I've noticed in the last year that there seem to be a whole lot more RTS games available for browser-based consumption. This makes me happy, as I adore the RTS genre, and always get a kick out of obliterating an opponent with huge armies.
Castle Commander tickles that urge to a degree. Not as much as I would like, perhaps, but enough that I'd play it again in the future. Probably.
Bad mojo has befallen the kingdom of Davana. The land is sinking, and with the king dead the various factions have fallen to civil war. You, the king's heir, need to reunite the kingdom under a single rule (duh, yours) and grant your people the land they so desperately need by stealing from other people. What a nice fellow you are.
This plot boils down to a series of RTS maps. In each map you start with one or more castles, and you need to lead your constantly-spawning troops to victory against the enemy by stealing various fortifications along the way. Conquer every castle on a particular map and you'll move on to the next, gaining some prize money that you can spend on spells to make the whole process smoother.
Browser programmers have long struggled to create RTS games with convincing controls, and Castle Commander continues to hit the same potholes as developers in the past. The majority of the game is controlled by mouse: click on a unit and you now control it. Click and drag over several units and you control all of them. Click on a destination and they'll go there, fighting everything on the way.
Where's the problem? Well, it's twofold:
- First, clicking doesn't always work. USUALLY it does, every now and then your troops will wind up heading in exactly the wrong direction. Given the swiftness of the levels this is a very bad thing.
- And, second, you can't unclick. Once you've selected troops, you'd best pick a place for the to go. This is also true of accidentally clicking spells, as you're now forced to cast to move on and do something else.
The resulting experience isn't terribly problematic, but it's irksome. Still some work needed here.
Castle Commander is visually run-of-the-mill. Everything's cartoony. Nice cartoony, but cartoony nevertheless. I appreciate that they tried to vary the game's presentation with four different sets of soldiers and a few different environments for you to fight on, but overall there's a lot of repetition in this game.
Epic, thundering soundtrack, which for the most part is rather generic. Not bad, not terribly good. I will make one concession to the happy acoustic tune that plays whenever you enter the store, however - I've been listening to it strum as I write this review. Never gets old.
This is the area where RTS browser games always seem to stumble. Is Castle Commander difficult? I say, no, it's not hard at all.
I'll admit that I had to restart levels once or twice. If you don't move swiftly to take castles, you'll get trounced by the enemy. There's some strategy in knowing which castles to conquer first, and which defensive positions to hold before you stream out into the wider world to complete the level. But, uh, there's one thing... or one set of things... that makes Castle Commander consistently easy: the spells.
I'm fine with extra powers in RTS games. Having them in Castle Commander is nothing new. It IS problematic, however, that the spells are so damned powerful. Take Bloodlust, for example: it hits a group of your troops with extra speed and attack strength, allowing them to plow through enemies with greater ease. This spell is SO GOOD that this same group, especially if you decide to heal 'em along the way, can take out three or four enemy groups of equal number before dying. That's a ridiculous boost in strength, and it lasts for a fair while.
(Don't even get me started on Infection. Stealing enemy units as they emerge from an enemy castle, thereby conquering the castle in the process, is well past the unfair line.)
My suggestion? Tone down the spells. Force players to choose between two or three per map. Or, to make things really interesting, allow the computers to use a few spells of their own. Castle Commander will otherwise prove too easy a game to be memorable.
Don't get me wrong, I had fun playing Castle Commander. It was a good way to waste half an hour. In general, though, I prefer RTS games that last LONGER than half an hour, and Castle Commander... yeah... yeeeeeah.
PLAY CASTLE COMMANDER