Story: While you weave your own narrative in Oriental Empires, the overall goal is a simple one, just become the most powerful force in ancient China. A two thousand year battle that has you in constant competition for power, land, cultural advancement, military might, and more, all awaits you in this one. How you choose to approach your leadership role is up to you, as Oriental Empires has many paths to triumph, as well as countless other paths to ruin. Knock out your enemies in wars of attrition, become so enlightened that your enemies will bow in reverence, be a ruthless land baron, or whatever you’d like, as long as your goal is to assume dominance in the region, of course.
Entertainment Value: If this sounds like a familiar concept, it is, given that other strategy games task you to rise to power in similar ways. But right off the bat, this one seems fresh just because of the location, as ancient China is a unique place to explore and one that is rich with historical elements. While the region is often simplified in other strategy driven games, here is the sole focus and that allows the player to explore it in depth. And with two thousand years of exploration to undertake, there’s a lot of history, though of course, you write some of it yourself. The core game here is empire building, you need to establish your legacy, expand frequently, and pursue conquests, in your choice of ways. I appreciated how open the game was to full on warfare, for example, but seemed just as accepting of a more cultural style of expansion. You advance your kingdom via tech trees, a concept familiar to genre fans, but here you have more freedom than normal. This means you can utilize multiple trees and have a more balanced empire, as opposed to more or less being forced to prioritize a single tree to get effective results. This is a kind of a game changer, as it frees up so many possible tactics and adds so much fun to the experience. The menus can be a little intimidating if you’re not a genre veteran, but invest some time and you’ll be moving through them with ease in no time.
While the game has some great positive qualities, it also suffers from some less than stellar components. The artificial intelligence is lackluster, both in terms of your rivals and your own troops. Your forces do well in most situations, but sometimes ignore an obvious beneficial tactic if you haven’t explicitly ordered it, so they may bypass units who need help, even if they’re in the direct path. This can be frustrating, as you can’t have total control over their actions, but in most cases it proves to be a minor issue, though one worth a mention. The enemy AI is inconsistent, sometimes clever and unpredictable, other times as sharp as a blunt rock. This can dampen some of your victories, as well as making it tough to gauge potential reactions, as the AI motivations seem unstable at best. The campaign is a fun one and has solid replay value, given the various approaches you can pursue. The game is also just fun because it offers some nice changes over similar games, giving you some added freedom that makes the genre feel a little less worn. I do think for long term presence, the game will need consistent new content, as well as some AI adjustments. But even so, it is a fun strategy experience and pumps some new blood into the genre, I think.