(Updated on 01/11/10
-+ A Call To Arms +-
We start with Jace Davrel, a worried man answering a summons back to his native land, fearing the worst. The armies of Cariona have been devastated by the empire of Crevatska. With the scent of victory in the air, the powerful King of Crevatska hands over the crown of Cariona to his idle art-loving son, Prince Stovold, to prepare him to one day inherit the entire Kingdom. Many Lords in Cariona were killed during the struggle, as well as countless civilians; the invaders show no mercy to those who resist their control.
Under his newely-inherited title Lord Davrel, our hero rallies the handful of keen patriots who were brave enough to hold their ground at the manor. With them, he defies enemy patrols, eventually meeting up with the only other pocket of resistance, Lord Jannoth. On the verge of defeat, the pair narrowly escape the powerful Crevatskan soldiers. From there, they must muster support from the common people, and ultimately try to defeat the invader.
This scenario emphasises playability and challenge, with no long cutscenes or boring walks. I also attempted to come up with some fresh concepts; including preventing an assassination and a new way of doing large battles.
All comments are welcome, and a review would especially be appreciated.
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'A call to arms' is an RPG/FF scenario where you play in the role of Davrel, trying to defend his country from an invasion. It is set in the medieval ages, even though it is fiction.
The scenario takes place on a giant sprawling map with a billion towns and villages, you have to wander about from place to place, besieging, defending, fighting, rescuing people, preventing assassinations and so on. You always have enough on your plate to make the scenario interesting. There also a couple of sidequests, such as the fisherman puzzle and turkey hunting. A lot of times you have multiple quests to keep your eyes on, such as defending and simultaneously attacking and destroying a bridge.
The flip side? Well the scenario is rather bug-ridden and glitchy, as well as certain things don't work well or are unexplained ( more about this in the additional comments ). Most important glitches were: the fisherman part, units can get stuck on the other side or inside blue's town. I get ownership of a battering ram and Lord Davrel on a horse before I get to Jannoth's manor. You can do things like spawn point blocking and going to the island with the assassination scene in the boat. The battle of Sabraskin is incredibly bugged and crashes sometimes, I just found a way to win by accident: Just retreat everyone immediately inside, and then the enemy had 1 longswordsman, who comes and dies, then the trebuchets destroying the gate scene comes. The last part is also bugged with Davrel just continuously gaining hp, you can go up to 1000s of hp and then kill everyone.
Also another thing, the battles themselves are somewhat boring because it is the same tactic every time, put melee units in front and archers behind and slaughter the respawning long swordsmen and pikemen. At times the respawning was such that it just caused the masses of units to get stuck outside and cause lag.
First of all, this scenario is only playable on standard difficulty. Do not attempt to play on any other, unless you want to reload 500 times and still fail, because the enemy just has waaay to many soldiers. Of course on standard difficulty it is not hard at all and you can beat it using proper tactics. A lot of parts are hard even then though, such as blowing up the bridge and the siege of Sabraskin (sp? ). The assassination scene is either bugged or incredibly hard, I won it with cheats and even then only with a direct hint. Overall I'd say it is well balanced ( on standard difficulty that is.. )
The scenario is fairly creative. In a historically themed scenario like this you wouldn't expect tons of 'new tricks' or such, rather the gameplay is very interesting such as having to cut off reinforcements by destroying wagons/ bridge, the battle with the elite troops having some sort of exhaustion/morale system, if it was working as it was intended to.. same with the assassination scene, it was very original. That's mostly the problem with this scenario, good ideas, fail implementation..
Nevertheless some parts are very good and work perfectly, such as the fisherman part when you have to outwit him. That was some marvellous trigger work. Also some good background music and atmosphere. So, definite 5 here.
Map Design: 5
Map design was very good, it was a huge map with varied terrains, mostly rural countryside with dirt tracks and towns and villages. There was good terrain mixing and eye candy and the map suited the strategic elements of the scenario such as choke points. I thought the towns looked great especially with the new ways of creating manor houses and such.
My only problem here is, as I have mentioned before, is that there are a billion little towns and villages ( and some villages are just a few houses ), and sometimes the player can get confused, even though there are map revealers, better instructions or more signposts would have helped. For example you are instructed to go 'north' to Jannoth's manor, even though the map revealer clearly shows it is to the EAST. Still it's a very good map as such.
The story is all right.. usual defend your kingdom from the invader thingy, battles and assassinations etc. very well told for this kind of story. It is the instructions that I must fault really, although there are lots of instructions and hints in every part they are sometimes unhelpful. Eg. instead of 'capture the bridge' you could have said 'Kill most of the long swordsmen on the bridge and get some troops and your heroes on it'. I'm not sure this was the victory condition, just saying this kind of instructions would have helped, especially when the scenario is so buggy at times and you don't know what to do.
It is my personal opinion that in the making of this scenario the author probably bit off more than he could chew. The scenario is so large and not enough effort has been made to make it glitch free and working perfectly.
In fact a casual look at the map on marco polo shows that it was intended to be even longer and bigger, as there are a lot of towns and camps with enemy soldiers and generals and such who don't play a role in the scenario, and a lot of mini games or such that I never discovered, such as some guys with a relic in a corner. Also as observed in a comment before, the fact the author went out of his way to give the player's civilization, the Franks, 200 population without houses implies that build and destroy scenes were originally intended to be included.
Also there are a number of other things that make the scenario far from perfect. The chat system for instance, whenever I go back to read past chats, there are vast gaps of empty space. I was a bit disturbed by the fact that the villains in the game had Russian names. I mean it's supposed to be fictional countries and not historical, so why make it obviously biased?
There are a lot of small things in the map that serve no purpose. The turkey hunt for example, the turkeys are scattered all over the map , do you seriously expect me to search for turkeys while fighting a battle or siege or rescuing the king? You find gold on a boat, why? The monk island had no entertainment value nor any gameplay value ( what would have been good is that someone joined your party from there that way you would get another healer ). You go through the trouble of doing the fisherman minigame but why? Assuming it went through in a bug free manner, all it does is put you on the other side of the town you have to capture anyway.. so how does it matter whether your on outside the town in one place or the other? There are many such things that it seems the author probably wanted to make something out of, but then just forgot.
In spite of all these flaws, 'A call to arms' is rather a fun game to play, it's refreshing and it has a good story and always enough gameplay to keep you busy. It's very far from perfect, but I would recommend downloading it anyway.
Epic scenario. There are over a thousand triggers, so that alone should say how much work was put into this. There are a few bugs that prevent you from getting any further in the scenario, but they can be avoided. I had a hard time playing it because it was so hard.
Okay, I have played AoE for a long time, and I still found this very hard on moderate. Extremely hard. I read somewhere that this was tested by a novice. If that's the case the novice must have had a lot of luck!
Very creative. I loved the mini game with the fisherman. The way we fight battles and especially the one near the end where you have to charge the bridge is awesome.
Map Design: 5
A great map in my opinion. There isn't a lot of eye candy but the map fits the scenario very well. One of the reasons I kept playing it over and over is because I liked the map.
An epic story. One of my favorite stories in any scenario actually. It gives us a sad, desperate feeling at first due to the fact that the country is doomed for sure, but toward the end we get a feeling of triumph as we conquer the enemy. The instructions are very clear and the way you receive hints was a great idea. The image you see of the country during the briefing is pretty good.
A call to arms is a very hard scenario in which you fight unique battles and build up in army by capturing cities. It is also a nice break from the old "build and destroy" style scenario.
A Call To Arms is, as the author himself states, "one for the connoisseurs of challenging fixed force scenarios". Initially meant to be a larger project involving a long fixed force section capped with an epic risk-style B&D, the file focuses entirely on the FF and cinematic/narrative aspects. Returning to his homeland of Cariona, Lord Davrel finds his country occupied by the nefarious Crevatskans, and is unsatisfied with living under foreign occupation, prompting a significant resistance effort.
The only serious weakness of the scenario in this category is the presence of a bug during the defense of Sabraskin, which prevents the player from progressing to the end. Most of the other bugs are due to the sheer magnitude in scale of the scenario, and occur very inconsistently - for example there is also a bug that, after Rostov is killed and the ownership of the player's units changed, sometimes causes the units previously owned by the player to destroy the trebuchets they will subsequently receive (and need) for the next mission. These issues, however, are utterly overshadowed by the sheer amount of fun involved in the varied and challenging FF missions with which the player is presented, as well as spectacular map design, creative elements, and clear instructions coupled with an effective storyline that drives the scenario forward. A Call To Arms is just as fun and challenging, if not more so, than any other scenario on the Blacksmith.
Some of the previous reviews have complained about the balance of the scenario. While it is certainly a difficult scenario (especially for newcomers to FF gameplay) and probably a bit frustrating the first time around, I felt the balance to be spot-on. Standard difficulty should be perfectly winnable, even for those who play FF less commonly, but the higher difficulties really ratchet up the level of challenge. Julius does an excellent job in each stage balancing the ability to succeed with the ever-present possibility of losing (a concept in which I am a huge believer). Proceeding nonchalantly around the map, particularly in the early stages, will almost certainly see the player blundering into dangerous enemy patrols, and in general it is advised (and possible) to proceed with caution, as one might in such a situation as the one in which the player is placed. Each individual mission presents a different set of challenges for the player to conquer and demands aptitude across the board. I will say, however, that some missions have a significant learning curve, and may be difficult to grasp at first , but function rather logically and are perfectly possible to complete.
The creativity shines in both the gameplay and map design spheres (more on that later). Every portion of the gameplay is different, from rescuing comrades to liberating villages, besieging a fortress, picking out an assassin, fighting a field battle, defending and lifting a siege, and small-scale battles. Julius does an excellent job here in balancing creative tricks that simulate realism with fun gameplay and accessibility. Aside from the main objectives, numerous sidequests such as blowing up a bridge, finding turkeys, a dogfighting game, and defending farmers add an extra dimension to the scenario. I think it's fair to say that, even seven years later, this scenario is in many ways a benchmark in the creativity sphere for FF scenarios.
Map Design: 5+
The highlight of the scenario for me, the map design is literally so gorgeous that the player is hard-pressed to do anything but admire it at first. Featuring verdant fields and forests, realistic and well-laid out towns, villages and castles, and detailed waterways, the map serves as a comprehensive testament to the virtues of Julius's characteristic minimalistic style. The design contributes in a positive manner to the gameplay, is diverse and varied throughout the map, and incorporates several design tricks, many of which were quite novel for their time and even now are relatively unused. Perhaps most impressive is the idyllic yet organic and realistic sense of the landscape, which is never unnecessarily cramped but always looks pleasing to the eye. In general it's a masterful work, and likely one of the prettiest maps to ever grace the halls of the Blacksmith.
True to form, Julius again succeeds in designing a scenario based around a storyline that is actually feasible to pull off in AoK. Not overly detailed or elaborate, but nevertheless gripping, the player is presented with a situation where it is easy to identify with the main character and his exploits. The dialogue in particular is instrumental to the success of this category, and it is apparent that the author is a skilled writer very adept at expressing himself clearly and poignantly. Brief cinematic portions are a boon to the story experience, and the player is always supplied with useful instructions for each portion of the gameplay (along with general hints), which are clear and effective but not overly detailed or verbose to the point of confusion or blatant spoilers. Another admirable feature is the writeup present in the scouts section regarding each settlement, which contributes to the immersive nature of the scenario, as does a soundtrack (and sound effects) that fits harmoniously with the atmosphere and the gameplay.
Nothing short of a masterpiece, A Call To Arms is an imperative download for fixed force enthusiasts and/or anyone who enjoys feasting their eyes on an utterly gorgeous map. I wholeheartedly recommend this scenario as one of the best the Blacksmith has to offer.