In most vampire fiction, the story is a conflict between humans and vampires. Man vs. Monster. The Living vs. The Undead. In Immortal Realms: Vampire Wars, game developer Palindrome Interactive and publisher Kalypso Media imagines a world in which that conflict was decided long ago. The only histories that exist in the world of Nemire are the histories written by the victors…which is to say, the vampires. Set in a dark vampire-ruled world of turmoil, this turn-based strategy game has you take control of one of three vampire factions in a challenging combat experience.
Three major vampire kingdoms control most of Nemire: Warmont, Mourterra, and Esain. Warmont is ruled by the Dracul bloodline, and the Dracul are the dominant vampire nobility in all of Nemire. However, “lesser” bloodlines, such as the corrupt Nosfernus of lifeless Mourterra to the east and the mystical Moroia of frozen Esain to the north, are beginning to challenge the Dracul hegemony. Each bloodline has its own separate campaign in Immortal Realms. For now, let us focus on the Dracul storyline.
From their ancient stronghold, the Bloodthrone, the unholy court of the Dracul keeps a vicious peace between the immortal rulers and their mortal subjects. The forests and mountains of Warmont are inhabited by feral beasts (bats, wolves, and even werewolves). In exchange for protection from the beasts, the vampires demand a blood tax from the mortals. Those mortals who refuse to pay are never seen again. The Dracul armies are some of the strongest in all Nemire, with the Dracul recruiting and “initiating” new vampire soldiers in exchange for the gift of immortality. Lady Cecilia Dracul herself began as an initiate: accepting life as a vampire to spend all of eternity with her one true love, Lord Vlad Dracul.
The tutorial for Immortal Realms demonstrates how intricate (and at times, complicated) gameplay can be. Most missions will start with the player in charge of an Army, a Keep, or both. Keeps are the main buildings for recruiting units. If the player loses all their Armies and Keeps, they are defeated and it’s Game Over. Sometimes your Army might have a Lord (such as Vlad or Cecilia). An Army is not required to have a Lord, and indeed it is possible to split off your forces into multiple Armies. However, Armies cannot occupy the same Province (game space), and Lords give an Army special effects (such as the ability to Claim territory). Actions such as Moving and Claiming consume Action Points. Since combat is turn-based, Action Points replenish on your next turn. Other buildings can recruit unique units, such as batcaves to recruit Giant Bats (the one in the Tutorial was humorously titled the “Nananana Batcave”).
Villages are the main income buildings. What is the currency in a land of vampires? It is Blood, of course. Holding a Village gives a Faction a passive Blood income every turn. Blood is a valuable resource in Immortal Realms. Blood is used to recruit units (even vampire soldiers need to be paid for their service), upgrade Buildings, and play Cards. The more Villages and Cities a Faction holds, the more Blood they get each turn.
Action Cards allow the player to interact with the game world. For example, “Forced Migration” adds +2 Population to a Village or a City, and “Sacrifice” gives +16 Blood. Some Action Cards cost Blood to play (i.e. “Forced Migration” costs 4 Blood), while other Cards are free (i.e. “Sacrifice” costs 0 Blood). Your Lord can Feed on Villages and Cities to generate more Blood, but be warned: the less Population you have, the less Blood you will produce. Population regenerates slowly, so it’s easy to consume too many and get a negative Blood income as your Armies are starved for resources. After four turns (each turn is a season, so four turns constitutes a full year), you are able to draw new Action Cards. With each passing turn, your faction gains XP. With enough XP, your faction will level up and gain a Legacy Point. Legacy Points can be spent on a skill tree to reduce the cost of building upgrades, allow for more advanced units to be recruited, and more.
The Dracul Campaign: Act I
The Dracul campaign begins with Act I: A Night to Remember. A storm is brewing in northern Warmont, but unlike any even the vampires have ever seen. The flames on the horizon are so widespread and fierce that the night sky in Warmont has been turned blood-red. Vlad and Cecilia have sent minions to the northern border to investigate. Cecilia suspects the Moroia, but Vlad states that the Moroia prefer subterfuge to direct conflict. A bat spy reports to Vlad that the fires are not from vampires, but human raiders! Determined to prevent these humans from gaining a foothold in Warmont, Vlad wants to march his army right to the north. Cecilia convinces Vlad to let her lead a war party of newly-initiated thinbloods instead (to “wet their fangs”).
Cecilia arrives in northern Warmont from the east, and then the player must begin the process of marching south to investigate and reclaim Dracul territory from the invaders. Some of the rules for normal gameplay are suspended for this first act, likely to expedite gameplay. That said, it still took me over 100 turns to accomplish all the victory conditions. Admittedly, I tend to play slow and cautiously with strategy games: building up my forces, and then steamrolling over the enemy with overwhelming force.
While Immortal Realms seems to favor numbers and veterancy in determining the outcome of battles, some strategy is still required for the actual battles, which take place on a rather small map similar to a slightly more complicated chessboard. Your units are much like chess pieces, each with their own unique moves and abilities. Indeed, thinking of Immortal Realms in the context of a chess match helped me better plan the long-term strategy for my faction. In battle, fulfilling certain conditions allows your Lord to “level up” and bestow additional bonuses to themselves or their units. Identifying those conditions early on and planning your strategy around them (such as focusing on healing spells), while denying your enemy’s Lord their conditions, can allow you to mop up your foe fairly quickly in the latter rounds of battle.
When Cecilia finally encounters a group of the invading humans, she discovers not a rabble of rebellious bandits, but an organized and professional human army. When Cecilia asks how they dare lay claim to Dracul lands, the human commander defiantly shouts, “This is the dawn of the New Age! The Human Empire will bring salvation to humanity…and bring an end to your reign of terror!” After dispatching these humans, both Cecilia and the player realize the significance of the threat: the vampires’ long-forgotten enemy has apparently regained its strength in the shadows. Cecilia fights her way through the forests and fields of northern Warmont, eventually reaching the human-occupied Dracul keep. Lady Cecilia faces off against General Wigbrand of the Human Empire. After defeating the general, Wigbrand flees, and Cecilia is determined to give chase. In a cutscene, it is revealed that the retreat was a trap for Cecilia. Cutting off her advance and trapping her in a narrow ravine, Wigbrand captures Cecilia.
The Dracul Campaign: Act II
Act II: The Eternal Bond begins after Vlad has learned about Cecilia’s capture. Enraged, he rallies his troops and marches north without hesitation. When Vlad arrives in northern Warmont, he is surprised to find not a few rebellious humans, but a full-scale invasion. Nevertheless, the Dracul lord is determined to find his wife. After impaling several humans in a cutscene (living down to Vlad’s real-life namesake), Vlad learns that the invaders have reinforcements. Vlad’s plan is to combine his forces with the dukes of northern Warmont: Duke Sorin Dracul and Duchess Elena Dracul.
This is where Immortal Realms began to get frustrating. As said earlier, the game tends to favor bigger and better trained armies in battles. However, the size of your Army will be limited by how much Blood you have. Too many units, and your Blood income will drop into negative numbers. Too few, and your Army won’t stand a chance against even the most basic enemy Armies. Thus, the priority needs to be capturing Villages and Cities. However, Villages and Cities need to be repaired after capture before they start generating Blood. In order to have Blood, your Village or City needs a Population, and it takes a long while to grow Population (making cards like Forced Migration vital to replenishing Blood income quickly).
This didn’t bother me initially. I was playing the long game, after all. I was willing to slowly build up my Population and Blood, slowing capturing territory inch-by-inch as I allowed my Blood (and thus, my Army’s resources) to grow. For a while, it seemed to be working and I gradually made my way towards Duke Sorin, though at a pace that was agonizing even for me. Things seemed to be looking up too, as I ran into another Lord: Dragos Dracul. With another Lord, I could start building two Armies instead of one.
That’s when the enemy struck. Just as I had finished dividing my forces in two, a new enemy faction came roaring out of the fog of war: the Vampire Hunters. It turns out that as I was slowly building my forces, so was the enemy AI. As Armies cannot occupy the same space, my two weaker Armies got steamrolled by the more powerful Vampire Hunter Army. My forces were pushed back to my original Keep, though the Vampire Hunters eventually departed. Possibly so the Vampire Hunters could then pursue the Dracul dukes, or possibly so the AI wouldn’t give me an automatic Game Over? Either way, all my progress was lost: all Villages, Keeps, etc. that I had conquered were liberated by this unexpectedly aggressive AI. I tried to reorganize my Army and slowly push back into my former provinces, but the Vampire Hunters would always race towards me, wipe me out, and then retreat again.
I tried resetting Act II to see if there was any way to counter the Vampire Hunters aggression. What I found was that I could get farther along if I moved quicker, but the lack of time to invest in Blood income and infrastructure meant that I had virtually no resources to improve or at least replace units. So when the Vampire Hunters came in force (and it was always in force, with the same experienced units and high numbers), it took even longer to rebuild my forces. It seemed strange to me that in a game that seemed to encourage gradual and thought-out expansion (again, over 100 turns to finish Act I), that I was now being forced to act quickly.
Based on this preliminary version of Immortal Realms, I’d say there is a good deal of promise to the game. The Gothic-inspired worldbuilding is genuinely interesting from a story perspective. However, the graphics are somewhat lacking in conveying that same dark and mythical tone, with the character models in cutscenes being similar to those of The Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle-earth in 2004. Not bad for a strategy game, but in a video game industry fueled by story-driven and character-driven narratives, it could do better. Gameplay can be fun, but this is more of a resource management game than a military strategy game. Not to mention one that requires an incredible amount of patience at that. If you are the type of gamer who can play turn-after-turn-after-turn without needing immediate payoff, then this game can work for you.
Geek Girl Authority looks forward to seeing more of Immortal Realms and seeing how Kalypso Media improves on their game in the months to come. The idea of a vampire-ruled fantasy world is genuinely intriguing, and a more robust gameplay experience can better compliment such an original and creative setting. Download a copy of the game’s free trial and see if Immortal Realms is a good fit for you and your playstyle. Until then, gamers: keep your fingers warmed up and your fangs wet!
This preview was played on Xbox One. A copy of the unfinished game was provided to Geek Girl Authority for this preview.
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