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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Criminally Overlooked Games: Lords of the Realm 2

Lords of the Realm 2 Cover
The long path of gaming is littered with games that were once considered monumental testaments to the craft and have since been forgotten. A lot of things can diminish these games in people's eyes: Outdated graphics, lackluster sequels, or the ravages of time itself.

Lords of the Realm II has a lot of these issues. First of all, the graphics pale in comparison to even Command & Conquer Red Alert, released exactly the same day. While Red Alert has great animation and detail in the units, LotR2's units look fake and weird in comparison. Most items only have about four frames of animation. For God's sake, when you start up the game in any mode other than 640 by 480, you get a warning about your screen resolution.

Next up, the Lords of the Realm name means nothing to gamers anymore. If the Lords of the Realm name still meant something to gamers, then Lords of the Realm II would still remain a well-remembered high watermark, much like Civilization II still conjures up fond memories. However, since the third game in the series was so poor, no one remembers the series name with a great fondness anymore.

On top of that, many, many strategy games have come and gone since Lords of the Realm II graced our screens. Fourteen years is a long time in gaming terms, and our memories are short. It's been a long time since Lords of the Realm II was installed on the majority of hard drives, let alone on store shelves. In fact, when I bought it in early 1998, it was already $10. It's been a budget game for longer than Starcraft has been released.

Lords of the Realm 2 Siege Screenshot
Lords of the Realm II deserves better. Here's the story: The king died without an heir, and five rivals have stepped up to claim the throne: The noble Baron, the calculating Countess, the headstrong Knight, the duplicitous Bishop, and you. You have to subjugate your enemies through a variety of battle and good management on the way to claiming the throne for your own.

Years before the Total War series was a glimmer in Creative Assembly's eye, Lords of the Realm II combined turn-based and real-time strategy exceptionally well. All county management is handled in turn-based mode. Battles are handled in real-time, including castle sieges. In order to truly succeed, you have to master all facets of the game to win.

What made Lords of the Realm II stand out, though, were the characters. Each character fights you in a specific way, and it's awesome. For example, the Bishop is a back-stabber of the highest order. If you form an alliance with him, he'll still wander into your lands with a large army and siege your castles. His claim is that he's seizing your lands on behalf of the church. He'll get mad if you tried to attack back or defend yourself. If he did gain control of a county, he'd put the largest castle possible in it, making him exceedingly dangerous.

Lords of the Realm 2 Map Screenshot
The Baron, on the other hand, excelled in field combat and infrastructure, was incredibly loyal, and also had crappy castles littered around his counties. He was a great ally to have, because he'd always have your back. However, at some point you have to wipe him out in order to claim the throne, which was made easier due to his penchant for the aforementioned crappy castles.

You'll notice I'm describing these characters as if they're real people. They're all so clearly defined in-game that I can explain how each of them will behave in a certain situation. If you'll allow me a "get off my lawn" moment, this is something a lot of games are missing nowadays. We have better technology than we've ever had, and yet all the technology in the world can't make great characters. That comes down to writing, and writing in most games is woefully insufficient.

Getting down from my soapbox, the only major flaw in Lords of the Realm II is the multiplayer code. It appears that the network code was made by partially trained wolves who programmed by urinating on the keyboard. The only time I ever got it to work online was using dialup, and any attempt at running it on anything fast would cause it to crap out after a minute. But when we got it to work online, it was GLORIOUS.

Look, I don't know what else to tell you. If you like strategy games at all, Lords of the Realm II is a phenomenal game that deserves a shot. I hope some day someone gets the license and remakes it the way that it deserves. In the meantime, you can pick it up cheap from GOG.com.

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