Throughout Electronic Theatre’s time with Impire there was one constant about near-everything that was presented: Dungeon Keeper. So much so in fact, that the developers at Cyanide Montreal were not too coy to mention that fact that Dungeon Keeper was not only the influence for Impire, but the basis for every new idea the videogame brings to the playfield. Impire is, for all intents and purposes, Dungeon Keeper for an era of videogaming which doesn’t have a Dungeon Keeper title to call its own.
Players of Impire will take on the role of a demon that was summoned into the Majesty universe by a rubbish sorcerer, Oscar van Fairweather, who confined you to the body of a small imp. Named Ba’al-Abbadon, this is no ordinary demon, but rather a source of great evil power, and as such it becomes your mission to regain your full strength by developing your own dungeon of minions.
Impire effectively plays on three fronts: management, combat and exploration. The primary element of the videogame is developing your dungeon, units and abilities. The player has a large empty mass in which they can dig tunnels, and upon these tunnels they can build a number of different rooms. Each room type has a different function, such as research the development of new items and unit types, or even allowing new units to be summoned. As a balancing effort, the cost-effectiveness of each room depends on the minions who are assigned to run it, which in turn increases the overall cost of running the room. A decisive balance has to be struck between cost and output depending on your ultimate goal, and that’s something which can only be learned through experimentation.
The combat comes into play when heroes enter your dungeon in an attempt to prevent your evil plans, and when you venture out into the big wide world. Fighter units will automatically engage with patrol routines when deployed, but the player can create squads of their own (earning buffs when mixing units types) and create their own routines or send out the troops as a scouting party. Unit control is handled in a real-time strategy (RTS) fashion, meaning combat is a strictly hands-off affair where careful planning has more impact than player ability. This becomes more apparent when venturing into the big wide world beyond your dungeon, when Impire takes on a form that resembles the critically acclaimed Warcraft III. Every unit (including your own demon lord) has a context sensitive radial menu and commanding minions to manoeuvre will also initiate a radial menu for each room or object found outside the dungeon.
Squads can be sent on raids, where some areas may be randomly generated and others related to the campaign, selected by choosing a location from the map. Pets can be applied to all created squads to add additional buffs, but also your demon lord can develop new abilities as you progress. Once reaching a point of significance in the campaign your demon lord will reveal his true form, at which point you can select to evolve into a sorcerer demon, commander or warrior, significantly altering the form your dungeon will take from that point on.
The campaign featured in Impire will take on the form of a series of missions playable in both single-player and co-operatively, and answering that unspoken question that all fans demand, the videogame will also feature a customisable skirmish mode. Multiplayer gameplay will also be included in the final build, with King of the Hill and Capture the Flag style missions mentioned, though these elements weren’t available to view during Electronic Theatre’s far too short a time with the videogame. According to Cyanide Montreal, multiplayer gameplay modes will feature two clans; monsters and creatures vs. demons and undead. Each clan features different traps, room design and units. The team are said to still figuring out competitive elements, such as sending units out with specific missions (destroy a specific room or attack a hero etc.) against the opportunity to manage assaults directly. Exactly where the final decision lands is an intriguing prospect most certainly, and one which could make or break the final quality of the multiplayer gameplay.
As devilishly addictive as Impire may sound, Paradox Interactive are fully aware that this is a product riding on the coattails of an oft forgotten ‘90s title, as and such the videogame will be a digital-only release and will feature an in-game store. The virtual shopping experience allows you to purchase downloadable content (DLC), which Cyanide Montreal insist is not a ‘pay to win’ option. The DLC – in addition to the traditional campaign expansions that may be offered after launch – will be in-game items such as magic cards that will give you boosts (earn additional 15% food per turn etc.) which can also be gained naturally during the course of the videogame. How much impact this will have on the gameplay remains to be seen, but surely there will be few who would fault Cyanide Montreal and Paradox Interactive for presenting the option when it effectively makes niche projects such as Impire a feasible reality.
An enticing blend of management simulation and RTS gameplay, Impire ticks all the right boxes for that cartoon evil charm and easily accessible yet deep strategy gameplay. That Impire reflects so heavily on Dungeon Keeper is clearly inescapable, but for any gamers that lost many hours to Bullfrog’s classic back in the late 90’s, that is certainly no bad thing. Set for release early in 2013, Impire is riding high on Electronic Theatre’s most wanted list right now.