Well, the title basically says all you need to know (if not, wait until the end of the Introduction). So, what are you waiting for? The armies are gathered. The grim champions of ruin await your orders. The banners of Chaos fly upon the dark walls of the citadels, and the trumpets call your warriors to battle. There’s no time to waste. Strike before your opponents have gathered their strength. This shall be your moment of triumph.
The brutal campaign has lasted long enough. But one lonely castle on the borderlands was yours when you began your conquest. Through planning and strategy, you’ve extended your dominion over the neighboring towns. Through sheer perseverance, you’ve defended your rising empire against your warlike neighbors. Now, as you look upon your assembled legions, you realize that the long war has entered its final stage.
Total victory is within your grasp. Do you dare reach for it?
Warlords of Old
Those who understand the meaning of this review’s title don’t need any more information. That’s exactly what this game’s all about: bringing the grim darkness of Warhammer to Warlords’ warring realms. It’s a perfect formula, of the sort that you don’t even realize how much you need until you try it. Yet, for those who aren’t familiar with the two great works of old:
Let’s start with Warlords. The original game is a true classic of the turn-based strategy genre. It’s one of those incredibly overly-ambitious projects that wasn’t meant to succeed. Yet it did. It took the intuitive, straightforward tabletop style of luck-based battles and units moving in turns – and extended it to an entire open world. Its greatness is in its scale. Such a game would take a week just to set up on a physical table. That’s the power of computers, and it’s used to a fantastic effect here.
The original Warlords had a great setting of its own, too. It was, however, of the more traditional fantasy variety. Therefore, it completely fails to explain the brutal war that rages unabated between everyone and everything. That situation, however, makes perfect sense in the harsh Warhammer universe. The famous Games Workshop setting is all about war and conquest – and Chaos, threatening to engulf all. It’s strangely fitting with Warlords’ gameplay. As I said: a perfect formula.
The original Warlords really did feel like some colossal, yet also very simple and traditional tabletop game. Telestians fully inherits its classic gameplay. The most important objects are strongholds. Their main purpose is producing units, such as Chaos Warriors or Skaven-like (don’t tell me you don’t know who Skaven are!) Scavengers. The gameplay may seem basic, but it really draws you in. The more castles you conquer – the faster you conquer more castles. You know: like a snowball rolling down a mountain.
So great if it wasn’t for your no-less imperialist neighbors. As you customarily extend your rule over the nearby neutral towns, you’ll soon come into contact with others doing the same. If you know anything about history, you know what happens next. No – you don’t go for a cup of tea with the other warlord and peacefully divide the lands between you. Instead, you immediately try to annihilate each other.
I think that’s a big part of what makes Warlords and – by extension – Telestians so enjoyable. In a way, it’s like its own genre, somewhere in-between strategy and tactics. With gameplay that seems strangely close to backgammon or chess, on a scale of Mount and Blade. The games’ worlds may be the size of those of Master of Orion. Yet, unlike Master of Orion, they don’t bother to offer a thousand options for solving each crisis. In Telestians, there’s but one solution: war.
The Great Conquest
Between exploration and conquest, the days quickly fly by. How many lands have known the tread of your victorious legions? Across swamps and hills, mountains and forests you’ve extended your glorious reign. The entire world will soon be yours. But what shall you do, when all your opponents are gone? The original Warlords didn’t have a good answer: the game had but a single great map. Telestians, however, employs procedural generation – another perfect addition to the original’s gameplay – ensuring that you’ll never run out of realms to conquer.
Although, there was something to Warlords’ single world. It felt as if there was an entire history behind it. Those kingdoms you fought against each had their own tale. It wasn’t communicated through some in-game lore – but through geography. The dwarves dwelt along a great mountain chain; the orcs roamed the eastern steppes. However, if the hand-crafted style appeals to you as much as it does to me – don’t worry.
The developer behind Telestians informed me that not only will the game include the grand map – just like Warlords – but also a map-maker tool. So, no matter what style of realms you prefer to reign over – procedural, hand-drawn, or even those you’ve yourself created – you shouldn’t be disappointed. Such vast amount of options is exactly what I’d hope to see in a modern work. It doesn’t dilute the classic gameplay – it extends it.
Art, Music and Orange Beards
Another definite improvement is with the UI and the overall design. The visuals are fantastic, and the interface is stylized as to fit in with Telestians’ mystic atmosphere. There are many evocative artworks scattered throughout the game. They bring to mind faraway magical realms of sorcery and warfare; of mysterious dungeons and mighty citadels; of great armies clashing in terrible battles. A classic Warhammer-esque aesthetics.
The soundtrack follows suit: with powerful, epic compositions of war and triumph. It’s as subtle as something that might accompany an Imperial procession in the Warhammer universe; not subtle at all. It definitely adds to the immersion, making you truly feel like a great warlord riding towards victory or death. All in all, the game totally knows how to create a mood.
Now, what about the units and the map objects? Overall, the tiles in the game feature very solid artwork. It’s as expressive as you’d expect; you’ll have no problem telling an orcish wolf rider apart from a crazed dwarven fanatic with their classic orange beards. Or the knights’ shining stronghold from a barbarian fortress, surrounded by a rough wooden palisade. It’s clear that this artist enjoys their craft. They’ve clearly put a lot of effort into giving the various characters their unique, though certainly still warlike, visages.
Telestians is, certainly, a solid work – with just enough features to be entertaining, without becoming overly-complicated. It’s a sort of game that you can get into within minutes – yet engaging enough to keep you playing for hours. It also feels very classic, in a certain way. It’s rather easy to imagine yourself sitting around a table in front of a giant map, with a set of dice in your hand.
It doesn’t try to be a complete simulation of medieval warfare. Instead, it’s more like a tactical game, but on a strategic scale. As I said before – basically its own genre of sorts. Of course, its main inspiration comes from the legendary Warlords. At the same time, it does have enough character of its own to stand out. However, it has more to do with the atmosphere: the art and the music, rather than any significant gameplay changes.
The inclusion of a random map generator, of course, adds a lot of replayability. The map-maker tool, although not yet in the game, should also be a great addition. Allowing players to craft their own worlds is a fantastic way to build a community around the project. Yet, if you didn’t like Warlords’ gameplay, I doubt Telestians will change your mind. But, if you liked the classic strategy – then the conquest awaits, warlord!