[Game Review] Battle Realms: Winter of the Wolf

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Battle Realms: Winter of the Wolf is a classic Japanese- themed fantasy real-time strategy game. Does it still stand out among other RTS today?

Video Review

Introduction

Battle Realms: Winter of the Wolf is a fantasy real-time strategy game developed by Liquid Entertainment, and was published by Ubisoft and Crave Entertainment on 2001. Winter of the Wolf expansion later came in 2002.
 
On the base game, you play as Kenji, the last heir of the Serpent Clan. He recently comes back to his hometown, but  everything is already shattered and in utter chaos. He is the only one who can unite the land once again. In the expansion pack, you play as Grayback, the leader of the wolf clan, and it tells the story of how the wolf clan used to be the slave of the Lotus. It is all about their rebellion and getting their freedom pre-Kenji’s Journey.

Story

Kenji, Son of the Serpent.
Serpents raiding a Dragon's village!
Kenji’s Journey has 2 paths. One choice is the Dragon Clan if you choose to help the villagers on the first mission. On the other hand, it is the Serpent Clan if you choose to attack the village instead. Both paths are very similar to each other, and the only difference is the special characters (Zen masters) you get within each mission, and the way Kenji reacts to the situation also differs.
 
These paths have branches, which add replayability in the campaign mode, as you can try other missions and have a different experience with each one. Usually, there are two to three choices before each mission. Each mission has different clans as your enemies. It would be much better if you can replay mission any time you want, instead of repeating the whole campaign if you forget to save your game multiple times.
 
Sadly, there is no variation in the objectives of each mission, all you have to do is destroy the other clan’s village and that is always the case. Playing it continuously may get boring after a while because of this single objective. It would be much better if it has missions like there are 2 villages that you can fight while you have an ally like Shinja or Otomo having their own villages, it would make the game much intense and diverse.
 
Winter of the Wolf has a different story though. It does not have branch missions and it is more linear than Kenji’s. However, the missions actually vary here and it is actually really nice to see the diversity of each mission. It is actually a better campaign in my honest opinion than Kenji’s journey, though it is relatively short.

Graphics

Battle Realms Wolf Graphics
Huts! Peasants!
Battle Realms: Winter of the Wolf is inspired by Japanese Culture, and it is actually very obvious at first glance. The characters, the buildings, even the introduction screen have that Japanese touch to it. The character models look good for a 2001 game, even the building looks nice and original, and each clan has a different appearance on everything, from the units up to the unique heroes that they have. The cutscenes, however, suffer badly because the game’s graphics did not really age well. You can see how blocky the models are when the game zooms so closely during cutscenes.
 
The maps in the campaign and skirmish mode are quite huge. In fact, most of the missions, you have to search every nook and cranny just to check if you did not miss anything since it can easily be overlooked, given that most campaign maps are just mostly forests. I admit there are some missions that I basically look everywhere just to kill one remaining peasant to finish the mission.
 
Animations look splendid to watch as they do martial art moves when fighting. There are several variations of moves for each unit. Each move set is fluid and very well made, especially if there are several people fighting on the screen. It is a total chaos.

Gameplay

Battle Realms Gameplay
For freedom...

Similarly, Battle Realms: Winter of the Wolf almost has the same gameplay as other real-time strategy games. There are 4 clans (Dragon, Serpent, Lotus, and Wolf), with each has its own units and specialty. For all these clans, there is only one unit to do everything; the peasant. They create your buildings, gather resources (water and rice), and they are also your main source of an army. You have to train them through the different training grounds, which consists of three categories; melee ranged and missile/fire. You can train your units in each building, adding one more tier to them.

There is a maximum of 3 tiers for each unit, with the exception of the Wolf and Lotus as they have a special tier or a 4th tier. Their third tier units can transform into a much more powerful unit. However, having 20 3rd tier units are not always good, as Battle Realms: Winter of the wolf has this complex rock-paper-scissor concept for the strengths and weaknesses of each unit. A combination of all tiers would be optimal for an attack.

To put it simply, there are different types of melee and ranged attacks. For melee, there are blunt, piercing, cutting, while the ranged attack has magic, explosive, and fire. This has given the battles less generic, and more on strategy because you have to think what units you have to dispatch to counter the enemy’s attack. It makes a solid and balanced gameplay overall and it gives a lot of variety in terms of engaging an enemy in battles. It goes to show that a platoon of tier 3 units cannot defeat a platoon mixed of tier 1 and tier 2 units.

Units can get a specific skill within one of the two buildings, so you have to double check what is best for your unit. They are also upgradeable in the training grounds, but it has now a cost, it is either Yin or Yang, depending on what clan you choose. Dragon & Wolf are Yin; Serpent and Lotus are Yang. Yin/Yang can be acquired through engaging in a battle.

Sound

Battle Realms Sound
Kenji as a Serpent
I love how all units are voiced in Battle Realms: Winter of the Wolf. Moreover, there’s a diversity on what they say, and it is actually really a good thing. Voice acting on cutscenes is kind of mixed. It feels so forced and awkward on Kenji’s journey, but on Grayback’s story, it is actually an improvement and it is a lot tolerable than the former.
 
The background music and ambiance of the game are very fitting for its theme. Overall, it has a great soundtrack and ambiance, but the voice acting on the cutscenes could be a tad better.

Replay Value

Battle Realms Shale Lord
Shale Lord is basically the Hulk of Battle Realms

Battle Realms: Winter of the Wolf offers a campaign map, skirmish and a map editor. We just discussed that the campaigns have branches, and it is actually a very good story. Although, it would have been better if you can go back and replay some missions once you already cleared it just to see what lies on the other path. However, that is just my preference.

If you have friends, you can have a LAN Party, then this game will be tons of fun to play. Even if you play with the AI in this game, it can still give you tons of replay value.

The map editor, though, is just pretty basic stuff. You can create your own map and play it in skirmish mode. If you are into creating your own landscape, then you may waste a lot of time and still have fun, especially once you use the map in skirmish mode.

Verdict

Battle Realms: Winter of the Wolf is an awesome game, and it is also one of the finest real-time strategies when it first launched. Arguably, it is still one of the finest even for today’s standards. It is fun, engaging and balance compared to what other critics had been saying.
 
It is actually disheartening that there is no sequel for this impressive game. Although, I must say there was a rumor going on about a potential sequel, and hopefully it translates to a fact rather than just a rumor. This game definitely deserves to have a sequel. I highly recommend this for those who love fantasy RTS, it is $9.99 on GOG, but if you can get it cheaper, much better!
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Good

  • Kenji's Journey have different paths
  • Battle Animations are fluid
  • Balanced, yet complex gameplay mechanics
  • Maps are huge and well-crafted
  • 4 Distinct Clans to choose from
  • BGM and ambiance fit the theme of the game
  • Grayback's story has diversed objectives than Kenji's

Bad

  • Graphics did not really age well
  • Difficulty can be pretty brutal on some missions
  • Missions' objectives are repetitive (Kenji's Journey)
  • Voice acting on cutscenes could be a better
7.4

Good

Story - 7.2
Graphics - 7.3
Gameplay - 8.5
Sound - 6.5
Replay Value - 7.3
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