Will a complex strategy game become unwieldy when brought from PC to console? That is often the question I find myself wondering when I get a chance to delve into the genre with a controller instead of a mouse and keyboard. Immortal Realms: Vampire Wars has long been a title I’ve eyed picking up on Steam, due to its intriguing blend of card game, strategy and RPG elements – all genres I gravitate towards. Seeing it get a more recent release on console however, I was excited to finally give it a go and am happy to say that the transition seems to have gone very smoothly and the end result is a deep and entertaining hybrid of gaming genres.
I cannot imagine playing this title without going through the tutorial, so that is where I will begin. This vampire-themed strategy game feels very dense to start. You get a mostly-overhead view of an army squatting in a province and you’re told to click this, that and the other to advance. At first it all looked pretty – but also pretty overwhelming. Thankfully as I worked through the step-by-step tutorial, I not only because to understand the controls and the buttons mapped to specific things on the map, but also the concepts behind Immortal Realms: Vampire Wars. My confuse soon gave way to the realization that despite its numerous menu items and detailed maps, the interface is actually quite well streamlined.
This is more of a combat tactics than simulation / strategy game. You’re not managing resources the way you might in the 4X genre, but you do have some currency-like resources that you gather and use to purchase / recruit troops along the way. Each map sees you starting in a home base that has a relatively limited number of options for constructing your army, but as you move outward into the various provinces within the map, you can claim them and the resources within. There might be villages or caves that can be used to recruit humanoid or beastly soldiers, other manors to forge noble lords from, libraries and plenty of other important landmarks that yield a variety of benefits along the way. You have action points that dictate how much your units can move or do in any given turn, and then you end that turn and time passes.
With the passage of time, other events can occur that yield new choices and benefits along the way. You may gain cards that make it easier to recruit units, or perhaps give you other kinds of bonuses. These enhancement cards don’t come into play very heavily during the earlier stages, but in later maps the right play of cards at the proper time can make for huge advantages when push comes to shove and it becomes time for combat.
Here you slide in nice and close, away from the more zoomed out world map view into a more intimate setting that has a turn-based system similar to games like King’s Bounty or Fire Emblem. You take turns moving your troops in a square / grid-based map, looking for advantages along the way. Sometimes there are bonuses on the map that give you additional perks or bonuses, other times it’s just a matter of putting the right units in the proper places to become successful (put your tank-like soldiers in front while your archers let loose from range, for example). There are also flanking mechanics that you can take advantage of – but also have to protect against as they can significantly impact unit casualties. While most of the combat will be managed by your units, shown in health / strength by the number of people in it, you will also have your lords who are singular dealers of death as well. The overall tactics aren’t the deepest in the world, but they’re satisfying enough and reward thoughtful decisions made both in combat and also in the world map outside of battles.
Content comes in the usual flavors of sandbox and campaign. The former is great if you’re looking to craft some unique scenarios but the latter is probably the most rewarding as there are different narratives to be experienced. Visually the combat stages are pretty simplistic but it’s easy to differentiate between units and varying types of terrain, so it did the job. I actually really enjoyed the overworld maps, tinged with movement, dripping with dark gothic visuals and a suitably well-matched soundtrack that complimented the theme of the campaign stories quite nicely.
I will say that once I got the hang of the controller, navigation, but it did take me a bit longer than I would have liked. Even when I had gotten through the tutorial, it was not always clear to me what I was supposed to be doing when. Clicking on units is easy enough, and most meaningful tasks are assigned to the X button, but navigating some of the menus early on was something of an adventure as it wasn’t always clear to me how I was supposed to be accessing what. Maybe it would have been easier with a mouse because I could simply move to what I wanted and clicked on it, but as it stands there were just times where I felt like I was locked into the wrong menu item and found myself flailing a bit to get back out of it and to what I intended.
The overall pacing can be somewhat problematic as well at times. Earlier chapters move along briskly, but later in the game when you’re dealing with larger maps with more provinces and units, things definitely slow down quite a bit and it is not always easy to tell which units of yours have action points left to spend or not. Thankfully one area of the design I appreciated was the end of turn mechanics, which checks and reminds you (and will jump you right to) a unit with actions left that you might not have meant to skip. I found this very helpful. In combat the battlefields could have been a bit more spacious, and the enemy AI is pretty simplistic. There’s still plenty of challenge to be had, but by the later stages I had gotten pretty good at baiting the enemy into poor decisions because they had become rather predictable.