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Tsar: Burden of the Crown treads familiar ground

November 17, 1999
Web posted at: 12:06 p.m. EST (1706 GMT)

by Marc Saltzman

Action Shots

(IDG) -- Formerly known as Imperial Conquest, Tzar: Burden of Crown is a real-time strategy game in the same vein as Ensemble Studios' wildly successful Age of Empires -- but one that combines an AOEthos with a slight "fantastic" twist, a la Warcraft...and a few new features as well.

Players choose one of three unique and balanced races (European, Asian and Arabic) -- each possessing its own architecture, technology tree and unit types. The goal is to harvest resources (food, wood, gold and stone), construct buildings (including sawmills, watch towers and barracks) on a huge, randomly generated map in order to seek out and destroy rival races while simultaneously protecting your burgeoning town.

Before you give the designers two thumbs down for originality, pay heed to a few assorted differences.

Most notable among them is the inclusion of Guilds -- a range of building types used to train units in sciences such as War (accumulate experience points for battle), the Church (construct priests and monks with special powers), the Merchant's Guild (needed for trading with others) and Magetowers, (used to create wizards and learn new spells).

Units can also find or build magic items such as weapons or books. Some of the spells in the books include invisibility, temporary invincibility and the ability to summon creatures.

Along with the Guilds are some other clever RPG elements planned for the final game. Soldiers who have fought in battle will grow in experience points, making them stronger than newly-created units. Moreover, units can find random scrolls placed on maps that offer subquests. Lastly, items can be found such as magic, healing potions and other power-ups.

The "kill or be killed" DeathMatch mode on a random map may be the focus of the game, but there will also be 25+ story-based scenarios, held together with dialogue between some of the characters. Not many of these mission-based adventures have been implemented just yet, but Haemimont Multimedia should consider creating many of these to help distinguish Tzar from its predecessors.

But, comparisons aside, is Tzar a decent game?

Indeed it is. Though an alpha version was used for this preview, the code seems stable. Unit path finding is good, the units are well balanced (the old rock/paper/scissors trade-off), the graphics are impressive with large units, nicely-animated units and cool weather effects, plus the musical score is memorable as well, with catchy Warcraft II-like majestic ditties.

Will the community accept yet another me-too title in an already over-saturated genre?

Well, whatever Tzar may lack in originality, it should win over real-time strategy enthusiasts and perhaps newcomers for its ease of use, familiar rules and challenging gameplay. For Tzar's sake, let's hope gamers give it a fighting chance.

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