Tom Quirk plays a lot of video games, but when he isn't, he is reading fantasy novels and watching way more television than is healthy.
Xbox One, PS4, PC, Nintendo Switch
August 29, 2020
While plenty of games have featured the legendary vampire Dracula, few have delved into the logistics of maintaining his dominion over the human mortals. Immortal Realms: Vampire Wars is a strategy game where you play as one of three distinct vampire clans as you take over human villages, drain them of blood like cattle, and fend off invaders. It has some novel ideas for a strategy game, but many rough edges as well.
Immortal Realms’ campaign sees you playing as one of three vampire lords, including Count Vlad himself, as they encounter a succession of threats to their dominion over the humans. The cut-scenes are fairly sparsely animated, and what plot there is doesn’t exactly make the vampires especially likable or relatable. Still, sometimes it’s fun to play as the villains, and it works well enough to justify the campaign scenarios.
For strategy game veterans, Immortal Realms: Vampire Wars plays kind of like a more streamlined Total War. You form various small armies and spread across the map to claim territory and vanquish your opponents. Instead of multiple resources to keep track of, everything in Immortal Realms runs off one currency: blood. Blood can be acquired by feeding from captured villages and cities. Another aspect is that while settlements and buildings can be upgraded, they can’t be constructed; all available buildings are already present on the map, making an aggressive strategy to capture the available buildings a more viable tactic.
“Fortunately, the cards were never so overpowered that their random nature felt annoying or unbalanced.”
What sets the game apart is the card mechanic; the player regularly receives cards, which have various helpful effects. These include increasing your blood, giving your armies more action points, or making upgrades cheaper, among other benefits. What cards are available are random and regularly provided throughout campaigns. Fortunately, the cards were never so overpowered that their random nature felt annoying or unbalanced. Using cards usually also costs blood as well, so it often felt like a weighty gamble to decide to play a card rather than recruit a unit or upgrade my buildings.
That said, despite the streamlining, the game’s pace could feel very slow at times. Maps in Immortal Realms: Vampire Wars are huge, and campaigns can take well over an hour. With the armies placed so far away, many turns will be spent just moving across the map. There are ways to give more action points to your armies, but they usually rely on expensive cards or building upgrades. More action points per turn, or smaller maps which encourage more army interaction, might be desirable.
When you encounter an enemy army, you can get into combat. If the power discrepancy is big enough, you can have the AI auto-complete the fight, which was a nice touch. If your armies are evenly matched, however, the two armies clash in turn-based combat. As with the overworld strategy portion of the game, the combat has some nice ideas with clunky execution.
One of the biggest sources of said clunkiness is how your units cannot travel through one another. This doesn’t sound that bad at first, but each battlefield is essentially a very cluttered rectangle full of narrow corridors. Unless you have a good mix of flying and ranged units, you will probably end up with half your army stuck at the back, unable to travel forward through your front line to actually fight the enemy. Units also cannot move and use a skill, which felt kind of arbitrary.
Your army is accompanied by Lord unit, who has upgradeable magic spells which use a separate Mana meter. I liked the variety in those abilities, and how utilising them effectively could turn the tide of battle. Enemy Lords have similar abilities, making taking down the enemy Lord my usual first priority in combat. In addition, Lords can be upgraded via equipment purchased from blacksmiths. New abilities throughout the campaign can also be unlocked as you progress, giving an extra level of customisation. Losing your Lord does not end the game, but it costs a lot to revive them and rebuild your army, making losses difficult to return from.
Once you’re finished with the campaign, there are the Skirmish and Sandbox modes to try out. In Skirmish, players can experiment with the combat system and pit two armies together to try out different units and Lord abilities. Sandbox lets you create your own custom campaigns, with various win conditions and small amount of customisable difficulty settings. Strangely, there is no multiplayer mode to speak of, which feels like it could have added some replay value.
I still feel like Immortal Realms: Vampire Wars has some potential behind its flaws. The idea of a more streamlined strategy game, with less of a resource management and empire-building focus, is something that could be appealing for newcomers to the strategy genre. However, its huge maps and clunky combat drag the experience down. Furthermore, without multiplayer or a map editor, there is not really much more to the experience than the campaign, which is only somewhat engaging. Immortal Realms: Vampire Wars certainly has enjoyable elements, but feels difficult to recommend to fans of the strategy genre.