Most gamers regard the 4X (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate) Strategy genre as something only the “true hardcore” can play. Understandably so because people who play these games were those who grew up with the early Civilization titles.
Newer 4X games, like Crusader Kings and Total War, are there to introduce the genre to younger gamers. But the perceived sophistication of 4X is a deterrent for most.
Enter Oriental Empires (OE), a grand strategy game that can only be described as a fat-free 4X experience. The game puts you in the role of an overseer in one of the many kingdoms vying for power in the Chinese Bronze age. Here is What’s A Geek! and our review of Oriental Empires.
What is Oriental Empires? Simple, Not Easy
OE takes a lot of elements from other 4X strategy games and distills them into something accessible. Its simple and intuitive design makes for an easy-to-learn game that will ease beginners into the genre. This simplicity is even more appreciated because the in-game manual can be a tough to understand at times.
While it’s easy enough to learn, OE can be brutal. This was most likely implemented to tempt veterans of the genre trying out OE. You have to be clear with your expansion strategy as over-expanding can lead to disaster (and, eventually, a restart). Random events, such as calamities, bandit attacks, and visits from hostile kingdoms may spell doom to your fief even in the early game.
It gets even more intense as the game approaches the “Warring States,” especially in the diplomatic front. Pacts that you’ve forged may suddenly crumble as you get caught between the war of two factions you’re both allied with.
Ancient Chinese Beauty Secret
OE does not bring anything new, graphically, but it still looks great. The vast landscapes look majestic when viewed up-close. The details of the structures and the units may seem dated, but this is understandable given game’s “god-view” perspective. And, to be totally blunt, the textures on the units are way better than Total War: Rome’s nightmare-inducing warped faces. Given the game’s theme, it would be easy to go overboard, but the art direction remained restrained and apt.
There are no cutscenes, which may disappoint fans who’ve played Total War. However, as the game really doesn’t follow a strict narrative, it’s not a necessity.
Goal-Oriented and Focused
There are three ways to win in OE: Domination (Military), Son of Heaven (Diplomatic), and Cultural (Economic/Tech). While you may be focused on pursuing one victory condition, the randomness of the game can often make you switch anytime. It may seem quite frustrating, but the simplified mechanics helped dampen the difficulty.
OE found good middle-ground between Civilization’s macro-style and Total War’s micro-intensive gameplay. This is especially evident in combat. In Total War, you take control of your units as if it were a tactical Real-Time Strategy game. On the other hand, Civilization resolves battles with a dice-roll. OE allows you to set formations to your armies, affecting their behavior in battle. Once you end a turn and the armies meet, you can watch the battle unfold and resolve.
That said, the system has a semblance of tactical depth while still retaining elements of grand strategy. Actions and mechanics are broad enough to be simple, yet deep enough to grant complexity. The warring Chinese kingdoms theme also helped give this game a lot more focus, especially on its tech progression and diplomacy.
Verdict: Break the Great Wall Down
Whether you’re a newbie looking to try out the 4X genre, or a hard-boiled grand strategist, Oriental Empires has something to offer you. Its low barrier to entry (both price- and gameplay-wise) and infinite replayability also makes it a great gift to other gamer friends.