Singapore’s Touch Dimensions made a mark in the mobile strategy genre with Autumn Dynasty. Today, the company has finally released a sequel, Autumn Dynasty Warlords, that’s available on iOS for $6.99. In this age of free-to-play mobile games, is a $7 game really worth the price?
Finally free of free-to-play
It’s honestly hard to even remember the last time I reviewed a mobile game that wasn’t free-to-play, and Autumn Dynasty Warlords was therefore a very pleasant surprise. Sure, it costs $7 up front. But there’s no stupid stamina system, no annoying ads, and no obnoxious reminders to visit the shop every ten seconds.
Instead, it’s just a game! You pay for it, and then you own it and can play it whenever you want with no future interruptions or annoyances. Imagine that!
The basics of gameplay
Of course, none of that’s very meaningful if the game isn’t actually good, but luckily it is. Warlords is an RTS/turn-based stratey hybrid, and while it may not be as complex as a PC RTS like Starcraft or a turn-based strategy game like Civilization, it is pretty darn deep for a cheap mobile game.
Autumn Dynasty Warlords puts you in the shoes of a—shocker—warlord in ancient China. At the beginning of the game you control one region with a city and a military camp, and your objective is to extend your domain, through diplomacy and military might, to unite the kingdom under your rule.
There are three major aspects of Warlords‘s gameplay. The first is base management. Like in many RTS games, you’re in charge of a home city in each province you conquer, and that includes building and upgrading buildings and defenses, and keeping an eye on the local economy and other factors like bandits to keep the populace happy. Separate from your city is a military camp, where you can train soldiers and deploy them to neighboring provinces for invasions. Your gold income, soldier training, building upgrades, etc., are all measured in turns, so when you’ve spent all your gold, end your turn and you’ll have more the next time around.
The second aspect of the game is officer management. As the game progresses, you encounter new officers—special unites who join your cause. These guys can be deployed to other provinces to engage in diplomacy, reconnaissance, or even sabotage, and they have unique stats and bonuses that make them well-suited to some tasks but not others. They can also accompany your troops into battle, giving them a bonus. Officers can only undertake one mission per turn.
The third and main aspect of Warlords is battle. Battles happen in real time, once you’ve selected your units, a few power ups, and your officer of choice. There are a variety of different objectives in battles, ranging from “kill everyone” to “reach this spot within a time limit”, and you can control your units’ movement and who, if anyone, they attack. As you upgrade them, they will also gain new abilities that you can deploy occasionally in battle to give yourself the upper hand.
To conquer another province you’ll need to fight a number of battles, and you’ll often have options. Do you want to set up a base camp and then try to launch a frontal assault? Or would you rather sneak through the woods and go for a surprise attack? You’ve always got options, and given that the game has a boatload of provinces to attack, you’re going to be kept very busy. You’ll also have to think strategically, as different terrain like hills or forests can be used to your advantage (or, if you’re not careful, used to ambush and destroy you).
War is hard
Of course, all provinces are not created equal, and Warlords doesn’t give you a ton of information about how you should play beyond the initial basic tutorial. This may be a good thing, but it means you’ll be undertaking a bit of trial and error, and possibly making some spectacular errors.
In my game, after a relatively easy conquest of the province to my West, I tried to head south. Unfortunately, as I quickly discovered, my level 2 archers were no match for the army of elephants my enemies possessed, and I got stomped. Repeatedly. You can try to avoid this by having your officers gather intelligence before invading, but sometimes it’s still pretty hard to tell how you’re going to do until you actually get into the battle.
And since there are hard limits on the number of units you can bring to a given battle, you can’t just overpower superior enemies with sheer numbers. If you’re fighting six elephant units, you’re going to need to be able to take them down with six units of your own; you’re not going to be allowed to just bring 24 spearman units and go to town.
Thankfully, success does make things a bit easier, as your units gain experience if they survive a battle, and eventually with enough experience they can level up.
All the small things
Of course, Autumn Dynasty Warlords is an even deeper game than what I’ve described above. There are lots of little touches—like the natural disaster pictured above—that pop up to complicate the game further and make things feel more real. Ravaged by typhoons? That’s going to hurt your economy. Don’t want to spend money on protecting your populace from crime? Bandits are going to become a problem.
This attention to detail is also evident in the game’s sound and visual design. As you can probably tell from the gameplay video embedded earlier in this post, the music is quite good—it feels like a perfect fit for a game about conquest in ancient China. And the visuals are a good fit, too. There’s a lot of brown and green, which can get a little old even if it is realistic, but the game has an attractive watercolor aesthetic to its landscapes that sometimes makes you feel like you’re playing inside a painting.
This ain’t no Flappy Bird
If you’re going to buy Autumn Dynasty, though, there are a few things you should know. The first is that the game is long; this isn’t the kind of thing you’re going to wait to play in 3-minute increments while waiting for the bus. It’s better suited to longer periods of play.
The second is that it can be a little difficult to manipulate (and to see) on the small iPhone screen. Given that it’s a turn-based game, this doesn’t matter most of the time, as whenever you click the wrong thing you can simply tap again to select the right one. But it can be an issue during the real-time battles, where you’ve got multiple units moving around the screen all at once, sometimes in tight formations. More than a few times I lost battles because I accidentally tapped the wrong unit, or the game thought I was directing an already-selected unit instead of selecting a new one and sent my guys off in the wrong direction.
It’s still fun and very playable on an iPhone, but I think to get the full enjoyment out of Autumn Dynasty: Warlords, you may want an iPad.
Autumn Dynasty Warlords definitely isn’t for everyone. If you’re looking for a quick, one-note experience to kill the time between conference calls, this isn’t the game for you. But if you like turn-based or real-time strategy games and you enjoy playing more involved games for longer periods of time on your mobile device, Warlords is definitely worth checking out. It may cost $7, but as long as you like this kind of game, I’m confident it’ll be $7 well spent.