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Celtic Kings (Preview)

Game Review - by James Allen
Like all great early civilizations, the Romans, during their peak, wanted to take over the world. Problem was, the world is a pretty big place full of people who don't exactly want your reign over them. This forms the basis for Celtic Kings, a real time strategy game that centers on the confrontations between the Romans and the Gauls ("Gaul" is a French term meaning "Really Old France"). As the computer gaming et becomes more mature and games of almost every conceivable type become available, we need to branch out into new and strange areas never before explored. Let's see if this beta ("beta" is a French term meaning "Really Old Gaul") version of Celtic Kings shows us some new facets of the real time strategy genre.

Celtic Kings has the basic features that we have all become accustomed to in real time strategy games. Firstly, a really excellent tutorial is included for beginners (and people writing a preview with no manual or other text files available for help) to prime you on the various techniques used in Celtic Kings. You can engage in adventures, which are missions that are tied together with a storyline, much like a campaign. There are also single and multiple player modes, which are skirmish maps seen in other RTS games. I'm imagining there will be many different maps to choose from, as each one is specific to which sides must be played (due to the no building rule, more on that later). This preview version didn't come with many maps to choose from, but the potential is certainly there, especially with the included editor to make your own maps for single and multiple player usage. Yes, Celtic Kings comes with all of the basics we expect in a RTS game published today.

Sound FX:
The sound in Celtic Kings appears to be along the average lines. There are sometimes instances in which the sound is quite good, especially some of the background music and mission specific sound effects (like acknowledgements from your hero). For the most part, however, it's quite an average journey through the world of sound. All of the battle effects are there, but not superb. You spend most of the time while playing Celtic Kings commenting that, yes, there is sound, but it's nothing special.

Celtic Kings has a couple of neat ideas going for it, which is important in today's over saturated real time strategy et. The basis of the game is still the same: create a bunch of units and destroy the enemy. The two sides, although totally different aesthetically, are have exactly the same units and structures, so it's easy to play each side once you know one (there's putting a positive spin on the situation). You basis of operations is a stronghold, something that you neither build nor add to yourself. This is something that's quite different for RTS games, as you're "stuck" with all of the buildings and their placements at the beginning of the game. All that leaves the player to do is create units, make upgrades, and find the enemy. Resource gathering is done by collecting taxes (done automatically) from the peasants; more villagers can be made for a cost of food. The town hall serves as the HQ of the stronghold, and if it's captured, so is the entire village. Capturing a building means damaging the contained units, and then surrounding it and persuading the people to join your side. This process takes a little bit of time, and is a neat way of turning structures over to the opposition (it's similar to capturing buildings in Warlords Battlecry II). Each building in your town can produce several units and also make upgrades to provide for stronger and better forces. You can also train your forces against each other in another notable found in Celtic Kings: the armies train against themselves, and while they gain experience, they also get hurt. Makes sense to me. Your basic units are a magic unit, a long-range unit, a horsed unit, and melee units. They main unit of the game is the hero, which rides atop a white horse. Individual lesser units can be attached to a hero, which raises the experience of the attached unit, and provides an army to follow the hero's orders. Like in a RPG game, units can level up through battle experience, training, or upgrades at the base. The AI is smart about attacking enemy units: nothing makes me angrier than units that just stand around while they get beat down. I guess that sums up the gameplay in Celtic Kings pretty well: no building buildings, heroes, training methods, and resource "gathering" are the main points here that separate Celtic Kings from the rest of the pack.

You know that when the main menu looks cool, you're in for a treat. Games such as Celtic Kings keep reminding us that 2-D graphics can look very good. The architecture used in the game is outstanding. The level and amount of detail on the structures for both the Romans and the Gauls is magnificent, so much so that the buildings kind of overshadow the rest of the game, and actually seem slightly out of place. Still, the rest of the game is nothing to sneeze at. The units are very well done, as is the landscapes that the game takes place in. The fire and weapon effects are disappointing, however: there is not enough drama contained in them. Also, the interface is large and easy to understand, an aspect of the game that usually does not get much attention unless it's a detriment (see Dark Planet). I can't get over how great the touches of detail are: individual roof tiles, slowly decomposing corpses (always important), and each single leaf. About the only complaint is that there is no dynamic nature to the graphics (the trees don't sway in the breeze, for instance). Still, the graphics in Celtic Kings are quite impressive.

Celtic Kings looks like a pretty decent game. The graphics are outstanding, and the game comes up with several new ideas for the real time strategy game et. There will also hopefully be loads of included and user-created maps to play with. Plus, the game features a war that has not been portrayed in many games before it. I would keep a close eye on Celtic Kings as it's release date of late August creeps ever so closer.

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