Blight of the Immortals: Review

Blight banner

By now most people will have heard about this game. Rock Paper Shotgun have written about it extensively, AJ wrote about it on BadgerCommander.net, and it’s had a fair bit of coverage elsewhere. It’s the current project of Neptune’s Pride developers  Iron Helmet and, whilst it’s still in beta, it’s out there and playable by the world.

It’s also no longer being talked about as much as it was, and this honestly surprises me. As you know, Bob, Blight of the Immortals is a game designed to be played in small bursts over days, weeks or even months. Events play out in real-time which means that, in practice, there’s only so much you can do each time you log in, but because events and strategies take so long to play out the game tends to weigh on your mind. It’s also still in beta and being constantly updated (although ongoing games keep the rules as defined at their outset). I’m currently in the middle of my third game – you can play more than one simultaneously but I prefer not to confuse myself – and all three games have been pretty distinct. And, yes, this means that I’ve been playing Blight of the Immortals for three months pretty much continually. And I’m not even remotely hardcore compared to some of the players I’ve fought alongside.

It’s co-operative, you see, Bob, with the only element of competition involving competition among players to kill more enemies. There’s also a land-acquisition element to it – bigger empires means more cash and more armies – so sometimes things can be a little less than diplomatic, but generally speaking you’ll need to work together to defeat the zombie hordes that spread with horrifying speed across the map.

Because the game’s still in beta, and because I’ve not even encountered elements of it (such as a “real-time mode” designed for players in close proximity, a new flying unit that doesn’t need to follow set routes and paths, allowing combat between human players and so on) this isn’t so much a review as “hey, here are my experiences with the game so far!” At the same time it feels fair to describe it as a review since you can, if you wish, pay to play, which opens up more options unavailable to free players.

Blight screenshot

I stole this image from the internet because I forgot to take one of my first game. With thanks and apologies to, um, the good King lemon10.

So, my first game was on the game’s default map and gave me mixed first impressions. The nature of the game and my lack of intimate knowledge about it meant the experience was plenty fun – and occasionally gave me cause to kick myself for decisions that were impossibly stupid in hindsight – even though I was playing a kingdom that was mostly dwarven. At this time dwarves were very experience to recruit and reinforce, but they were very good indeed at building fortifications quickly and then defending said forts. Yep, dwarves are the turtler’s favourites, and at the time of this game they were perfect at it, doubling the effect of any fortifications where they were based. They’ve since been nerfed a little, gaining a set bonus to defences, but have been made cheaper and thus a bit more flexible. Alas, for my first game I spent the first few weeks very slowly acquiring new territories, mostly thanks to cheaper allied troops like cyclopes, and using my dwarves to fend off every zombie army that flung itself at me. My defensive lines never broken but I expanded very slowly, and play felt reactive rather than proactive, which was quite a disappointment.

Another of Blight of the Immortal‘s perils also became evident during this game: playing with internet random often results in one-time players getting bored and abandoning the game. When this happens their armies and territory revert to neutral, and because human-controlled kingdoms usually have their armies clustered in a few places and other areas undefended, this means one of two things. Firstly, more fucking zombies get in there and swarm through it before anyone can get in place to react. Or secondly, another human player annexes it all in record speed and soon owns an empire twice the size of anyone else’s. The former can make the game bastard hard, but the latter makes it unbalanced. In this game it was the latter that occurred – with two separate players – and that combined with the defensive style I was forced to approach meant that I finished about halfway down the scoreboard. I did acquire more ‘honour’ than a few players who stuck with the game until the end, though, so I didn’t feel too cheated, and the game had provided plenty of exciting moments. I also got chatting to a few players through it, one of whom invited me to my two subsequent games (and, it later turned out, recognised me from Gaming Daily comments threads. Spooky!).

Blight game #2

Nearing the final blows in game #2... we've corralled the last few zombie hordes into the north-eastern corner of the map and all remaining players are converging.

The second game I played – six players on a different map – initially seemed like it would be very easy. The difficulty, however, had been bumped up, and the blight spread at a shocking rate, with the zombie armies too large to realistically take on in the early game. I grabbed as much land as I could and immediately set out to fight the smaller armies, intending to level up my armies early. This worked to an extent – my commanders got a fair bit tougher and I managed to keep grabbing back territory that tougher enemies had captured and vacated. It was still a tough game – the players in the far south mopped up the blight fairly early but in the north we had a player quit and another player become almost overwhelmed. Later on I gifted this player territory and money to keep him going, which I liked that I could do but was a bit saddened that it involved no reward/points of any kind. Surely it’s at least as honourable to help out an ally as it is to slaughter undead monstrosities? Perhaps this is an elaborate metaphor for realpolitik.

The third game, which remains ongoing, is even harder. It’s a four-player game and, like the second match, involved very few zombie armies at the start. But in about a week the northern player was almost eradicated by the blight and I had been pushed right back to the coast. Check out this screenshot:

BOTA screenshot

It doesn’t really express how screwed I was earlier on; I forgot to take any screenshots. But you can see how little territory I’m holding and how small my armies are. I should also add that we’re heading toward the endgame now and the south-western army of zombie treemen (with the red icon) was 600-strong not long ago. Fortunately some allies have marched to my aid and are battering them with spells.

There’s another thing unusual about this match, which is that honour isn’t determined by number of zombies slaughtered but by the total surviving population once the blight is eradicated. All of the settlements in the picture above that I don’t control have been entirely wiped out – and they include all of the cities I started the game with. They’re useless now, scorched-earth ghost towns from which no armies can be raised or reinforced. About 3/4 of the population has been wiped out so far. Hopefully that number will remain stable now whilst we push the zombies back, but as far as meaningless videogame numbers go it does give a sense of just how close we came to the brink.

And that’s it, really: Blight of the Immortals is very much a game about your own stories. You can never predict how the zombies will move and it’s your strategies, reactions to problems, and interaction with other players – trading coins, armies and settlements, co-ordinating attacks – that elevate the game above just another strategic numbers game. Diplomacy is a much more pleasant experience than in Neptune’s Pride, an entirely competitive game with many other similarities. Players in BOTA can be helpful, supportive and pleading depending on their own situation, and I suspect that the people I’ve been playing games alongside are going to be the reason I keep playing Blight of the Immortals.

AJ

Shaun’s review is pretty comprehensive in terms of nailing some of the nail biting that is inherent in how the game unravels. I would definitely agree that this is a game to be played with the right kind of people. My one game was played with a small community of committed players so it consisted of 16 days of judicious and often generous trading.

One of the things that really impressed me was that the game felt very accessible to the free (i.e. non-paying) player; the hobbling they get (a limited ability to use resources and troops outside of those assigned to them in the beginning) is not enough to completely discourage play but is sufficient to incentivise an upgrade. I almost went for it, but given that I need to at least appear to be doing work during the day I figured it would be best to limit myself and my involvement with the game to holiday excursions.

Sadly, at the time I played, the levelling system was far too easy to exploit; the size of the armies made no difference to the levelling-up of a general so beating a blight army of four zombies would give you the same level boost as defeating one containing a hundred. By the end of the game match my treeman army (not red like the ones in Shaun’s screenshot – these ones were full of life rather than unlife) could roll over anything that they could get to.

That aside, what most appealed to me were the miniature dramas that ran through the game. There were moments where I found myself  contemplating very unfriendly tactics to try and boost my score that would have involved ‘innocently’ dropping my co-players right in the juice, only for me to march in and save the day; there was one occasion when I could have acted earlier but that would have netted me less glory. These moments made me feel both ill and invigorated: ill because even entertaining the idea made me feel like a bad person, and invigorated because I felt that games should drag real and conflicting emotions out of you.

I wish Blight of the Immortals the best of luck as it deserves to rise above Neptune’s Pride’s achievements.