Exigo, stage left.
Here’s to the fall guy. You know, the guy who gets stomped on instead of the hero, the one the villain rips to pieces just to show the audience that he’s a tough mother. These guys usually aren’t worth any words – they’re just fodder separating the good guy from the bad guy.
But every fall guy has a mother, maybe even a fall gal, who would cry at the sight of her beloved Todd getting speared by an orc, shot by a crook or callously blasted by a terrorist just to give new life to the star of the show. What was the point of his hideous death?
The same could be asked of EA’s sacrificial lamb, Armies of Exigo. This strategy game offers nothing new, borrows liberally from games that came out ten years ago, and has received virtually no online support from EA. Not only is it inferior to this year’s RTS crop, it’s barely as good as the ancient games it mimics. Say hello to the fall guy.
In the lands of Exigo, the human Empire reigns supreme. Then the Arch-Mage dies, and the Orc hordes start attacking civilization’s borders. Before you can say “déjí vu,” it’s all out war between Orcs and Humans. But then, from underground, a new threat emerges. The Fallen, a mysterious race of insect-controlling Elves, stake their own claim to the overworld and start attacking everyone. Alric, the new Arch-Mage, must beat down the evil Elves and Orcs to maintain humanity’s place in the sun.
Armies of Exigo is clearly a Warcraft knock-off, but it also steals plenty of tricks from Starcraft and the Age of Empires games. You harvest stuff, build up humongous battalions, and then wipe out your enemies with superior numbers and efficient resource hoarding. It’s a ridiculously derivative RTS. Take this gameplay tip from the manual:
"Gather resources quickly. Create enough gatherers to get a jump on things so you can begin training units and building structures early."
Go ahead and let that marinate for a second, because that’s a hint. Here’s another one: "Don’t bother."
Armies of Exigo shakes things up a bit with pre-rendered dungeons beneath some of the game’s maps, so you can take your battles of attrition to whole new sub-levels. In gameplay terms, there is no functional difference between the overworld and the underworld. You can mine gold, chop trees, and collect gems both above ground and below, which is a little silly when you think about it. Shouldn’t trees only grow above ground? And wouldn’t it make sense for gems to be a strictly underground resource, thus making existence on both planes essential?
In the end, you will have to give both levels some thought, but not because of resource distribution. In maps with a subterranean level, every side’s starting point has a subterranean counterpoint. Therefore, if you go underground, you will definitely be able to get underneath your opponent’s base. When you do, you can use certain units to attack the surface or a super-attack to wreak havoc on both levels.
Since many of the subterranean maps are smaller than the overworld maps, they’re easier to control and can quickly lead to direct confrontations. The subterranean areas include a bunch of critters, so you can level up your troops down there before confronting the enemy.
Much like in Warcraft III, your units and heroes can gain experience and level up. Unlike Warcraft III, though, gaining levels is just as important for your troops as it is for your heroes. At level three, they get auras, which provide an attribute bonus to a few of the units immediately around them. Units can reach level five if they get in on enough action. Don’t be fooled into thinking that your level five soldiers are anything more than cannon fodder, though, because infantry units are almost entirely worthless in Armies of Exigo.
While there is a bit of a rock-paper-scissors system going on between units, none of it matters, because heavy units utterly demolish any infantry they come across. One knight or ogre can beat down scores of expensive, high-leveled infantry, forcing most fights into the upper branches of your unit trees.
That is, unless you play as The Fallen. Not only do The Fallen spread creep exactly like Starcraft‘s Zerg, but their basic harvesting unit is also their basic combat unit. Even though Armies of Exigo is all about attrition, a good Zerg, er, Fallen rush can really distract your opponent…just like it did six years ago.
Armies of Exigo‘s A.I. is also outdated. Enemy units will attack the first thing they come across and not stop, regardless of damage or heals applied to their target. Instead, enemies will send a constant barrage of crap at you in increasingly larger waves. Once you learn the key to defeating whatever wave the enemy is going to send your way, it becomes simple to hold off your foes while hoarding resources and building up a big force. Never done that before.
There’s a decent amount of single-layer game here, with three separate offline campaigns (one per race) comprised of 12 missions apiece as well as Skirmishes. Get used to those, because finding a game online is just about impossible. Once you find the single, populated matching channel, you can either start a game or join one. Online matches support up to twelve players and can be played in Skirmish, Capture the Flag, King of the Hill, and Melee modes. Games begin sluggishly while players set up defenses and start hoarding resources, but eventually you’ll get into some pretty big battles. Since Armies of Exigo is such a graphical lightweight, your computer will definitely be able to handle the attrition, even if you can’t.
Armies of Exigo is ostensibly a 2D game. The camera is locked in an overhead position and can be rotated about thirty degrees with the Page Up/Down buttons, but as soon as you lift your finger off one of the buttons it snaps back into its original position. Zooming is an equally interesting affair, in that you have to continually tap the Home button. With each tap, the camera zooms in a smidgen. You can’t zoom in very far, nor can you zoom quickly, so you probably won’t do any zooming at all (unless it’s to the store for a refund).
The environments in Armies of Exigo are pretty dull above ground, just lots of foliage and hills. Underground, though, they at least benefit from some randomly colored lighting and weird, fungal trees. The units are poorly detailed and horribly animated, although they are very good about not getting stuck on one another, even if they get hung up on the environment all the time.
Some of the worst voice-acting ever can be found in Armies of Exigo alongside some forgettable scores. The sound effects are right on par with the voice-acting, if that’s even possible; arrow fire literally sounds like someone tapping a pencil against a table.
Armies of Exigo is a playable RTS and even marginally entertaining, but that’s only because its developers blatantly adopted every single hackneyed RTS convention they could get their hands on. Even the fall guy has enough self-respect to avoid doing that..