Citadels, developed by bitComposer, is a real-time strategy (RTS) game that is basically a medieval Command & Conquer. Available on PC, Citadels explores a time after King Arthur and his legendary knights of Camelot have been defeated. The evil Lord Mordred has destroyed the kingdom of Camelot and the gamer will have an opportunity to either wreak havoc as Invaders or create and fortify strongholds as the remaining loyalists of King Arthur.
Like a living god, RTS gamers play puppet-master to tiny digital people in simulated lands. With so many little people running about and the ease of replacing them, it becomes easy to think of gaming townspeople as faceless minions. Citadel’s graphics may make one stop to ponder however, would Ralf Swindhelm’s wife cry if he died in senseless battle. Yes, that is an actual villager’s name in Citadels. EVERY townsperson has a name in Citadels which is visible at the bottom of the screen along with an enlarged picture when one of them is clicked on. Swordsmen and archers and cavalry officers all have names too. When the villagers are bored, they yawn and stretch, when they run you can see their tiny little legs pumping. Far from looking like ants, from above, the villagers in Citadels actually look like small people.
The fortress structures of Citadels also have a high realism factor. Details of each of the game’s buildings like wooden support beams on fortress walls and tiny arched entrances on fortified towers stand out. Unfortunately, the landscapes and support structures such as mining pits and lumberman lodges of Citadels tend to look generic despite the developers attention to detail. Landscapes do not vary much from campaign to campaign and contain the standard trees, rivers, dirt paths and hills typical of other games in Citadels’ genre.
Like other RTS games, it may take a while to really get going on a campaign. Towns need to be built, resources gathered, protective fortifications erected and a sizable army amassed. Citadels offers two campaign routes for it’s main storyline. Those that choose to play as Round Table knights will complete a series of missions that are more defensive in nature while Invaders serving Lord Mordred must complete offensively structured campaigns. Besides the main campaign mode, gamers can also choose from one of three Skirmish modes. Skirmish modes are intended as a quick play option but end up being redundant because of their similarity to main campaign missions. The Gold Rush skirmish mode requires the player to collect as much gold as possible while defending against waves of invaders for as long as possible. The Castle Defense mode requires gamers to build a sizable fortress and defend it and the Duel mode pits the gamer against an AI opponent. The Gold Rush and Castle Defense modes are basically the same and none of the three modes offers much by way of entertainment.
Gameplay in Citadels is often boring due to a lack of options. Citadels gives gamers limited choices in terms of military units, upgrade capabilities, side missions and building options. Barracks, a siege workshop, an archery range and a cavalry stable are the four main buildings available for military unit production. Each building can only be upgraded a few times with each upgrade unlocking one to two new options. New options generally consist of stronger versions of previously available military units such as a siege catapult upgraded from a light catapult. Resource production buildings look nicer and can accommodate more workers when upgraded but that’s it. Fortification structures like towers and walls can also be upgraded but again unlock mainly strength and a higher pretty factor. A few campaigns into Citadels and the gamer will have seen all there is to see. Side missions, meant to buffer the slow building and resource collection process do little to actually help the gamer. Pay-offs like gold or extra military units (if any) are low and usually don’t cover the cost of replacing the soldiers lost in completing the side mission.
Citadels’ gameplay also suffers from random frustrating glitches especially where it’s townspeople and military units are concerned. Take care not to clutter the area surrounding the town hall with buildings as peasants will routinely deliver resources there and tend to get stuck on buildings in their path instead of running around them. Once a villager becomes stuck, they cannot be moved or re-assigned. Archers and swordsmen can be assigned to the pathways atop fortress walls which is helpful in fending off invaders and reducing the amount of time spent repairing fortifications. Unfortunately, they also tend to get stuck there and many times could not be removed or re-assigned if needed in another area. Siege towers meant to help soldiers broach high castle walls are unwieldy, expensive and useless as anything other than cannon fodder as they tend to roll around aimlessly when assigned to an enemy wall and take too long to deploy. Basic cavalry units behave like kamikaze crazies easily sidetracked by enemy units on their way to an assigned area despite being set to defensive mode.
While Citadels does provide hours of gameplay, the quality of that gameplay is low. Similar RTS games offer live-action cutscenes and a better developed storyline that make the hours of delegating tasks to miniature minions worthwhile. It’s hard to understand the $39.99 price tag of this game given it’s lack of variety and the generic contents of the game. The basic settings and content could be forgiven if a multiplayer option had been incorporated into Citadels as a mode of play. Many recent developers have eschewed complicated plotlines and gameplay for more basic counterparts in order to make multiplayer a smooth and tantalizing option. Without such an option, Citadels has no excuse for charging forty bucks for a run of the mill RTS game with no special or defining features. Re-play value is minimal as campaigns tend to blend together leaving the gamer feeling, after a while, like they are playing the same missions over and over. With no special unlocks available for completing missions, all the building and collecting resources begins, fairly quickly, to feel pointless.
Citadels has the foundations for a great RTS game but sadly fails to live up to it’s potential and high price tag. The game’s generic contents would be better suited to a multiplayer mode that it does not have and it’s graphics, while highly detailed, do not compensate for gameplay glitches or lack of interesting content. What starts out as fun and challenging will quickly become boring and monotonous which is sad given the potential of the legendary story upon which this game is based.