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Reviewed: Praetorians
Author: Michael Ahlf       Date: April 14th, 2003
Page: 2

Praetorians sets itself up with only three civilizations, eschewing high numbers of options in exchange for focus on how each option really plays out. 

To start with, Praetorians carries multiple sorts of troops. There are scouts, who use pets such as wolves and hawks to figure out where the enemy is. There are heroes, who lead troops to battle, help troops fight harder, and gain experience for winning battles as well as for their own men dying. There are the large-scale troops, rendered individually but controlled as units -- a group of 30 foot soldiers, for example, can be ordered as 30, split into two groups of 15, merged with another group (up to cap size), and function in that grouping, letting the player control large scale battles with a few clicks.

Then there are the seige engines. Battering rams, ballistae, catapults, ladders and assault towers, all wonderful for attacking fortifications, but lousy for taking on troops because troops can dodge their attacks. Fortified fortresses just have to stand there and take it.

If there's one thing that speaks for the depth of this game engine, it's that it's hard to figure out where to start on descriptions for the engine.

Resource management is intertwined with troops. Taking over towns doesn't just happen; first, you have to destroy the enemy garrisoned within. Then, build your own garrison to make it friendly, after which your hero (you've got one, right?) can recruit townspeople to become soldiers of various types.

Backing up for a second; troops. There are tons of them -- archers, cavalry, scouts, spearmen -- but the most important unit is the foot soldier, or light infantry. They aren't as powerful in battle as any others, but they're the cheapest, and they're the only troop allowed to build structures. You can order them to build siege engines, fortifications, garrisons, or pretty much anything else.

You can also upgrade and downgrade troops. Don't have light infantry, but have a set of spearmen? Downgrade them. They might grumble a bit but so what, they're your army. Have light infantry but need bowmen to staff that new tower? Upgrade them and start handing out bows.

Terrain makes a huge impact on the game, surprisingly. High ground is important for archers to find, because it improves their range and defensible positions. Woods are great for hiding troops, since spearmen and seige engines can't enter them -- their weapons wouldn't be effective. Seige engines can't cross some rivers that foot troops can ford, but the foot troops can then sneak up on a nearby bridge's guards. It's a pretty picture and the maps are well designed so that terrain and mastery of battle tactics is as much a part of the game as sheer overwhelming force.

The game's A.I. isn't stupid either. Spearmen and foot soldiers fling a few weapons ahead to whittle down enemy forces before closing in to melee range. Archers facing a defense tower light their arrows up to burn the tower to the ground. Troops ordered to attack a back-rank unit do their best to get there, while troops in the way do their best to slow invading enemies down and protect the back lines of archers.

Storyline-wise the game is pretty good, following through 24 missions of Roman world conquest. There are graphically gorgeous movies between scenes, and in-game cutscenes aren't bad either. As immersive with the storyline is the graphics, which are absolutely gorgeous. 

Beautifully rendered cutscenes immerse players in the storyline.

The gameplay engine allows control of large armies with only a few clicks.

Multiplayer for Praetorians is as well balanced as single player, and a great idea for players who want to really test their mettle. Since the game is so well balanced, there's really nothing else to comment about there. 

The downside for Praetorians? Well, there are a few. The sound in the game is a bit lackluster, as is the repetition of phrases that seems to plague all RTS games. Graphics in the game, while admittedly gorgeous, are limited to a 1024x768 top resolution. While this works decently well, and allows the pushing of all graphical options and FSAA/Ansiotropic Filtering options, it'd be nice to go a bit higher, especially on a large monitor.  Lastly, the game's camera is STIFF, not allowed to rotate from a 3/4 perspective on the map. It can move closer and further away, but not too far or too close, and this detracts from the visual splendor since there are some things a player just will never see or might like to have a better angle on.

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Added:  Monday, April 14, 2003
Reviewer:  Michael Ahlf
Page: 2/3

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