Ah, Middle-Earth! No, put the elf ears and the ranger cloak away, Bob. Not that Middle-Earth! We're talking about a thousand years ago here, when men were Vikings and the English were less into John Cleese and 'fish and chips', and more about sticking their swords into anything that moved. Preloaded wants to take you there in 1066, a surprisingly deep game of strategic medieval warfare. Featuring top of the line production values and some of the hardest won battles you've ever seen, rampage throughout the ages to the dulcet tones of Sir Ian Holm. No, stop swooning! You've got a war to win!
Battles play out on a large grid, with you clicking on your troops to select them, and then moving them square-to-square. If an area is green, you're able to reach it. If an enemy is in your path, you'll automatically engage. Selecting the formation of your troops can mean the difference between dismal failure and well-earned victory; placing three units in a row from top to bottom activates the Shield Barrier formation, for example, which greatly boosts their combined defense.
Each time you engage an enemy, you'll have to play a little "minigame" to determine the effectiveness of your attack. Taunts have you type out a phrase as quickly as possible. Directly attacking an enemy has you hit the [arrow] keys as they appear on the screen. Charging someone has you tap the [space] bar to build up power. And you'll have to select your angle and strength of your shot if you want to use your archers. I don't know about you, but I have an entirely new respect for Vikings now. War is hard! Imagine how much more difficult this must have been for them without keyboards.
Actually, as with many games, 1066 sounds more complicated than it really is, and you'll learn more by throwing yourself into a skirmish than you will by studying the instructions. Your goal here is to either kill all enemy troops, or lower their morale enough through successful attacks or taunts that they flee the field. You'll need to experiment with what works best and learn to use not only the terrain but your own enemies against themselves. Don't expect to master it within five minutes.
Everything about 1066 is stylish and well-groomed, and here for once in a browser game that style doesn't interfere with the game itself. The visuals are absolutely lovely, and the soundtrack and voice-overs are very well done indeed. The downside is that older machines may not be able to run the game as smoothly as newer ones. While my laptop has no problems with it, my PC tended to choke and snarl from time to time, resulting in periods of slowness that can make some of the minigames almost unplayable. Like those gritty, appropriately visceral sound effects as swords and spears start swinging? Plan on hearing those a lot when you first start out. As in, a lot a lot.
Analysis: 1066 tries to do a lot, with multiple minigames associated with issuing commands, complex troop placement, and morale. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. While the fiddliest gamers are going to appreciate being able to choose their shots just so, and form up their phalanx like so, the rest of us are just going to want to shoot an arrow at a dude, and maybe call another dude a rotten cockerel. So we're not complex, sue us. It would be nice to have the opportunity to turn these little minigames off and just have the armies clash on their own. You have to be in the mood for the sort of complexity that 1066 offers, and if you want fast-paced hack'n'slash casual gameplay, 1066 isn't your girl.
You can expect to do a lot of trial and error early on. Trial and error here meaning, of course, watching the English tapdance all over your Viking corpses and toast each other with obnoxious hurrahs. 1066 really earns its strategy stripes here, as blundering forward without a plan is the fastest way to get yourself newly ventilated with a few dozen spearpoints. Every battle presents a new challenge, and you'll need to really think out your moves to be successful. One of the nice things about the game is that you really can fight to the bitter end and squeak out a victory, no matter how bleak things look. A well-timed taunt followed by a volley of arrows can turn the tide, and it makes winning extremely satisfying.
I spent a lot of time in the beginning unsure as to how I felt about 1066. It's like having a friend who you have a lot of fun with, but is the obnoxious sort that thinks randomly tripping you up or shoving you into things is funny. 1066 wants nothing more than to trip you up, stampede over your prone form, and make off with your women, children, and exotic spices. The game really grew on me as I gradually came to understand more of the strategy at work behind it, however. Instead of desperately trying to hold the morale of my army up long enough to squeak out a victory, I was sending the enemies fleeing with a series of well-timed attacks that left them devastated and more susceptible to my taunts. Well, who can blame them? Calling someone a "dog scut" is about as devastating as you can get. Try it out the next time you're stuck in traffic.
If your definition of casual gameplay is something light and fluffy you can leap into for a few minutes, 1066 is going to bewilder and intimidate you with its lengthy battles and steep learning curve. But if you're willing to sink the time into it and pick up the moves, the end result is remarkably rewarding.
Thanks for sending this one in, Phil, Todd, Nanimo, and Keith!