Conqueror: A.D. 1086
It is usually simple to classify games in specific categories ranging from action to adventure through simulation and others. There are however exceptions that can't be catalogued in just one class, and Conqueror: A.D. 1086 from Sierra is a very good example.
The game features strategy, simulation and action sequences that will take you to England in the 11th century, twenty-years after the battle of Hastings when William the Conqueror invaded England. At the age of 18, the King dubbed you Knight, rewarding you with a small fief to rule. Ultimately, your goal will be to become either the King or the King's Champion before you reach the age of 30. Depending what you will choose, you must reach the title of King or slay the mighty Dragon who roams in the kingdom.
When you begin the game, you will be given the possibility of playing with a pre-generated character or go through a multiple choice test that will build your personality. To give you an idea of what you can expect, we have reproduced one question from the game with the three choices. "After travelling all day, you and a friend stop and make camp in the forest. You both eat, then your friend brings out the ale and begins drinking. Knowing that you will have to travel many miles the next day, you drink very little. Your friend, however, gets drunk and passes out by the campfire. You retreat into the lean to the shelter you have made and fall asleep. In the night, you are awakened by loud noises. A bear is walking around your campsite, scavenging the food that had been left out. Knowing that your friend is outside the shelter, very near the bear and drunk, do you 1) attempt to attack the bear; 2) make a loud noise and scare the bear away; or 3) stay where you are and remain silent?".
Starting at the age of 12 with your initial statistics, each choice will determine six aspects of your personality (strength, dexterity, piety, stamina, honor and starting wealth) and will increase your age by one year. During this period, you will eventually receive items such as a sword, or even earn money.
Once your character selection is completed, you will be sent to your fief, and given your first orders by your Overlord. On the screen, you will have a 3D isometric SVGA view of how England was in the Middle-Ages with farms, small villages, castles, immense forests and precarious roads. The graphics are well detailed, but somehow they lack in diversity with only the castles being a bit different from one county to another. Don't expect to look closer into this view, as there is no zoom available.
Your first action will be to plant seeds in your domain, as you don't want your serfs to starve during winter. Clicking on 'home' will bring take you inside your castle in the tactical room. From this point, you can improve your castle, build a village, establish farms and manage the natural resources. Like in "Castles" from Interplay, you can design your own castle using walls, towers and other dependencies such as a chapel, stable, storehouse, etc. In each management section, you have indications about the price and the number of serfs necessary for the new industries, crops and buildings. You will place the new constructions in a 3D isometric view that is different for each of the four sections. This building phase, although it doesn't have the same complexity, is very similar to the construction part in "Sim City 2000" where you had to fill the city with various buildings, roads and trees.
In the tactical room, you can also raise armies up to a maximum of five. The armies will allow you to conquer new fiefs, defend your castle and get rid of the brigands that steal your resources. To raise an army, all you need is money and serfs in sufficient number. The three types of troops (Halberdiers, Swordsmen and Knights) each have an advantage that you will learn to use when playing with the game, but to resume them, it is wise to feature troops of the three types in the same army. The first task ordered by the King will be to eliminate a company of bandits. Just click on the army using the main view and select the destination, in our case, the bandits. You will see a path symbolized by white dots, and your army will start moving. As the movements are slower when you cross forests, crops or mountains, it is far better to take the roads. If you are close enough to an enemy's army, you can attack it, and thus enter the strategic part of the game.
Before starting the combat, you must choose a formation or decide if you will let your captains control the battle. If you want to lead your troops, you will have an vertical view of the battlefield with your troops on the left and the enemies on the right. You can control a particular unit or select all the troops of a same type, then specify where to attack. The various units in the battlefield have very good and detailed graphics, but once more, the diversity isn't at the rendez-vous. All the battles are set in the same green battleground, and the only thing that basically changes is the number of soldiers in the conflict. Another criticism is the poor control you have on your soldiers because most of the time, the battles ended in a general melee which made the number superiority a decisive factor.
Another type of attack is the castle skirmish, which surprisingly brings a first-person perspective view. You, alone or sometimes helped by one or several of your men, will enter a castle. The goal will be to find the champion and a way to conquer the fief. The 3D view is well-done considered that it is only a sub-part of the game, and has realistic textures to make this action-phase much more fun. As the castles have different sizes, you can expect various levels and new graphics to discover. You will find new weapons and armor inside, as well as enemy soldiers ready to offer you a good resistance. If you have difficulties with the enemies, don't hesitate to ask your soldiers to attack them, and you can also give orders for them to follow you or retreat.
If your raid is successful, you will conquer the fief. The best is to raid the castle of an Overlord, because if you win, you will control all the depending fiefs. It might not be easy at all, but it will be a good prize for your efforts!
Every month, there will be tournaments organized in the Kingdom, in which you will be cordially invited. To attend, you must first locate on the map where the tournament is held, then travel and reach the destination in less than 30 days. Be sure to stay on the roads if you don't want to miss it! In the tournaments, you will challenge other knights, and if you are victorious three times in a row, you can earn valuable items and increase your wealth. The jousting game is well-rendered with a 3D animation where you control your spear to aim it towards the shield of your opponent. Prior to this, you can visit the stands to speak to any of the six ladies, and offer to wear her colors in the tournament. With time and wisdom, you could even get married with one of them. One detail that really amused me was the manual stating that before a battle or a marriage, it is highly recommended to save your game. The tournaments are not limited to jousting. The melee is a mock battle between knights in which you can earn money if you are victorious. It features the same view as in the castle skirmish, but in this competition, you can't die.
Finally, when travelling from villages to villages, you can stop by, and visit the Church, Inn, Moneylender and Blacksmith. You will meet interesting people in the Inn who can give you valuable tips on how to raid castles, manage your fief, etc..., but you will have to pay for it. When you need money, you can always see the Moneylender for loans, but be careful as the interests rates are 50% high!
Whether you like management, strategy or action, you will find what you are looking for in Conqueror: A.D. 1086. It is an ambitious title with various facets that made it a a top-quality game.