Beer makes everything better.
What is the measure of a fine pint of beer? Is it the amber color that tips the scales? Can you know the beer's quality with the first sip? Some beers are best at certain temperatures, and some even need to be drunk from the right kind of glass to get the right persistence of foam. Determining the quality of a fine glass of beer is indeed an interesting question… but one of the nice things about beer is that even if you haven’t developed a fine degree of snobbery, you can still pop open a can of Bud and have yourself a good ol’ time.
Turn-based strategy games - and especially Lost Empires: Immortals - need to learn from the example set by beer. In a genre rife with much better games, Immortals carves out a unique niche for itself by being a game that ultimately tastes too skunky to be truly palatable.
The turn-based strategy game is notorious for its addictive qualities, its ability to make hours pass in the blink of an eye. Indeed, the time-compressing effects of playing such a game is commonly referred to as the ‘just one more term’ syndrome.
Unfortunately, Immortals has trouble achieving this. The game is not especially compelling in any particular way. The basic flow of gameplay is more concerned with dry numbers than with interactions, the diplomacy model is abysmal, you can’t participate in the combat, and much of the user interface is unintuitive. Though the opponent A.I. is extraordinarily clever and unpredictable, there are very few tools to work with other than warfare and a truly graceless diplomacy model for managing your foes. Every game ultimately follows the same basic pattern of expansion and research followed by conquest.
A number of the interesting-sounding mechanics don’t actually work particularly well. Ship design is an example of squandered potential. With the ability to determine the positioning of different weapons and systems, there was an opportunity to tie the ship design into combat in a particularly clever way. Unfortunately, combat is barely interactive, and appears to take no advantage of the ship designs whatsoever, begging the question of why it was in the game at all.
The game is also poor in terms of graphics and sound. There’s no voice acting, the artistry is mediocre, and the one piece of music in the game sounds like the result of a mute woman being mutiliated by a synthesizer.
All of this disparagement aside for a moment - a very long moment - there is the framework of something interesting in Lost Empires: Immortals. The game presents an abstract form of turn-based strategy, but it feels awkward and unpleasant whenever it attempts to introduce minutiae into the scheme of things. The game’s greatest weakness is actually that this notion of gameplay does not come through completely, and instead the player is treated to a schizophrenic mish-mash of obscuring systems.
When you get into the zen of rolling over the turns and concentrating on the big factors, Immortals does have its moments. Many of these moments may be the closest thing to joy that a chartered accountant can feel, but there is the palest glint of color beneath the weak head and nasty flavor. It takes a very particular kind of gamer to find amusement here, in approximately the same way that it takes a very particular human to find comparing spreadsheets fun. However, most gamers - even most turn-based strategy enthusiasts - likely aren’t going to find a great deal here to appreciate. There’s no unifying factor to the game, no universal joy to be had, no... I need a beer.