Dragon Throne: The Battle of Red Cliffs Review

Dragon Throne: Battle of Red Cliffs is a real-time strategy game that is set during China's Three Kingdoms period in the third century AD; specifically the fifteen year period which includes the famous Battle of Red Cliffs.  The three most prominent heroes of the time, Cao Cao, Liu Bei, and Sun Quan, are each the central figure in one of the game's three campaigns.  These campaigns are a series of scenarios modeled on historical events during the period, and feature a variety of goals including conquest, rescue, and escort missions.

ScreenshotsAside from its unusual setting, Dragon Throne sets itself apart from other RTS titles in a number of ways.  The first of these is in the way it handles resource collection and production.  Peasants are created to gather raw materials such as wood and iron.  Additional resources are collected by building special structures and manning them with peasants to produce the resources.  Military units are created by sending peasants to training facilities to be converted to pikemen, archers, and the like.  These units can be further upgraded by sending time at other training facilities.  As you can probably guess, building an economy and an army takes a lot of peasants ... and time.  Resources must be gathered, secondary buildings built and manned, and peasants trained before you can produce your first offensive unit.  Unfortunately for the player with average or less patience, this can take quite some time since resource gathering is slow and the peasants seem in no particular hurry to gather materials and deliver them back to the collection center.  Production can be bolstered by the military, as these units can be temporarily assigned to resource gathering between battles, but it will take a while to build that army in the first place and using them to gather resources adds an extra dimension of micromanagement to the game.

Dragon Throne also employs an unusual multiple map system.  The main map represents the lands in which the battle is taking place, and players can move units and fight battles as can be expected.  The main map may also contain one or more cities represented by structures appearing on the main map.  Moving units into a city will take them to a new map that represents the city itself, which resembles the main map in size and appearance.  The city map is where a city's walls and structures appear, as well as the resources for the city.  Sieges, resource collection, and structure building all take place on the city map.  If more than one city is present on the main map, each will have its own individual city map.  This multiple map system makes the maps effectively quite large, leading to some long and involved games.  On the down side, each city is an economy unto itself, with its own resource stores.  Owning multiple cities will require a fair degree of management and jumping from city to city.  It also prevents the player from concentrating troop-building in frontline cities while more secure cities concentrate on resource gathering.

The grand scale of the game extends beyond its maps.  The game's tech tree boasts over 70 different upgrades which improve both production and military effectiveness.  There are also over 50 "warriors' skills", which are essentially magic spells leader units can cast to gain an edge in combat.  These include spells to boost attack, defense, and morale ratings, as well as more-fanciful ones which can summon disasters or ghost troops.  While they add an interesting component to the game, they seem a bit out of place in a game in which the designers obviously spent a fair amount of time researching the historical events of the era.

The game also features other features not found in most strategy games, including small villages which may be captured to increase the empire's tax base and the ability to mount foot soldiers on wild or captured enemy horses.  However, discovering and figuring out all of these features can be a chore since the manual is of almost no help.  Some charts in the back list the various available warrior skills and scientific upgrades, but the manual never bothers to mention how to cast spells or how to create science officers to make the higher level advances available.  There is an in-game tutorial, but it only covers the basics of movement and resource gathering, which anyone who has played a strategy game before will already be familiar with.  Additional tutorials and a better manual would have gone a long way towards helping with the game's learning curve and helping the gamer to enjoy some of the game's unique features,s without having to rely on blindly stumbling upon them during gameplay.