Guest Author - James Shea
A large-scale strategy game akin to the Total War series or Paradox Interactive's games, "Reign: Conflict of Nations" presents some beautiful design but is ultimately lacking in both substance and playability.
"Reign: Conflict of Nations" is centered around Eastern Europe in the Middle Ages (between 1300 and 1650). The player takes the role of a king of a nation (small in early scenarios, larger and more consolidated in later ones). There's sort of a combination of a role-playing system for generals and governors and other major figures and a management/tech-tree system for cities and armies. The gameplay is real-time that can be paused or fast-forwarded, much like a Paradox Interactive game. The system has more detailed underpinnings to it than Total War in certain areas, but on the whole is largely abstracted rather than realistic.
The main form of management in the game is managing towns. Town economies are centered around buildings. Industry buildings like smithies generate revenue, farms generate food, churches generate knowledge, and so on. There are also miscellaneous other buildings like stables and ports that have more specific roles either in trading/economics or in creating soldiers. The system is kind of simplistic, but no less so than other games of the genre. Each city has a total population that is assigned to different jobs or drafted to fight, which is neat (if not really numerically accurate).
The "role-playing" aspect comes primarily from special characters (governors, generals, spies, and so on). As they carry out their job, they gain levels and special abilities. These special abilities vary depending on the type of individual. Generals can learn to lay siege or hire mercenaries, governors can learn different management styles, spies can learn different espionage methods, and so on. These abilities are active-only (no passive abilities) and usually have some drawback, so it's not direct improvement. The level-up element is kind of low-key, and while it's important in a tactical sense it's not that customizable. Unlike Total War or some Paradox games (Crusader Kings being the first example that springs to mind), there are no traits or behaviors for your generals and other VIPs. Therefore, Reign's system seems kind of simplistic.
The combat is the most simplified part of the game. Essentially it's an autobattle system, but it's difficult to tell how units are going to interact. There's a bunch of different unit types, ranging from infantry to cavalry to gunners and cannon, but the actual combat statistics are fairly threadbare. It's less in-depth even than Paradox games, never mind Total War (which is actually based around fighting battles).
The one aspect of the game that I really liked (and that made me feel bad the rest of the game was so boring) was the art. Not the in-game graphics, but the display and loading screens and menu screen and so on. There's a lot of use of manuscript-style illustrations and designs, and it's really classy and nice to look at. It definitely feels authentic. However, the actual game graphics are subpar. The world map is too crowded, and it's difficult to see borders and political markers. The world just feels too small and hard to parse, even with the simplistic system of interactions.
Overall, with the notable exception of its art and design, "Reign: Conflict of Nations" is disappointingly simplistic. It's exceeded in management terms by Paradox Interactive games, and it's exceeded in combat terms by Total War. It gives it a good try, but is ultimately outclassed in its field.
We purchased this game with our own money from a gaming store.