Tiger Knight: Empire War (2016, PC)

By Kandrax / April 3, 2017

Aight, I'll divide this review into two parts: story time and real talk (it's going to be a little long).

Story time:

>be me
>see cool looking vidya on steam
>it's free
>let's try it out
>game downloads at around 22:00
>oy this is fun
>continue playing
>in match with a few cool guys
>decide to team up
>continue playing
>hear a noise outside
>it's 3:00
>"don't worry bro, daylight savings time"
>as instructed by bro, i don't worry
>time passes
>it's 5:00
>daylight savings was 3 hours ago
>realize that when i saw 3:00 on the clock, it was actually 3:00 for the second time, not the first
>realize i just spent 8 hours sitting in front of my computer killing hundreds of Wei, Wu and Shu
>realize i have to be up by 8:00

Real talk:

The game has you take control of a general of a small army (not sure if army is the proper term but whatever) of 20-30 men. You control your character from a third-person point of view, instructing your little helpers with the F-keys. The army you control belongs to one of three Chinese kingdoms + Rome and they're all different (lightweight, heavyweight, cavalry — put roughly). Your swing depends on the position of your mouse and on the weapon; for instance I have a sword that can only hack from above and stab from below meaning that if I want to stab someone I have to tilt my mouse slightly down (don't worry, you get used to it in a couple of minutes). The weapons consist of swords, clubs, f*cking wooden planks and spears; you also have a wide variety of shields (which can be broken if hacked at enough times). As you level up you gain access to said weapons and a whole lot of armor which deserves a little paragraph of its own.
   Armor is divided into several parts, head armor, torso armor, legs armor, hands armor (I think I got them all?) Anyway, said armor can be made of cloth, leather or metal or even a combination of those three. Each serves as a good defense tool against a certain type of attack (stab, hack, slash, blunt...) Also, pieces of armor "shield" different areas. For instance, certain hand armor can stretch from the tips of your fingers to your neck whereas another one could be a pair of fingerless gloves. When you combine all these aspects you see that there's truly a whole range of possibilities.
   Did I mention that at lvl 5 you get your own horse? Which you can mount, sprint and use it to stab your opponents with whatever you're holding in your hand. Or you could be infantry and use a long pike (or a f*cking wooden plank) to stab the horse (don't do this, this hurts the horse) thus making you fall face-first to the ground? Sometimes you might get lucky and escape once you've been thrown off of your horse or, more likely, you'll get g*ngbanged as a whole troop surrounds and stabs you while you're trying to get up...
   The Garrison/Barracks management is basically straight out of World of Tanks (research tiers, unit trees, different factions of units, etc), but with a medieval squad... y'know, instead of a tank. First you create a character, then you choose his faction. You can follow several different tech trees unlocking new armor and weapons for yourself and your troops. Game has a unique Adjutants mechanic, when you can hire special officers that not only have unique fighting styles, but they give special formations to your troops, which makes every army highly customizable and unique. Maps for starters are quite simple, and usually you'll play on corridor-like maps first couple of hours to learn the basics. Later you'll be thrown on large open maps with a lot of space to outflank and ambush your opponents.
   There's three game modes: Conquest (PVP), Duel (PVP) and Epic War (PVE).

Like Ryse, but interactive

Conquest: 5v5, 10 generals on each side (including Adjutants) with five small armies, you fight either till all 10 are dead on one side or when the enemy Boss General is taken down (think Lu Bu from the Musou games except he can't juggle his enemies in the air). Once you die in this game mode, that's it, you spectate the rest of the match.

Duel: I think the limit is 20v20 (not sure) but anyway, it's a team deathmach arena where you get respawned upon death. The goal is to either get to 80 points (1 kill = 1 point) or to have more points than the enemy team before time runs out.

Epic War: 5 generals versus the computer. First, each one of you has to fight an enemy general in a small arena. Then, the five of you fight Lu Bu (who is a coward) (sorry Lu Bu don't hurt me), and then you lay siege on their fortress which basically means kill all the enemy generals and wreck their sh*t.

   I spent about 50 hours in game and still feel myself a noob; you need to control your troops, give orders to them to use abilities, control formations, fight for points and keep attacking and parrying at the same time, as well as coordinating tactics with your teammates.
   Initially it can be a bit of a turn off and/or even overwhelming, because of all of the crap on the pre-game screen and potato translations... but with a bit of patience and a few games it will all begin to flow. I strongly suggest looking at the keybinds page at some point. The game is simple on the surface, but complexity keeps piling up as you play. For example, some people just left-click spam while others do some wonderfully unique things that can turn a battle around. The games where someone just does some crazy shit, or even an actual strategy that completely turns the game around never cease to amaze me. The game has an incredibly high skill cap. If you're unwilling or unable to analyze and control troop movement, you're gonna have a bad time. Battles are fast and hectic enough that the subtleties of combat may be lost on new players and I think that might drive some people away. If you have the patience for it, dominating an enemy army can be extremely gratifying.


   My favorite points:

-Unit controls. Every Adjutant (chosen AI lieutenant) has different formations for your troops with genuine benefits to units speed, offense, and defense, and how spread out they are. This has major impact on unit performance, and adds a level of depth to when, where, and whom you engage.

-Battle system is very deep. The basics are easy to learn, but to play as a master you need to see your opponents' armor pieces in real-time combat and try to attack less-armored parts of his body using directional attacks and parrying. Materials do matter — you should pick the right weapon against each armor, and change your weapons during combat (you can bring up to four weapons/shields/bows etc). Each weapon also has its weight and length and shape; each determines the best playstyle and combat range. Fighting with a spear or with an axe or with a sword will make a big difference and have its purpose in different situations.

-Teamwork absolutely determines a battle. As a general, when you die, you're dead until the battle ends, so it's better to retreat for reinforcements than it is to fight to the death. Imagine a game where one team has two generals remaining, the other has three. Currently, it's 2v2 with bruised and broken formations lightly clashing at a home camp. The team with three is being broken further by the losing team's better unit play. Suddenly over the horizon the winning team's missing general returns with a full platoon of healthy soldiers who overwhelm the broken lines and win the battle, because he chose to retreat and stay alive. But most players have trouble grasping the concept of strategy and teamwork, never mind tactical retreat, so dominating them is easy until you reach the higher echelon of players, which is where the real fun starts. When you get closer to the end game content, seeing 80-some horses running around on an open battle field during a 7v7 Event match is something worth getting to.

   Not only are the fighting mechanics awesome, it looks good too. From what I understand all of the fighting moves were taken from motion capture of martial arts experts and put into animations for the game.
   The translations need a bit of help and there are some frustrating bugs in the tutorial and training, but for a game in Early Access, it plays very well.
   Tiger Knight is one of those free games that brings to mind the question, "How is this free?" If you ever wanted to know how it feels like to be IN a Total War battle, instead of merely hovering over it, but WITHOUT it degenerating to mindless button-mashing a la Koei's Musou games, you HAVE to play this. A larger player base is all this game really needs, IMO. So download this shit and start playing!

Tiger Knight: Empire War is Insomnia's 2016 Game of the Year.