For the last few years, I’ve made it no secret that I have grown tired with the number of Space 4X games that have hit the market. Since 2014, there have been 16 Space 4X titles launched with another six (that we know of) in early access or closed beta. Amid this flood of space-based titles, Snowbird Games went a different direction and released the third iteration of its Eador fantasy series called “Imperium.”
A quick history lesson: The Eador series began with Genesis back in 2009 (then put on Steam in 2013). It was met with critical acclaim but modest interest. The sequel, Eador: Masters of the Broken World, had a fine reception and currently has almost 200k owners on Steam according to data from SteamSpy. That success prompted the studio to evolve the game once more, but this time Snowbird’s offering was almost universally panned. It launched with numerous bugs, warmed-over content, and little community input. As a result, the development team was let go by the investors behind the game, and a new team was installed.
Eador: Imperium (E:I) received numerous updates from the new developers, fixing a great number of bugs and adding several new features. The game available on Steam now is quite different from the one that launched at the beginning of 2017. Despite these improvements, though, I believe there is still a lot to be desired from this game.
Exploration is one of the most fun aspects of any 4X game, and the developers for E:I spent a ton of time making sure the mechanics for it are plentiful and deep. First, the tiles (called provinces) are not regular hexagons like those found in Warlock 2 or the squares in Planar Conquest. They’re irregularly shaped, and often five sided. I really like this as it gives the world a much more organic feel. Additionally, the various provinces have very evocative names such as Marshvale or The Swelling Lands. Someone who’s a loremaster would have so much fun filling a backstory for these. As it is, they do tickle the imagination as you play.
There is a fog of war, which is nothing special, but you can turn if off if you so desire. Lifting it is not the meat of exploration. Each province, including your starting province, must be explored in order to remove bandits or monsters and to uncover special resources or points of interest.
To explore a province, you must move at least one unit there. Then it’s a matter of clicking the “explore” button on the radial UI for the unit stack. Unlike many 4X games, you issue orders at the beginning of the turn, then those orders will be executed when you press “End Turn.” When you explore, you’ll be given a popup that shows what you’ve discovered. It could be a friendly tribe that wants to trade or a group of highwaymen looking for a fight. You’ll then have a string of options that ostensibly give you some choice in the matter. Usually, however, your choice means little. Encounters always end in the same way. Enemies don’t want to parlay, they want to fight.
The problems with this mechanic are twofold. First, the options in the encounter menus may seem intriguing, but they’re all a mirage. Eventually, you have to fight. My enjoyment of the game would certainly have been enhanced if I could recruit the robbers or centaurs to join my team rather than having to constantly fight them. Second, the amount of time it takes to clear a province is staggering. Each “exploration” only reveals a random percentage of the tile. I’ve had as little as 8% “searched” in a single turn. That might mean it’ll take me 5-10 turns to clear just one tile if I don’t lose any of my forces. It might take twice that long if I do! That’s way too long in my opinion.
Exploring these provinces is important, though. The population cap for each one you control is tied to the amount that’s been explored and cleared. If you want to get your economy going, you can’t just ignore this mechanic. You have to put in the time to get it done.
It’s a shame the system doesn’t work better. Exploration in E:I offers the player an important strategic choice – “Do I expand outward or develop inward?” It’s a lot of fun figuring out when it’s best to do one or the other. It’s reminiscent of encounters with the minor factions in Endless Legend and the the type of thing other 4X games should consider employing.
To expand your empire, at least geographically, you just have to move some forces into a province you don’t control and win the battle that will automatically trigger. There are no settlers to recruit, no outposts to establish, no cities to found. You’ll start with your capital and that’s as close to having a “city” as you’ll get in this game. It’s all about the conquest in E:I.
That system has some advantages. The settler thing can be tedious at times, especially if you have to manage how much population the settlers will siphon off a city. Moving settlers can be tiresome in many games as is searching for “just the right spot” to begin a new colony.
Each province has a gold and mana income value (which can be zero in less desirable land types such as swamps or deserts). The moment you take a province, that income will be added to your total. Thus, you are greatly incentivized to expand outwards. However, as mentioned in the exploration section, you can’t expand out too quickly since population growth is tied to how much of a province you’ve explored. There are a lot of strategic pressures in E:I and this is certainly one of them.
Each province has its own building tree, which I’ll cover more in the eXperience section. You’ll have to manage them carefully and also keep track of what you’ve built where. It’s not an easy task, especially as you proceed to the mid and late game. There’s a lot to remember, and depending on how well you’ve structured your economy, success may hinge on how well you’ve paid attention to the minutiae of each province.
Gold! Gold! Gold! This whole game revolves around that precious metal. You can’t really do ANYTHING in this game without it. Building a new structure requires gold. Recruiting a new unit requires gold. Resurrecting a dead hero requires gold. Buying weapons for your heros requires gold. Repairing your units’ gear (yep, it degrades over time) requires gold. Upkeeps require gold. And so on and so on. I don’t think I’ve ever played a game that centered so much on a single resource. Production, food, research, influence, none of that is present. There is mana, but it’s used sparingly for casting a few spells here and there. In E:I, it’s all about the gold.
So how do you get more gold? Well, there are a couple ways of doing that… Which usually require a lot of gold. First, you could build a building that generates gold income like a Tavern. That structure takes 30 gold to build and produces +1 gold per turn. So that means, I’ll make my money back in 30 turns. The Foundry costs 159 gold to make and produces +5 gold per turn… If you have access to iron. That’s just too many End Turn presses to justify.
Another way to get more income is to conquer provinces. I’ve covered that somewhat. Let’s say I lose one basic unit like a swordsman in taking a tile and that tile has a gold income of +2. A swordsman costs 68 gold to recruit, so it will take me 34 turns to get my money back IF no one else dies.
You can also get money from winning encounters. This is actually a decent way to do it, if you can win with enough forces left over. I’ve won over 100 gold from an “easy” encounter, which is quite a haul. The problem is, the A.I. is no slouch in combat, so farming gold using this method is dicey.
If all this sounds like it might be a recipe for disaster, your hunch is correct. It is so easy to completely run yourself out of gold in the first five turns of the game. When that happens, you’re just stuck until your pathetic income rises to a level where you can start rebuilding your forces and your infrastructure. That could be dozens and dozens of turns where you do nothing, which is kind of a problem.
E:I uses a tactical battleboard for combat much like Sorcerer King or Planar Conquest. Unlike the strategic map, the combat map is layed out in regular hexagons. They’re also bigger than the maps in E:MotBW. I’m not sure the larger size is an improvement since it incentivizes ranged and magical units (particularly magic units and heroes) that can whittle an enemy down before it reaches many of your heroes.
That’s not to say fights are easy. Combat in E:I is actually pretty good. The A.I. knows what it’s doing and doesn’t show much mercy. If you have a unit that’s injured, expect the A.I. to relentlessly target it until its death, which is great! I wish more games were that ruthless.
There are a bunch of currencies to keep track of in combat. You have normal stuff like hit points and mana pools, but there is also ammunition, morale, and stamina. Each of these can have a major impact on how combat plays out.
Ammunition is obvious. You gotta have bolts for your crossbows and stones for your slingers. The interesting things is, though, that E:I keeps the ammunition values low. I almost always run out of things to throw or shoot before combat is over. Thankfully, some units can scrounge around for additional ammo to fire, but they’re out of combat while they do that. Personally, I think that mechanic is brilliant. Ranged units are often the most powerful in games with tactical combat. E:I does a wonderful job of balancing them while keeping the player engaged. You have to actively manage your units, not just put them on fire-and-forget.
Morale and stamina have similar uses. Whenever your team makes a hit, everyone gets a morale boost. Whenever your team loses a unit, everyone loses some morale. The higher the morale, the better the units will fight. Thus the player is given a strategic choice to make: have lots of weaker units that can score lots of hits to increase morale or have a few powerful/high upkeep units that won’t die so often which would crush my team’s morale.
Units lose stamina whenever they move or attack. They gain it when they rest. It’s entirely possible that a melee unit will run out of stamina during a fight and be unable to do anything until it gains some back. Again, I feel this is brilliant because it forces the player to actively manage his or her units – not just mindlessly ram them into the enemy.
Magic in combat is fun and practically necessary. Since enemy ranged units will gang up on an injured soldier, you need to be able to heal and/or strike anyone from anywhere on the combat map. If you can’t stock an archer six tiles away from killing your swordsman, you’re going to lose him. That’s why I really recommend starting with a magic user hero in this game.
Combat is deadly and novice players are going to have a very difficult time keeping their units alive. Watch out for the autoresolve. It does a pretty terrible job of playing your units for you. Given the high costs associated with losing your soldiers and heroes, you’ll want to be precise in your tactical considerations. Combat is both engaging and frustrating as a result. The high stakes keep you on the edge of your seat, but the heavy penalties make you want to throw your keyboard at the screen.
Perceptive readers have probably inferred that my experience with E:I was not all that pleasurable. Before I get to the negatives, though, I want to start with the positives.
Eador: Imperium, like Eador: Masters of the Broken World, is a pretty game. Despite the graphics being four years old, they’re still very attractive. The color scheme is pleasing, and the level of detail is fantastic. The combat map can be a little busy with all the rocks, trees, and other clutter, but there is an option to switch to a “basic” view that removes all that. I wish the strategic map had the same option.
E:I comes with a map maker that, like the rest of the game, is highly detailed. I found that making maps was something I enjoyed a great deal, and I was able to create highly detailed custom scenarios far more engaging than the pre-built campaigns. I desperately wish all 4X games had mapbuilders like this.
For those who want a game with a lot of strategic choices, I’m not sure you’d be able to do much better than E:I. You’re going to face a lot of them, and wrong moves are punished severely. This is not the type of game you’ll beat your first time playing it, even on easy mode.
There is a manual with this game. That’s certainly appreciated. Somewhat humorously, it’s the same manual as the one from MotBW. That tells you how much changed from that game to this. Still, I feel the people who put it together put a lot of love and attention into it. It looks like a Dungeons and Dragons manual with cool color art, attractive layouts, and detailed stats for various items in the game. It’s not a required read since the in-game tutorial does a good job of explaining all the major subsystems of E:I, but it’s still handy to have around. It’s kind of a shame the two things I liked best about the game (manual, map designer) aren’t actually part of the game.
Which brings us to the negatives. Yeah. The positive part was short.
Let’s start with the UI. I’ve reviewed some games with bad UIs in the past: Worlds of Magic, Arcane Sorcery, Apollo4X. None of them, however, had a UI as bad as this game. WOW! Eador: Imperium (along with its predecessor) set the bar for bad UI design. Let me count the ways.
When you click on your capital, you are presented with this bizarre wheel thing in the bottom left. There are nine symbols on it with brief and uninformative tooltips. Form this, you are to infer what you are supposed to do with your city. You see, in E:I, there are 216 buildings you can construct and they are divided into nine quarters (which adds up to 2.25, which makes no sense to me!). This is a staggering amount of information to be presented with right away. Also, most buildings have a prerequisite, but it’s hardly clear looking at the full building tree (see illustration below) how they all interconnect. There is a way to reduce the visible number of buildings down to what you’re able to build at the moment, but there’s no way to know which button does that without guessing. Mercifully, the devs reduced the number of buildings you can construct in a province down to 40 (that was sarcasm, in case you missed it). Oh, and each building also has four levels, so you effectively have 864 buildings in your capital and 160 in each province…
The Esc button doesn’t always close a window. The building menu above, for instance, can’t be closed with Escape if your cursor is active in the “NAME:” searchbar. (Guess how long it took me to figure THAT out) Also, right clicking outside the menu boxes doesn’t close them. This has become standard in most 4X games, but the inability to use these methods to close windows is a major detriment to E:I.
You can click on a building or unit to add it to the first slot in the build queue. If you want to put something in the next queue slot, however, you have to click the building then click the slot. WHY? I should just be able to click the next one and have it go into the next available slot in the queue. Also, let’s say you did click the button to hide all the buildings you can’t build. As soon as you add even one structure to the build queue, all those hidden buildings come back. ALL OF THEM! That is so frustrating!
You can have multiple windows for totally unrelated systems open at the same time. For instance, I can have the build menu open at the same time I have my hero window open. This makes the screen busy and confusing. I can’t think of any other 4X game that allows this. Why does this game?
This game uses left-click select, left-click move when it comes to units. In other words, the same commands as Master of Magic in 1994. The RTS inputs of left-click select, right-click move have been industry standard for over a decade, and modern games like Worlds of Magic that failed to adopt them were rightfully excoriated.
To scroll the map, you have to hold down the mousewheel. That’s fine but, again, old fashioned. Most games just let you click on the map, hold, and drag it where you need. Also, the zoom-in/zoom-out in this game is very limited. That means a whole lot of scrolling around which quickly becomes tiring.
Tool tips are way too limited in the information they convey. E:I is a very deep game, so having tooltips like those in Thea: The Awakening that expand if you hover over something for a long time or like in At the Gates with highlighted keywords that will expand into additional tooltips would be much appreciated. In addition, turn notifications appear for such a brief time in this game, it’s hard to read them all before their gone. In short, E:I does a terrible job of communicating information to the player, and there is a LOT of information.
There are an insane number of icons in this game. Examine the image above. How is a new player supposed to decipher all that? I count at least 59 unique icons just on this screen. That is just far too much to give a player all at once. A good UI would introduce these in a more measured way so the player has enough time to understand what he or she is looking at before delving deeper into the system. Similarly, there is probably too much detail in this game. As I mentioned, there are 216 buildings divided into nine city sections with four levels each. There are also around 80 spells divided among six schools at four levels each. There are 66 units divided into four recruitable categories with the “basic” category having four tiers. I enjoy games with a lot of depth, but this became too much for me deal with because the UI does a terrible job of helping play the game.
I could go on, but that’s good enough to give you an idea of what it’s like. Aside from the bad UI, the terrible pace of the game make it difficult to enjoy. As I described in the eXplore section, clearing a single province can take many many turns. It’s possible to play this game for 10 hours and still be a long way off from taking over the map. On a large map, it could take a hundred hours or more to finish. That’s just way too long. It’s not the 90s anymore. Pressing “End Turn” over and over with nothing to do does not match modern gamers’ sensibilities, and it certainly isn’t compatible for an adult gamer with a busy life outside gaming. For someone like me, there is no way to enjoy this game, let alone actually finish one.
The balance is way off, too. The encounters in your home province and the provinces around you should be easy. They should help you understand the basics of the game, especially combat, and then give you a solid base from which to work. Instead, they are often extremely difficult challenges that novice players will most likely lose, even on easy. And losing your initial force in this game can set you back 50 turns or more. Likewise, the economy is a mess. If a game is going to rely so heavily on one resource (gold) then that resource needs to be abundant. Instead, gold is terribly scarce and far too easy to spend away. The result is multiple game states in which the player is unable to do anything.
It must be said that the new developers at Snowbird games have tried to address this. They added in in a number of rituals that gives you a new hero, a bunch of gold, and a few other things. When you cast them, though, your opponents get the same thing. This is nice, but here’s the thing. It’s not enough. I had to create a map full of cheats with huge bonuses to get a game going the way I liked. I enjoyed the map making process, but I shouldn’t have to do that. I can’t even begin to imagine how much math would have to be done in order to fix this title so a single game could be completed in a reasonable amount of time. Which brings me to…
Unless you are a person with a lot of time on your hands or enjoy really deep strategic games, you needs to stay away from this title. The horrid UI coupled with bad pacing and balance make it excruciating to play. It’s not as if there aren’t good parts to this game. There are. It’s pretty, the map-maker is good, and the combat A.I. is challenging. However none of that makes up for the miserable experience everywhere else.
If you already own Masters of the Broken World, there is no reason to buy this game. It’s the exact same setting. The new heroes are universally worse than the old ones, although the Pilot hero does have some fun and interesting mechanics (it can move over any terrain but has to be careful how it takes off and lands). The new campaigns are frequently bugged, and the sandbox mode is only a moderately nice addition.
How can I say that about a game with an 87% positive rating on Steam? Funny you should mention that. When the new developers took over from the original team, they added a required random event to the game. In the event, a pirate appears and explains how the game’s development was a mess and how the company is struggling financially. It then asks the player to leave a positive review on Steam and provides a link to the Steam page. It struck me as off-putting, but the developer seems to have nurtured a strong bond with the community, and the game went from a sub-50 rating up to where it is now. It worked for them, I guess, but that’s not a path I’d expect (or want) other devs to follow.
In the end, we have a game with a beautiful core but layer upon layer of gunk surrounding it. The developers at Snowbird are considering whether to continue development or to start work on a sequel. I would highly encourage them to start fresh. In order to get this game where it needs to be, they’d have to redo the UI, rebalance the economy, rebalance the units, improve the strategic A.I., fix a myriad of bugs, and port the game to an entirely new engine. To me, that sounds like developing a game from scratch. And why shouldn’t they? Perhaps they could pick up where the pilot hero left off and make more of a steampunk game with a wild and weird clockwork setting that would really separate this game from other fantasy 4X titles.
TL;DR: Eador: Imperium is filled with great ideas and strategic challenges, but it’s all hidden beneath a horrendous UI and poor balance. The pace of the game makes glaciers look like race cars, so if you’re going to try to master it, make sure you set aside a few hundred hours. You’re going to spend hours just pressing End Turn over and over. In the end, the game’s problems far outweigh its pleasures. Unless you have lots of time or are desperate for a strategic challenge, look elsewhere.
You Might Like this Game If:
- You have a ton of spare time to play games
- You’ll play anything that poses a good strategic challenge
- You’re good at modding and map design
You Might NOT Like this Game If:
- You prefer games that give you something to do each turn
- You can’t stand poor UI design
- You don’t have massive amounts of time to play
Troy played 25+ hours of Eador: Imperium on his Windows 10 Dell Inspiron 7000 Series 7537 BTX 17” laptop with Intel(R) Core(TM) i7-4500U CPU @ 1.80 GHz, 16GB Ram, 64-bit Operating system, x64 processor, and 2GB NVIDIA GeForce GT 750M graphics card.
Disclosure: eXplorminate purchased Troy a copy of Eador: Imperium with our Patreon funds for the purposes of review.