With full-scale strategy games being few and far between on consoles, Immortal Realms: Vampire Wars takes on several genres at once… with added vampires. The good news? It doesn’t suck…
It’s been fascinating to watch the resurgence of some of the most durable game genres in recent years, with many that had been relegated to the mists of history for years now springing back to life in games that have serious mainstream appeal. For example, turn-based RPG battles were considered “old-school” and rarely seen in mainstream titles – set aside in favour of real-time action… until the likes of Divinity Original Sin made turn-based combat cool again and dragged it back to game consoles. Intricate card-based games remained popular with a legion of hardcore fans, but were little more than a fringe genre on computers and consoles until Hearthstone kicked off an avalanche of the things. Soon we were seeing mashups of these once underappreciated genres – Slay the Spire’s successful attempt at melding cards with battles proving to be a huge hit.
Immortal Realms: Vampire Wars, the first game built by tiny Swedish studio Palindrome Interactive, takes the mashup idea and turns it up to 11 by taking elements of those two genres and laying them atop a third – the empire management game. Publisher Kalypso is no stranger to those – they’ve published the popular Tropico games for years – but Immortal Realms is a far stranger beast. While it takes elements from several distinctly different game genres, you’ll need to master them all if you’re going to click with the campaign.
To do so, you’ll need to play through the tutorial – it’s optional, but you’ll only be a few minutes into its detailed blow-by-blow description of the game’s mechanics when you realise that perhaps you should’ve been taking notes. It’s the tutorial equivalent of the famous Monty Python sketch where the rules of a game show take so long to explain to the contestants that they run out of time to actually play the game.
Suffice to say you’ll be moving units around the playing field, aiming to capture territories as you might in a Civilization game. The resource generated by the territories you own is Blood (and please note that as this is a vampire-themed game, you are obliged to say the word “blood” in a thick Transylvanian accent). You use your supply of Blood for a range of things, most importantly allowing the playing of cards to alter the rules of battle, but also as a currency that keeps your captured territories running. The battles themselves happen on a grid of squares where each side takes turns making its moves – a surprisingly satisfying system that vaguely feels like gothic Battle Chess.
While it doesn’t look like an especially big game when you first venture through the menus, the three campaigns (one for each of the three vampire clan leaders) are fairly lengthy, with the total campaign play time estimated at around 25 hours. Outside of that, there’s a “sandbox” mode where you can create your own customised empire management campaigns (very much in the same way that you can in Civilization) and a “Skirmish” mode for those who want to jump right into the battle grid.
The game’s graphic design is superb, from the stylish campaign maps and user interface to the beautifully drawn cards. Story cutscenes, meanwhile, are presented as basic but well drawn animations. Whether the story actually matters to you is another thing, though, as it’s far from the most compelling tale ever written, existing mainly to provide some basic framework for the characters and location in the game. Civilization has all the context it needs from real-world history, but Immortal Realms has to build its world from scratch. The voice acting can best be described as “vaguely adequate,” too, so don’t expect BioWare levels of dramatic weight here.
“…please note that as this is a vampire-themed game, you are obliged to say the word “blood” in a thick Transylvanian accent.”
There’s one other major problem with this game on consoles, though. The game was clearly originally developed for the PC – that version doesn’t even support game controllers – and the user interface has barely changed as it’s made the transition to PS4 (we played it on a Pro). So, while it looks lovely on a big screen, much of the onscreen text (especially the tutorial) was so tiny it was impossible to read clearly a metre away from a 55-inch display. Wonderful RPG The Outer Worlds got some flak for its tiny text, but we didn’t feel it was a problem there. However, in Immortal Realms the minuscule tutorial text genuinely makes it difficult to get to grips with the game as you’re bombarded with rules and tips right from the start. Additionally, playing with a controller requires some getting used to, as you’re basically using it as a virtual mouse pointer, with all the inherent disadvantages that brings (you’ll overshoot your target more often than not when trying to select something specific). We’d imagine the best console to play this on may be the Switch, as long as touchscreen support has been built into the game on that platform.
So, is Immortal Realms for you? Well, if you love strategy games like Total War and empire-building games like Civilization, it provides a rare opportunity to not only play the sort of game rarely made available on consoles, but also to play it with the same level of detail and complexity you’d find in a PC strategy game. The user interface is a little too detailed for couch play, though, and with no randomised maps to keep the campaign fresh, you’ll be relying on the sandbox mode for longer-term fun. But it’s great to see an adventurous, atmospheric indie strategy game get a wide cross-platform release, despite its flaws.
Immortal Realms: Vampire Wars is available now on PS4, Xbox One and Switch.