Impire Review: Deviously Dull

When you first start out in your dungeon, you control your overlord, a hallway, and a few essential rooms. Your overlord is the core of your base, and the start of your expansion always starts with him summoning a bunch of impish workers to run the dungeon. He has plenty of other spells in addition to worker summoning, such as teleportation (the most important spell, besides summoning) and lightning bolts. If your overlord dies, he simply respawns a little while later, so using him in combat is almost required. If any of your treasure rooms are ransacked, though, you’re done.

Minions – the entire reason you set up your little dungeon of evil – are spawned through a few different types of rooms, and are the only way to fight besides using your overlord. They are also the only way you can do missions on the overworld. Minions are divided into four types – tank, melee, ranged, and support – and each type has a number of different possible minions. For example, the Berserker and Champion are both melee, while the Scout and Shaman are both ranged. It’s a simple system that takes its cues from classic RPG design, so if you are familiar with the standard party set-up in an RPG you should get the hang of it pretty quick.

Minions are not as autonomous as they are in most management games, which means that you must move them around like units in a classic RTS. While you could just drag-select minions and target an enemy with them, you’d be better off arranging them into squads. Putting minions into squads allows them to create skill combinations to make them more effective in battle. Example combinations include armor reduction and greater damage resistance on tanks.

Finally, there is XP and Aggression. Units can level up by gaining enough XP, and leveled-up units are stronger, can equip better items, and give access to better skill combos. Aggression determines how much damage minions do, and is raised by sending your minions to get some food at the kitchen. Aggression can be extended by sending your overlord with the troops to maintain their battle fervor, which means that going with the troops is always the best course of action. For such an important mechanic, Aggression is perhaps the most annoying to deal with. Getting your troops to a kitchen is a much more irritating process than teleporting them anywhere else, and they won’t automatically go to eat when they are low on Aggression. It makes keeping your minions strong a matter of rote micro-management, rather than good base design or smart planning.

This system of minion management sounds really complicated, but in practice it’s mostly tedious and irritating. Minions have no minds of their own, so they won’t do things like hunt down heroes or seek out food unless you explicitly tell them to. As squads are only comprised of four minions, and squads prioritize helping their own members over the members of other squads, all squads end up being the same layout: a tank, two damage dealers, and a healer. Even then you’ll end up with priests more concerned with shooting an enemy instead of healing tanks. You can’t focus squads on a particular enemy, only an enemy squad, so combat ends up a disasterous melee where you have little-to-no control over what is happening.

The gist of all that is that minions in Impire feel caught between two worlds. One world is the more classic style of management sim, where minions are independent and make their own choices as to where to go and who to attack. The other is a RPG/RTS hybrid where the player must properly equip and compose squads to send on missions. Since it can’t stick with one or the other, Impire ends up being mediocre at both. If it reduced some of the management elements, Impire could have made a great RPG. If it reduced some of the RPG elements, Impire could have been a really stellar management title.

And where do you send minions, anyway? Well, every dungeon has a few rooms inhabited by nasty enemies like skeletons or spirits. Inside some of these rooms are connections to other nearby dungeons, allowing you to send your minions on a dungeon crawl to beat up enemies and gather treasure. But instead of giving a nuanced and enjoyable dungeon crawling experience, Impire once again fails to deliver. These dungeons are static and uninteresting dungeon crawls, instead of being consistently cool additions to your complex (like in Dungeon Keeper).

There’s some metagame stuff at play with the overworld and receiving unlocks through the course of the campaign – things like new unit types, new rooms, special passive unlocks, and overlord abilities – but it’s mostly style over substance. Overworld missions lack variety, and provide no clear benefits except more resources to your struggling dungeon. The overlord and dungeon unlocks provide a good buff to your realm, but I would much prefer smarter, independent, uncontrollable minions over gradual, RPG-like improvement.

For those that aren’t much into the single-player experience, you can play co-op and skirmish modes to satisfy your desire to interact with others. Co-op is the single-player campaign but with more players, and skirmish pits players against each other in two different modes: King of the Hill and Capture the Dragon. The multiplayer modes are functional and fighting other players is fun on a basic level, but much like the core game there’s no real weight to what you are doing. At the moment, multiplayer functionality is marked as “beta” as it is functional but unpolished.

Speaking of beta: I also ran into a few really aggravating and obnoxious bugs. The worst by far was the squad hotkey bug. If you try to select a squad that is out on a mission with that squad’s hotkey, you get an “index out of bounds error” which takes you out to the desktop. It’s functionally the same as alt-tabbing to a new process, so you don’t crash or lose progress, but it’s extremely frustrating to be suddenly pulled out of game for no clear reason.

It’s tough to praise Impire, but it’s also tough to say it’s awful. It does nothing particularly well – in fact, a number of mechanics are an active detriment to the experience, like food – but it also doesn’t do anything particularly poorly. The best way to describe it is tepid. I’ve played some genuinely terrible games in my time, and Impire doesn’t come close to replicating their awfulness. But it also doesn’t rise to the heights promised by its premise and ancestors. It’s strictly mediocre.

Pros:

  • Good writing and dialogue
  • Nice art style striking a balance between dark fantasy and cartoonish exaggeration
  • Basics of the management genre done in a competent way
  • No outright awful game mechanics

Cons:

  • Heroes are far harder to kill than they should be
  • Minions don’t think for themselves
  • Building up to a reasonable level takes too long
  • Minions are too weak
  • Room variety is lacking
  • Constrictive level layouts create awkward base designs

Final Score: 50/100

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