Songs of Conquest – Early Access Impressions

The HoMM-inspired turn-based fantasy strategy game Songs of Conquest is finally here, or well, at least in early access mode. It comes with multiplayer, 2 minor campaigns, and skirmish maps against the AI. I’m a campaign guy myself, so this impression will mostly focus on just that. I also want to say that I’m not a HoMM aficionado. I have played the games in the past, and liked them okay enough, but never really got into them that much. My favorite in this genre is probably King’s Bounty: The Legend from 2008. With that said, here we go!

Let’s start with the good parts. The visuals, pixel art as they are, look absolutely stunning – everything from units, to the world itself. It’s all very charming and pleasing to the eyes. Effects, UI, menus, and stuff like that are also well-designed. It looks great and fits the overall setting. It’s sleek, especially the effects, and even if they are fast for snappy gameplay, you can easily follow what is going on. There is also a minimum of clutter, which I personally appreciate a lot. The less UI there is, the better.

Classic tale of humans fighting weird horned giants…?

The sound and music are of good design too. I didn’t sense anything out of the theme, and while functional, the music didn’t catch my attention as some tunes do but as said – it is fine. There is also a troubadour thing going on between campaign missions, so instead of telling you what happened/going to happen using a narrator, it is sung to you. It is different, and it works I guess, but I have a feeling this extra flair is what makes the campaign less of what was expected.

Now to the campaign, and general gameplay. In the campaign I have played so far you play as the noblewoman Cecilia Stoutheart, having her father recently died which threw the country into turmoil. You are here to restore order, and figure out what is going on, since it is looking to be more than just a normal peasant uprising. Spoiler – it is undead, unsurprisingly since it’s one of the factions.

The chick in question

First off, the campaign is tiny, with only 4 missions per campaign, of which there is 2 off. The first two missions on the campaign I’m currently playing acted as a tutorial, or so I think at least because it was mind-numbingly easy and boring – at least until mission 3.

Mission 3 starts a bit differently, with you having a bit more freedom on the map, but it is scripted in such a way that if you don’t play it 100% correctly, you get screwed as soon as you reach the objectives. It seems like that anyway, because it happened exactly the same on a restart. You are supposed to capture villages and kill enemy generals. But these generals don’t seem to exist on the map until you trigger a capture of the second town. Then one undead lord spawns behind you at the start of the map, going for your initial town. No problem so far, except, that this encounter will probably chew through most of your men. As soon as this guy is killed, the mission spawns another enemy lord, a fey one, coming for your second city. This means you will have to rush down to face him with a limited army, seeing that there hasn’t been any time for replenishment. I knew what was coming the second time around, so I saved all the men I could for this encounter. The town was saved, and I proceeded with the missions.

Hell of a cool campaign map, shame it is criminally underused

Then I come across a third city, and as on cue, another fey lord appears after I secured the city with no time to prepare. But at least, this lord was ranked “challenging”, which would indicate I could defeat it. There was no way, however. Somehow, this lord had access to magic I could only dream of, and within the first turns of the battle she had wiped out 80% of my soldiers with it. I don’t want to say I rage-quit, but the disappointment was overwhelming at this point. I don’t have anything against a challenge, before this, the game was way too easy, but this kind of scripted artificial difficulty is something I really dislike. This, combined with how generic the campaign had felt so far (story-wise), drained my will to try again. With 4 missions, and only 1 left for me, it is doubtful it would suddenly become engaging/interesting.

The gameplay overall is basically HoMM, with some changes of course. Instead of having your city on a menu, it has an actual place on the map. While it looks nice, I’m a bit unsure if this was a change that was needed or even requested. It does seem to make it a bit harder to find what building you are looking for since usually your buildings are fairly spread out, and kinda look the same. Another big change is to the magic system. Instead of having unlockable spells through levels or other means, you have everything at your disposal from the get-go.

Poor frogmen didn’t know what hit them

How it works, though, is that you don’t use mana for spells, your spells are all depending on what kind of units you have in your army. Every unit produces a special orb of magic when the unit does something on the battlefield, which corresponds to what spells you can use. So having a lot of regular human warriors generate a lot of blue orbs (order I think it was called) which gives you a defensive style of magic, and so on. It’s an interesting system, but I think something more classic would have been preferable. It diminishes a lot of the upgrading for your heroes, and it does make them feel a bit more generic.

The combat units feel pretty standard, from ranged to melee, and after being upgraded they get access to skills to use on the battlefield. Like, rangers get some kind of overwatch system. What was funny here, though, is that my rangers had so low initiative that everyone could go before them, even giants. So I never got to try the overwatch system. When it was my turn, everyone was already in range for attacks, especially so, since everyone seems to make a beeline for your weakest guys. Even running through attacks of opportunity to get to them. Not sure if intended, or if the AI is just too focused on the weak ones.

Welcome, you entered the Halloween area

It isn’t too much else I can say right now, most stuff is a standard affair, and the only thing that stands out is the excellent graphics. The campaign (so far), is lackluster and boring, skirmish, which I tried seemed to get a bit bogged down on having way too strong AI unit placements on the map. Maps are not randomly created either, so I would assume you get tired of them pretty quickly, even if you do find the game enjoyable. Multiplayer I have not tried, and I will likely not, it’s not my type of thing, so I’m a bit unsure if this game really is for me. With a hard-scripted campaign, generic, and short, what else is there to do than gawk at the pretty visuals?

Oh well, I don’t want to be too harsh since it’s currently in early access, but for 30 euro bucks, you would think to expect a little more at least a bigger, and more engaging campaign. But alas. Do I recommend the game? Only to the one super starved of a new HoMM-like game, otherwise, I don’t think you will find too much here, yet.

Thanks for reading.

/Thomas

Review copy provided by developer –

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