+ Tactical RTS with RPG elements
+ Emphasis on combat
+ Co-op campaign
+ Various multiplayer modes
- Graphics engine needs some optimization
- Lack of a save option in campaign missions
Final score: 8 / 10
Controller support: No
Windows XP / Vista / 7
Core 2 Duo or equivalent Processor
ATI Radeon HD 5000 Series (equivalent or better), DirectX 9.0c-compatible Video Card
3 GB Available System Memory
DirectX 9.0c-compatible Sound Card
Working under the radar until recently, indie developer Epiphany Games has just released their first project into the wild: Frozen Hearth. Being a non-conventional RTS game at its base, but, also combining various RPG and MOBA elements, Frozen Hearth aims to bring a somewhat fresh approach to this gaming genre.
This is a very ambitious project for such a small company, taking into consideration that it is very hard to develop a game for the RTS genre. Frozen Hearth is just the first chapter from a proposed trilogy that will continue with Aki and Plizkin: Codex of Ancients, a multiplatform action-RPG and Amorra: Teigh Suil, a MMORPG that comes back to the original idea of Frozen Hearth. With all that said, let’s just sit down and take a look at what they have prepared for us.
The story behind Frozen Hearth takes place in Amorra, the homeworld of the mighty Danaan and a world on the verge of extinction. Since the beginning of time, the Danaan tribes have fought many battles against each other in an attempt to rule the land of Amorra and to take advantage of its precious resources.
Now it’s time for them to unite and fight against a greater force that threatens their very existence. Slowly turning every patch of earth into a desolate, icy wasteland, the demonic Shangur have only a single goal: to destroy everything that stands in their way and leave only a cold, frozen wasteland behind.
Fortunately, there might still be hope for the Danaan race as the legendary Avatars (humans with god-like powers) started to appear around the land, taking control of the tribes and uniting them into one powerful force that might just stand a chance in front of these cold-blooded killers.
With the story all settled out, let’s take a look at what Epiphany Games has prepared for us in terms of gameplay. Frozen Hearth features an intensive campaign that spans across 22 missions, divided into three acts. The fun part is that you can choose to play the campaign alone or you can have a friend join you in co-op mode during the entire adventure.
Players start by choosing one mighty Avatar from one of the three different Danaan tribes (Anija, Kryetar and Sherim), each with their own special skill set and elite unit. After you have chosen your favorite Avatar, you will have to choose his specialization and Frozen Hearth offers three possibilities: Guardian (the defender), Maelstrom (the attacker) and Preserver (the healer).
The different skills that come with each tribe and their expertise will allow you to choose a hero that suits your play style and, with the right skill set, to overcome your enemies and save your people from extinction.
Choosing your Avatar is just a tactical decision and it won’t impact the main storyline in terms of missions. Whatever you have chosen, the plot remains the same for each of the tribes involved.
Build a powerful army
...and eliminate the Shangur leaders
Unlike the majority of RTS titles featuring individual buildings for various unit types and upgrades, Frozen Hearth comes with a new approach and offers you control over a massive stronghold. This structure is your point of command in each mission and will only provide six slots where you can build various add-ons that will offer new upgrades and abilities for your units.
As there are more than six possible buildings (twelve to be exact), the tactical approach for each mission becomes crucial. You will have to plan your strategy carefully and choose to build only those add-ons that provide upgrades for the units you intend to use. Doing otherwise will result in a loss of time and resources which can lead to an imminent failure.
Having all the structures in a single massive building is not necessarily a good thing, as the enemy forces will have a more direct target instead of attacking multiple structures.
Somewhat similar to Dawn of War or Company of Heroes, resources are located across the map in the form of stone shrines. Capturing these tactical nodes will provide you with a steady income of resources, imperative to upgrade your units and build new add-ons.
These nodes come in various sizes (small, medium and large) and, while the larger ones provide greater income, they also have the ability to replenish their dead squad units.
Ice also has a great impact on the gameplay. As enemies die or conquer new resource nodes, they will further expand their icy influence over the land. When your units are marching or attacking on ice, they lose some of their abilities like attacking speed or damage resistance.
As you've probably noticed, the game does not encourage you to gather endless resources, instead you should focus on building armies and continually perfecting your tactics to overcome the enemy.
“Why are these tactics so important?” you might ask. Well, simply put, the game doesn’t allow you to save your progress in the middle of any campaign mission. That may become frustrating after you have completed some of the initial objectives and your Avatar happens to die in a major battle despite all your efforts to keep him alive.
Furthermore, changing the campaign difficulty at any time is not an option: if you've started a normal or hard campaign, you will not be able to change your missions’ difficulty later on.
Multiplayer in Frozen Hearth comes in different flavors and, if you don’t want to continue the main plot in co-op, you can always try one of the six multiplayer modes (Attrition, Assassination, King of the Hill, Crucible, Skirmish and Scenario) over the internet or LAN.
Supporting up to eight human or CPU players, multiplayer can be quite fun especially in PvP modes like Assassination or Crucible, where you either have to kill the opposing Avatar for a specific number of times or capture strategic control points.
In Attrition, each player gets a fixed amount of gold to upgrade his stronghold and train as many units as possible, while the King of the Hill mode gathers two teams of up to four players in a battle of supremacy over a central resource point on the map.
Graphics and Audio
From a graphics perspective, the game has some optimization issues even on machines that greatly surpass its requirements. Lowering some of the graphic options works most of the time in these types of situations and will surely improve your frame rate, although the visual differences are noticeable.
The camera’s default zoom level is rather annoying at first sight and a slightly higher angle would have greatly helped for an overall view of the battle field and an easier management of your units. Using the mouse wheel will get you down to ground level for a close-up view of the battle and the special effects of various magical abilities.
The soundtrack is well suited for this type of game and some of the tracks are very engaging especially in large-scale battles. Unfortunately, some of the cutscenes during the campaign would have been better with some real voice acting instead of a text driven conversation. Conclusion
Frozen Hearth is an ambitious project on which indie developer Epiphany Games have worked for three years. The result is quite admiring for such a small indie company bringing together RTS and RPG genres, with a unique twist inspired by Multiplayer Online Battle Arena titles.
The current graphic rendering and the lack of a save option in campaign mode might spoil the fun for some of the players, but I think some of these issues can be easily solved through an upcoming patch.
With an emphasis on pure army building and tactical combat, Frozen Hearth manages to bring a challenge to even the most cold-blooded players. Adding a cooperative campaign and various multiplayer modes to the table, Frozen Hearth will keep you in a constant struggle for survival as you try to save the Danaan race from total annihilation.