcraft, but very, very different mechanics.
As mentioned, Exigo features advanced elements that Starcraft 2 proposes to be new and exciting additions. Smart casting, MBS, and a variety of UI and unit nicknacks surprised me as I progressed into the campaign. One thing it lacks, or at least I haven't discovered yet, is the ability to tab between units in a selection group like warcraft 3. Tab is instead assigned to switching overworld/underworld, but more on that in a bit. Without the wc3 selection tab, controlling becomes a lot more micro intensive.
The stat distribution on units is also unlike Starcraft, with heavy emphasis on health like wc3. However, battles don't take nearly as long as wc3, retaining some degree of sanity even as the game progresses into higher damage and health values. Unit pathing is reasonably intelligent, better than wc3, with some of the sc2 features we subtly noticed like priorities and "push" behavior. It is not perfect, but quite reasonable.
Without nearly so deep an understanding of Exigo as I have of, say, Starcraft 2, I can still only yet make conjecture about its flow in a multiplayer environment. EA shut down the game less than 2 years after it was released, so I doubt I'll find much on it. But I'll take a look when I'm done the campaign. I'm super curious how this game's high-level scene would have looked like. There's a lot of super powerful spellcasters in Exigo, with AoE stuns, ressurection, and psi stormuuu only a part of the arsenal. Warcraft 3 failed hard on the balance front, and Exigo seems to have some potential balancing issues, but nothing super massively out of place yet
Now, the Underground.
In the campaign I've only seen one mission make use of the Underground for enemy attacks, and it's mostly just an alternate way through the map all the way until the Fallen (zerg) campaign. After this starts, since you mostly start in the underground, things take a different twist.
Exigo has a few spells that can be casted from Above to Below or Below to Above ground, but many of them seem lackluster for the rare circumstances you get the opportunity to use them. While the Underground offers a nice mapsize increase and some extra value in individual missions, in most circumstances it seems like lost potential.
When I started this review I talked a bit about difficulty. It's time to continue this.
Exigo's difficulty immediately slapped me across the face with a penis. The game throws a lot of units at you very quickly. By the third and fourth mission I was facing situations much more challenging than the toughest missions in WoL. The AI doesn't really micro, but the mission design seems unusually well tuned save some bugs and oversights. In some circumstances the AI surprised me with yet unseen actions in an RTS, like avoiding my defending air units and sticking attacks in weak places. I had to actually think and act on my defense as opposed to idling units in the path of enemy attackers. The air and drop-based missions in particular exhibited gameplay ethics from the AI that I had yet to encounter in an RTS.
The AI has limitations, however. In one underground intensive mission the AI arbitrarily spawns mine shafts to reach you as opposed to using the proper mechanic and unit involved. This becomes irritating and frustrating to deal with, since the map is rather difficult and you must devote a lot of units to scouring the entire underground for these random objects before they can spawn their units. In a handful of rare circumstances the AI was not fighting back when I was attacking it, but this problem is still one mostly exhibited only by Warcraft 3, whose AI is a trainwreck of penises in a burning ditch.
But the fact I am seeing missions of this scope at all is welcome breath of fresh air from the casual mediocrity of Blizzard and Relic. Unfortunately, Black Hole makes a few of the same mistakes, like shoehorning RPG missions when the game wasn't intended for it.
I hate RPG missions in an RTS campaign unless the system was intended for it, like wc3, but in wc3 the missions were long, uninteresting, and largely consisted of a-moving from point A to point B. Exigo is like this, but without a hero leveling system. The missions can also be incredibly punishing and unexpectedly throw you massively difficult encounters - unless you've manually saved you could easily lose a half-hour of gameplay.
In one RPG mission it came down to me mana burning a boss for literally half an hour since all of my units had died and I had no way to fight him. His AI didn't react when I mana burned him from a distance, so I had to wait for the shit damage and slow regen to end the map - a map I'd already lost one prior because I wasn't perfect with my unit control in a prior confrontation.
Exigo has an item system, placing items at a panel below the hero icons at the top left. This makes sense and has broad applications in the standard missions, but seems oddly out of place in the RPG missions. I'd rather they just have not shoehorned RPG missions into the game at all, instead leaning on its strengths. I despised the installation maps in Brood War and all like-minded campaigns oriented around that kind of gameplay.
The difficulty in Exigo varies between missions. But, particularly in the human campaign, some missions are very difficult unless approached very strongly, and with good macro. For the first time in all I've played games, the campaign actually challenged my macro and multi-base management. However, some of that splendor seems diminished later on, either because I improved and the game didn't scale, or because the game's AI didn't seem to become tougher as it progressed. I suppose when I finish the final campaign I'll have more leverage and understanding of the game's overall image. For now, I'm hopeful it ends as strongly as it started, but I'm worrying.The Fallen is the closest to Starcraft you can get. They have creep and insectoid units. That's where the similarities end. They have a global veterancy pool tied to a structure, two independent tech trees, and weird supply mechanics. They also have a tower defense campaign mission that can really rend your anus at the end if you aren't careful.
Overall, Exigo has surprised me. I suspect EA is responsible for sucking out the life and rendering it a backburned concept at best. The game is an alpha, but a feature-filled alpha that advanced far beyond what RTS games had thus far attempted. Behind the sheen of hideously bad audio and mixed graphics, Exigo had vast potential and untapped depth. But because Black Hole had associated themselves with demons of the west they sealed their fate to be abused and forgotten.
Exigo is the only RTS I've played since Brood War that actually feels like an RTS and not some kind of a gimmick. Even Conquest: Frontier Wars lacked the kind of thought that existed behind this game. However, potential is merely potential until it's realized, and at the end of the day, Exigo suffered enormously from lack of production quality and marketing. EA snuffed any prosperity the game might have had, sending Black Hole into a vicious circle of pain until they ended up in bed with Ubisoft, a union that has costed the company its entire existence, if the drama is true.