Some video games are great, but are niche by design, so they don’t really make an impact on a large scale. Sometimes, there are also games that end up in bargain bins that people don’t need video game coupons for because, as good as they are, they were released at the wrong time, pitted against the giants of their genre. There are some games that are amusing and fun, but only in that strange way that makes it compelling to talk about how fun they are.
The first instance was narrowly avoided by Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale, which managed to sell incredibly well for such a niche title with little marketing. The wonderful System Shock 2 suffered from the second instance, hitting shelves at the same time as Half-life did, forever keeping it out of the mainstream fame it deserved. The last instance, that existence halfway between success and obscurity, was what befell the RTS title Battle Realms.
In many ways, it was just like other RTS titles of the time. The pseudo-3D graphics, basic gameplay pattern, and multiple factions were all staples of the genre. The four groups were more or less balanced in every aspect, which meant that victory relied heavily on the player’s ability to make the most of any weaknesses or flaws in their opponents. The main difference was in the unit upgrades.
The game’s system introduced something called “battle gear” into the genre. Often, when upgrades are handled in an RTS, they are applied to all applicable units the player has, along with all future units. In BR, this was not necessarily the case. Some upgrades were only available to a unit that was sent to “acquire” them from the appropriate structure. This granted that unit – and only that single unit – a new ability they could use in battle at a small cost. Some of these include the ability to place land mines or to use glass swords for a one-hit suicidal strike that took out both the target and the unit.
Naturally, the concept added a bit more depth to the game. It was possible to arm all relevant units with an upgrade, but it was also possible to not do so. With the exception of instances like the Shale Lord’s armor bonus, it wasn’t always easy to tell which units had gear and which didn’t. It allowed for a lot of small-scale tactics that other RTS titles didn’t have.
However, as intriguing and as complex as this was, the game suffered. The prevalent joke was that more of its players spent time talking about strategies than actually playing. Eventually, poor online play numbers killed the game shortly after the expansion, Winter of the Wolf, came out.
The game engine would be used in later titles, such as Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle-Earth, at least.