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Review by: Pete Hines
Published: March 5, 1999
A few months ago, I previewed a game called TZAR that combines elements of strategy and role playing. I liked the concept because it’s something that hasn’t really been done well to this point. I hadn’t ever seen or even heard of Rival Realms until it showed up on my doorstep, so I had no idea what I was in for. At first it simply looked like another clone of Warcraft. Once I got into it, however, I found a number of interesting features that make Rival Realms a slightly different experience than Warcraft 2 and one not unlike what TZAR will offer. Three factions — humans, elves, and greenskins — are fighting it out amongst themselves for survival. You have the chance to guide each race through a campaign to victory or in a single scenario.
The fundamental aspects of the game are quite basic. You collect food, gold, and lumber to use in constructing buildings and obtaining new units. When you go to build something you’ll see the cost of each unit displayed so you know if you can afford it or not. Each race has peons that do all the resource collection. Buildings aren’t actually constructed by the peons, which I find a little strange, but rather you wait a predetermined amount of time and when the timer is finished, you place the structure on the map. Each structure can be updated to produce more units per cycle or obtain other special abilities.
Each of the races are fairly similar, with minor differences in the abilities of each one’s units. In fact, in the manual the elven and greenskin units are described in relation to the human units, so the three campaigns aren’t all that different. Each requires you to battle your way through a number of different mission types, including land, sea, and air combat. So far, it sounds pretty much like your average, run-of-the-mill strategy game right? Well here’s where it gets a little different.
First, your units gain experience through the rigors of combat. You can even have your units train, or fight amongst themselves, to increase their experience. The only problem is that troops do wear down in training and if the enemy shows up and attacks at the wrong time, you can be in big trouble. Not only does experience improve their fighting effectiveness, which is not that new a concept, but it also gains them a special item at the third and fifth level (the highest possible). Items might include special armored protection, healing potions, or attacking abilities. These items can also be found throughout the map either in chests or from vanquished enemies when you are victorious in combat. The items are placed in one of the four pockets you have, so you can’t just collect items endlessly. Units can share items so that you can share the spoils of war amongst your troops.
The benefit of experience and items doesn’t end when you finish a mission. You can save units to a library that allows you to hire units at later stages of the campaign. So if you have Warlord or Druid that did quite well in a mission and feel they might come in handy later, save them to a library and hire them at a later stage (beginning of the game only). You can also hire other units that may or may not be available between missions. This is helpful if you try a mission with the default units and decide that you need a little more help. You can replay the mission from the start with a little extra firepower that can turn the tide of battle.
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