Hi everyone, welcome to the first post in my new series – Dude, Where’s the Sequel? Not the most unique of names, but I thought it was a fun one, so I used it. DWTS is a series where I talk about video games I love from my adolescent years, reminisce about them and wonder about the feasibility of a potential sequel. And where else would I start but with one of my favorite ever and highly unrated gem of a game – Battle Realms by Liquid Entertainment.
What is it?
Battle Realms is a Real Time Strategy game developed by Liquid Entertainment and released back in 2001. It is one of my favorite games of all time. Set in a mystical orient setting, with units like samurai and warlocks, Battle Realms was nothing like the RTS games of the time. Though critically acclaimed, the game never got the commercial success it deserved and aside from an expansion pack, Winter of the Wolf, which was released a year later, there has been no new addition to the franchise.
First, let’s talk about the premise of the game’s campaign mode – Kenji’s Journey. Prince Kenji has returned from a self-imposed exile after being suspected for the murder of his father, Lord Oja of the Serpent Clan. He encounters bandits raiding a village and he is given a choice that will shape the rest of the campaign – help the peasants or the bandits. Aiding the peasants sets Kenji down the path of valor and he re-forms the honorable Dragon Clan of old from the ashes of his father’s empire. Aiding the bandits sets Kenji down the path of deceit and strengthens his father’s Serpent Clan. Two other clans oppose Kenji’s journey, the Lotus Clan – warlocks who delve into the corrupted art of magic – and the Wolf Clan – former slaves of the Lotus, recently freed and armed with makeshift, stone age technology. The players are given choices throughout the campaign and their choice will lead to Kenji recruiting various Zen Masters, who are basically hero units of the game, to his cause.
The world and the story told in Kenji’s Journey and the additional campaign added by the expansion – Grayback’s Journey, has always fascinated me. I always excited to read more about the world and have even tried to write a few stories either set in it or inspired in it, though I never got far with those.
The game itself is great too. In the skirmish mode, you can pick between four vastly different clans – the Dragon, the Serpent, the Lotus and the Wolf, all of their units and abilities are different from each other save for the peasant. Even then, the peasants are noticeably different too, not just in their character model but also in the way they do things. For example, the Dragon Clan domesticate their horses with affectionate pats while the Wolf Clan pummels them into submission and brings them into the wolf den to feed wolf pups.
There’s various innovations to the Real Time Strategy genre in the game too, some which have been adopted and others not so much. One of my favorites in the Living World system the game employs. The game has two main resources – water and rice. Rice can be watered to accelerate its growth and storms can help too. Water can be used to douse burning buildings. Aside from resources another aspect of the Living World is the wildlife, when the units are running through forested areas, they can startle birds that fly off and enemies will be alerted to your presence. That aside, peasants can also tame horses in the wild and since they are a finite resources, players will have to fight off other players to make sure they tame some horses as they can change the tide of battle. Most units can mount a horse and they become stronger and faster, and more than that, peasants can use horses as pack animals and harvest resources quicker.
Units work in a fairly unique way too. They aren’t bought like most RTS games, instead peasants are spawn at a rate inversely proportional to your current population. Peasants are the worker units which can build buildings and gather resources. However, unlike other RTS, they are also trained to become your fighters. And different training buildings turn them into different units and training in multiple buildings turns them into more powerful units. For example, training in the Dojo turns them into spearmen and the Target Range into archers. Train them in both turns them into Dragon Warriors, which carry big swords that can generate shockwaves. Training in all three training buildings turns them into the Samurai, which also has range and melee attacks. This is important as when ranged units are closed up on, they use their bows and guns to bash and strike people ineffectively, which is why it’s important to have both types of attack, or at least keep your ranged units far away.
Units can learn abilities too, which requires stamina to activate. Running also drains stamina, so it is wise not to run unless you absolutely have to, or you have a horse to ride on. When critically damaged, units limp and drag their way around which is a bad thing if you’re retreating. So attacks require careful planning and bringing along at least a healer or two to keep the units health up.
Overall, Battle Realms is a really interesting take on the RTS genre that’s still fresh to this day.
What I want to see in a Sequel
More clans, more Journeys, more everything in an updated engine. While I accept that finance is a limiting factor, I’m going to ignore it here while I let my imaginations off the hook. I would like to see the mercenary system that the devs talked about in their Kickstarter campaign for Battle Realms: Legends where Zen Masters could move between clans (not sure if I dreamt that up or not, couldn’t find the source since their videos are all down now). You could potentially mix and match those Zen Masters into presets and select presets before your game starts. If you really want to go wild, you could do it with training buildings too. Imagine the number of combination you could do with your units. Highly unfeasible though, the resources that are needed for such a gameplay concept is way too much. Still, it’s fun to think about it.
I want to see more clans too. The devs did mention that if they do a Battle Realms 2, they would stick with the four clans and some other NPCs with potential for more in expansions. So that’s a possibility. There’s many clans mention in the history that can be found somewhere on the Internet (though sometimes I doubt the validity of it) like the Heron clan. Would be fun to see the alternate versions of the Wolf and Lotus clans too like the Dragon is to the Serpent.
The devs have also mentioned that a possible sequel would see Kenji again as the reunited clans rejoin the mainland. So that would be the main campaign. But more than that, I would love to see campaigns based on the various Zen Masters and historical figures. Zymeth’s ascension to power, Lord Oja’s rule of the Serpent Empire or even Tarrant and his defense against the Horde. There’s such so many possibility in the world they’ve created.
This year, Battle Realms turns 15. While its graphics and animations were once its strong points, it’s now pretty difficult to look at. I don’t wish the sequel to have the best graphics ever, money could be better spent elsewhere, but I do hope that it at least looks like an early 2010s game like StarCraft 2.
As mentioned before, Liquid Entertainment has tried to resurrect the franchise before. First with an attempt to make Battle Realms: Genesis, which later turned into Battle Realms: Legends during its Kickstarter campaign. There was talk that a successful Battle Realms: Legends would mean that we would see a Battle Realms 2: Lair of the Lotus come to live. However, Legends failed to reach its goal. It was meant to be a free to play card game, so I can see why people are hesitant to back such a project, but still, it had some neat ideas, including mercenary Zen Masters and a campaign mode where you can do quests and recruit units.
Since then, we’ve not heard of anything much from the developers. I’m not optimistic about the chance of a successful Legends too, with games like Hearthstone, Elder Scrolls Legends and Gwent on the scene. Coupled that with the fact that the studio hasn’t release a game since Karateka in 2013 and their videos on Legends and the weekly cast on their YouTube channel has been taken down. It’s not a promising sign. It could potentially mean that they have received funding from a publisher that required them to pull content of the game off the sites and leave marketing to its people and that Liquid has been focusing on developing the game since 2013, but the realist in me says that’s not the case.
But, not all is grim. Well, okay, it’s a bit grim. Liquid has been working to bring the original Battle Realms to Steam, but the lack of programming capabilities have stalled their progress. It would seem that the failed Kickstarter campaign has been a huge blow to them. The plan was to have the original game on Steam and potentially making Lair of the Lotus an expansion. Which seems to be the “in thing” with older RTS titles like Age of Empires 2, but as said before, the lack of skilled programmers could prove a difficult obstacle to surmount.
So where does that leave us?
Possibility of a true sequel? Very unlikely. Possibility of an expansion? Possible, but if it happens, it still a long ways off. So if anyone of you are rich investors looking for a great game to pour your millions into well… 🙂