Up until 2015, the venerable Heroes of Might and Magic series carried the torch as the headlining strategy adventure series, with few able to replicate or match its formula of quality. More recently, many developers are attempting to make their own mark on this subset of strategy games. What does Lavapotion’s Songs of Conquest offer to revitalize interest in strategy adventure gaming?
Songs of Conquest is a turn-based strategy and tactics game launching into Early Access set in an original fantasy world. Falling squarely in the strategy adventure gaming category, players can expect classic mechanics such as exploration, character leveling, settlement development, treasure hunting, and engaging tactical battles.
One of the biggest draws to these types of strategy games are their worlds, how they’re presented, and the distinct factions that populate them. It’s great to see that Lavapotion really did their homework in bringing to life four well-defined factions in both their presentation and gameplay style.
The presentation is where the developers really are digging into something special, with a beautiful and colorful pixel art style that’s both visually striking thanks to its 2.5D approach, and also easily readable, which is ideal for a strategy game. Granted, some points of interest and smaller-scale elements can blend in with the strategic map when zoomed out, but it doesn’t take away too much from the eye candy. The music is equally solid, soulful, and catchy as I found myself playing back the various battle tracks in my head even when closing out the game.
Along with the great art direction, Songs of Conquest presents three awesome features that harken back to traditional strategy adventure design and also innovate in intriguing ways.
The first of these interesting elements is the magic system. Unlike in many other fantasy strategy games, where players work with either a separated or character-based mana system, Songs of Conquest lets players earn mana or essence in tactical battles based on the troops they bring with them to battle. It helps that the unit rosters of each of the factions are diverse enough that you can still play the same faction but have quite different tactics when it comes to employing magic.
Tying mana generation to army composition is a novel and exciting idea primarily due to its strategic and tactical implications. It adds a whole new layer of decision-making to army composition, which often even in the earlier Heroes of Might and Magic games were relatively simple affairs.
The settlements and construction system is another interesting area of improvement in Songs of Conquest, due to the inclusion of multiple sizes of settlements, limited building slots, and varied slot sizes. Each settlement requires thought when making sure the buildings synergize with each other and fit the geographic positioning of the settlement itself. The prevalence of multiple settlements in campaign missions or skirmish maps adds more to the empire management dimension of strategy adventure games, a relatively underdeveloped area for these games.
The developers also took the time to enrich the combat system by making it hex-based, adding elevation levels, and including various destructible and indestructible terrain features. Tactical combat is also high stakes due to its quick pace and volatility, so climactic battles when two characters meet are especially bloody and brutal affairs, particularly if they’re relatively equal in strength. The quick battle auto-resolve system is a bit too harsh, though, and can lead to a number of repetitive and grindy manual battles.
The developers at Lavapotion do need to take care of a few critical issues that can hinder its potential as a masterpiece, though. Most notably, Songs of Conquest isn’t quite stable with audio bugs that see tracks cutting out halfway and starting over, as well as noticeable frame drops and texture pop-in when quickly panning around the map.
I also crashed once midway through a mission, so there are definitely stability issues that need ironing out. The UI is additionally a bit fiddly, especially when it comes to transferring units from character to character or settlement.
Perhaps the biggest issue Lavapotion will need to tackle is repetitive and grindy backtracking, as it negatively breaks the pacing of saves, especially in the midgame. While it’s arguable that backtracking is an innate feature of adventure strategy games, there’s no excuse not to creatively bypass, minimize, or mitigate it in some way.
On the whole, Songs of Conquest is looking quite promising with the visuals, audio, and world all giving it a unique identity and position in the market. The game is particularly notable in this lane of the genre as there’s a dearth of strategy adventure games, with 1C Entertainment’s King’s Bounty 2 failing to fill that gap. More impressively, it’s the innovations in major mechanics, such as magic, construction, and combat, that give the game the most amount of promise.
There’s work to be done, especially in the technical department, but those issues will likely be addressed soon, leaving us excited for what comes next in the game’s Early Access life cycle. Lavapotion’s Songs of Conquest is definitely worth watching closely.
A PC key was provided by PR for the purposes of this preview.
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