The humble turn-based strategy (TBS) genre has taken a beating in the past few years. Originally designed with the limited processing capability of old computers in mind, TBS has fallen out of favour as more modern CPUs were developed capable of calculating and rendering hundreds, if not thousands, of elements simultaneously. For aficionados of the genre however, there are still titles available to sate the appetite, with Akella’s Disciples 3: Resurrection one of the latest mainstream releases.

Released at roughly the same time as Might & Magic Heroes VI, Resurrection is up against some tough competition. However, Russian developer Akella has a history of delivering solid, if somewhat inconsistent, titles of the Disciples series, so it should be reasonable to expect they’ve had plenty of time to hone their art, right?

Resurrection revolves around what can only be described as an incomprehensible plot. Perhaps you need to have played the original Disciples 3 to understand it, or maybe you just need to be Russian. I suppose it’s a bit like being dropped into Lord of the Rings starting with The Return of the King, and you’ve been smoking the same stuff that the hobbits have.

Anyway some things… happened… and now you lead undead creatures on a quest to… do something… or maybe find something… I’m not sure and I doubt anybody else knows either, developers included. The only thing more difficult than the plot is the game itself. From the very first level Akella lets you know this is not a TBS for the faint of heart.

Clearly aimed at veterans of the TBS genre, Resurrection is a punishing game that piles on the challenges from the very beginning. While most games, regardless of genre, generally begin quite easily and with short levels, Akella throws players in the deep end with a learning curve more like a learning mountain and a starting level that can easily take many, many hours to complete. Those with limited play time, due to heavy work or study loads – or god forbid, a social life – are likely to find just the first level takes days to complete.

On anything other than easy difficulty, players will need to carefully balance their use of limited resources such as runes and potions, while being beset by relentless enemies. This is not a casual game, and only dedicated players will find any joy in it. Others will only be frustrated.

Resurrection’s variety is a strong point however, and there’s plenty of “stuff” to play with. A wide selection of units allows players to customise their army, while a plethora of spells, runes (one-cast only spells), potions and items create plenty of decision-making and choices. Unlike many modern games, there are no “best” units or items, meaning players will have to make trade-offs and customise their army and equipment for each situation. Decisions like these are the meat and bones of any strategy game, and Resurrection provides them in spades.

Unfortunately it would seem that experience in the original Disciples 3 is a prerequisite for grasping the game mechanics, as neither the in-game tutorials nor instructions provide much more than a basic explanation of the convoluted and inconsistent user interface. How do I upgrade units? How useful is a potion of +20 initiative? For most players, random clicking and a lot of trial and error is going to be the only way to find out as the gameplay itself is quite unintuitive.

Resurrection has a gritty and dirty feel to it which is very well suited to the undead subject matter. Overwhelmingly brown, grey and dark aqua, the graphics have a repressed and stagnant feel. Some polygon models are overly simple and could do with improvements, but overall Akella have done a perfectly adequate job. The design of many undead units is quite clever and ghastly, providing a salient reminder that playing with necromancy in real life isn’t cool, kids.

According to Akella, voice-acting lessons aren’t so cool either. Terribly uninspired and inappropriate, the voice-acting makes you shiver more than the ghouls do. The spoken introduction is read by a gentleman with a lovely deep and serious voice – when he’s facing the microphone anyway. The first half-dozen words of every second sentence are incomprehensibly quiet and mumbled, and he is sadly without a doubt the best voice talent the game has.

While Resurrection has received its fair share of criticism for a lack of polish, it’s good to see Akella periodically releasing patches to clean up bugs and other issues that have plagued a not insignificant number of players. Sadly, I doubt we can expect a patch to fix the broken plot, but something to redress the difficulty would be awfully nice. As it stands this game is for veterans only.

With the experience Akella has in developing the Disciples series, it’s disappointing that it seems they’ve not learnt many lessons. There are clearly some very creative people at work with Akella, but so many simple practicalities have been missed or overlooked. Combined with unintuitive gameplay, Resurrection’s learning curve is likely to put off the majority of newcomers.

For hardcore TBS junkies, micromanagers, and fans of the series, Resurrection fits the bill of an unforgiving game that will stretch players to their limits while providing plenty of variety. For anybody else, however, this is a title best left undisturbed in the grave.

Score: 5/10 – Average

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