China has a rich and diverse history that goes sadly under-represented in the gaming world. There are some titles, such as the Warriors franchise, that use historical figures, but beyond that? Very little. When Oriental Empires came into Early Access I was thrilled; not only was there a game loosely based on this incredibly rich history, but it was also a grand strategy / 4X hybrid! While rough around the edges, Oriental Empires is an approachable title that is both challenging and rewarding.
Since Oriental Empires is in Early Access many aspects or features of the game may change between the publishing of this article and the full release.
Oriental Empires is interesting; a solid mix between the diplomacy of a grand strategy title while embracing the "explore" and "exterminate" aspects of a 4X game, with a wee bit of RTS thrown into the mix. While not entirely deep or sophisticated with any one subject, it is no slouch either, offering an often-tense, and relatively deep experience for what it is. In some titles, like Europa Universalis or Crusader Kings II, diplomacy and trader the primary foci and it is far easier to win under those conditions than in Oriental Empires, or on the flip side, titles like Galactic Civilizations III or Stellaris are for more focused militarily than Oriental Empires. In truth I would liken it to a far more expansive sibling to Amplitude's phenomenal hybrid strategy game, Endless Legend.
Grand Strategy and 4X genre fans will feel right at home when starting up Oriental Empires. You start by selecting one of a handful of Chinese tribes, the farming-oriented Shang tribe to the unlockable and craft-focused Xianbei tribe. Each tribe or faction come with a bonus or penalty to an aspect, such as crafting, war, agriculture, etc. Playing to your chosen faction's strengths or exploiting your enemy's weaknesses can be the defining factor of victory or defeat. Once you are in game the overworld map is hex-based and beautiful; from the rolling hills to the expansive plains to the jagged peaks of mountainous regions, it is all a sight to behold (especially after you have explored the massive map). At first I thought it a trick of my eyes, but during the turn phase (it is turn-based strategy) there are points where cloud-cover will be thick and there will be lightning; you can zoom in to see a neat little storm! I love storms...
For as nice as the overworld map and the various settlements look, the individual units are so incredibly basic. I mean, sure I am not expecting Total War when it comes to unit graphics, but the animations are so incredibly basic that I rarely, if ever, zoomed in to see the actual carnage. Hopefully that will be improved in later iterations of Early Access, prior to full release. The music and sound effects more than make up for the shoddy unit design. In all honesty I have let the game just sit in the background at times because the soundtrack is stunning; I am not one for purchasing game soundtracks, but if one were available for Oriental Empires? I would buy it in a heartbeat.
While individual unit tactics, unit models, and diplomacy need to be further tweaked and enhanced upon, Oriental Empires is a thrilling ride through 3000 years of Chinese history. From the Bronze Age to through the Warring States era and the age of Gunpowder, there is something here for any fan of Grand Strategy or 4X gameplay. With a bit more focus put on the non-combat aspects of Oriental Empires, Shining Pixel Studios could have the next big breakout hit in hybrid strategy titles. A feat of monumental undertaking in a world where Civilization and Total War exist. Keep an eye on Oriental Empires, as it could be the beginning of something beyond great.
Shining Pixel Studios
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Article by Robert