IGN Review of A Game of Thrones: Genesis
Backstabbing. Subterfuge. Bribes. Seduction. Secret alliances. These are all tasty elements that can sex-up any good old medieval tale. A Game of Thrones: Genesis sets itself apart from other fantasy real-time strategy offerings by placing a much greater gameplay emphasis on politicking and treachery than on brandishing swords and resorting to outright warfare. It's an interesting experiment that yields an impressive level of depth but very little of the fun that comes from conquering your foes by setting carefully planned strategies into motion.
I love the fact Genesis encourages attaining victory over other warring noble houses through seedy, underhanded means, and it gives you plenty of nefarious methods to tinker with. Rather than churning out military forces from the get go, the early game of most maps plays out with envoys, spies, assassins, and other units designed for specific feats of trickery. Gaining the favor of neutral towns increases your influence, prestige, and gold production, but your rivals covet the same resources and will also work behind-the-scenes to thwart your plans. This is where things get a bit crazy.
Alliances with nearby towns can be undermined by rival envoys or covertly taken over by spies without the other side knowing until it's too late. To protect against this, you can send spies to scrutinize your own units and towns to uncover possible subterfuge, post guards at the gate, or even seal an alliance by sending a maiden to wed the locals in a village. Other tactics include sowing the seeds of rebellion to hamstring gold production, assassinating rival town officials, and even bribing enemy units. Co-opted units will report fake results (like false assassinations, town takeovers, etc.) too, which adds another level of sneakiness to the mix. It's great to see so much effort poured into crafting such a deep and dynamic subterfuge system. On paper, these numerous options are simply awesome. But when it comes down to juggling all of these moving parts in real time on top of the game's other varied nuances, the flow of gameplay gets overcomplicated in a hurry.
Genesis also lacks some much-needed balance between its espionage and combat elements. With all of the factions on a given map working secretly to stab each other in the back, the onset of war is inevitable. But unlike other RTS games, it's not something to look forward to. When war breaks out, all matters of diplomacy and subterfuge are called off, rendering your envoys and a few other support units useless. If you haven't prepared ahead of time, this leaves you scrambling to raise a sizeable army, which isn't easy considering every unit you buy increases the cost of the next unit you want to purchase. It's a lame design decision that hampers your war efforts from the get-go, and the solo campaign's tendency to limit the unit types you can purchase until specific points in the scenario adds insult to injury. Still, with enough gold and food stockpiled you can eventually raise a solid army of mercenaries and proper soldiers to lay siege to your foes. Sadly, that's not as enjoyable as it sounds.
Combat itself is pretty gimpy, which is disappointing. Even with a decent array of different fighting unit types and a rock-scissors-paper effectiveness system, you're primarily stuck throwing groups of soldiers at your foes and hoping they don't lose morale or wind up standing around doing nothing as the battle rages around them. Battles in Genesis rarely turn into the exciting large-scale tactical affairs RTS enthusiasts are accustomed to, and the limited scope of such encounters mixed with spotty unit control takes the thrill out charging into the fray. That would be fine if espionage was still an option, but going to war railroads you into taking the map by force without being able to turn back.
Though lengthy, the solo campaign's plodding course through different eras of Westeros' history isn't very enthralling. The back story and tie-ins with George R.R. Martin's epic source material will provide some valuable fodder for fans to chew on. However, typos in the dialogue and spotty acting hurt the presentation. House-vs-House skirmishes and multiplayer matches in-general prove to be more enjoyable if you can find well-matched human opponents, particularly since they give you more flexibility to pursue the full breadth of strategies available.
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