Blue Byte’s Champions of Anteria is certainly an imperfect beast. Equal parts Divinity: Original Sin and Civilzation, the game liberally experiments with an age-old genre to various degrees of success. And while it is by no means the best real-time strategy (RTS) game on the market, newcomers to the genre as well as genre fans will certainly find things to love.
You play as the titular Champions of Anteria, a band of warriors that have set out to unify their homeland. While the story delves into some darker topics like war and death, the game feels very light-hearted from the start with a Kings Quest-like narration. Although the story is particularly cheesy, it gives enough information and incentive to move the story forward.
The story focuses on the typical Warrior, Cleric, Ranger combo that any fantasy game player has come to expect, and Champions of Anteria stress their love of making “hero poses” early and often. More importantly, the comical companion Bryan acts as narrator to the games’ events, offering meta-nods and funny quips between scenes.
For the most part, the story is told through dynamic images with narration dubbed over it. It isn’t the most engaging way of seeing a story, but it does help get across the storybook vibe that the game is clearly going for.
The game is broken up into days, offering an almost board-game-like experience. A standard day goes like this:
The enemy factions level up and take over a few territories (and perhaps start encroaching on yours). You are awarded a variety of crafting materials based on the buildings you own in your kingdom, as well as gold and Reale – leveling up currency – based on the number of regions you own.
Next you will explore your kingdom, choose where you would like to spend your Reale (would you prefer to unlock new potions, gain access to upgraded facilities, etc.), create new buildings, and craft some potions and armor.
After figuring out your logistics, you head back to the map of Anteria and inspect where you would prefer to carry out a mission. Players will be able to attack adjacent regions in order to take them over, or – if they are being attacked by enemies – defend their own regions. After completing your mission, you can make a few more logistical moves before rinsing and repeating.
If that seems like a lot, it’s not. The gameplay loop becomes nearly addictive after the first day or so, prompting constant sessions where I convinced myself to just go “one more day.” Unfortunately, I soon realized that most of my enjoyment was coming from only one element of the game — the city building.
For what it’s worth, the city building component is not only dynamic and well-executed. I would sit around considering the best way to grow my kingdom, how each new settlement would affect progression, and how positioning outposts and settlements would more fluidly expand my kingdom. While arguably the most experimental new component that Champions of Anteria brings to the RTS genre, it is the one part of the game that feels the most dynamic and evolutionary.
In comparison, the traditional RTS elements and gameplay feel clunky and outdated. I won’t pretend to be an expert on RTS games, however it doesn’t take an enthusiast to know that your characters should be able to run around in-game objects instead of getting stuck on rocks, for instance.
First the good things: both your enemies and your playable characters will have a magical elements, and you are able to utilize the onscreen Magical Elemental Wheel to determine what element is weak or strong against the other element. The game can be downright unplayable (even on easy) if you try to ignore the mechanic, but it does make you frequently mix things up strategy and ability-wise.
Also, I’m a huge fan of the Active-Pause-Mode which lets you pause the game and reset strategies at your beck and call. As someone that dabbles in the genre, I loved the ability to stop gameplay entirely, recoup my strategy, and switch commands mid-battle.
On the other side of the fence, the game’s level design felt particularly bland. Besides the boss fights that were consistently fleshed-out and varied, the individual levels themselves all seemed to merge together, with nothing particularly great standing out among the group. Whether you were tasked with rescuing a spy in enemy territory, defending villagers from hordes of foes, or building up security, nothing about it struck me as particularly fun or rewarding. Instead, it felt more like grinding to further advance the city building component.
Another knock against the game would be the occasional, ridiculous difficulty spikes. While the simplistic approach to traditional RTS gameplay components would make this a fairly easy recommendation for RTS newcomers, the often absurd difficulty spice — mostly surrounding boss fights — would just frustrate many people. Although the bosses are dynamic as compared to the levels, they feel more like “bullet sponges” that can take upwards of 20 or 30 minutes to take down.
Packaged together, Champions of Anteria is neither awful nor the next best thing in RTS. Instead, it is a worthwhile title that makes a pretty successful experiment into some new RTS elements that I wouldn’t mind seeing in other titles. And although the moment-to-moment gameplay may be underwhelming to RTS fans, I’m willing to overlook janky control issues when the developer takes worthwhile risks.