songs of Conquest is the best strategy game of the year, even in early access

(Image credit: Lavapotion)

Having returned to the PC during the dark days of Covid’s closure, I am enjoying a spiritual reunion with the strategy genre. After weeks of retraining my waning muscles for the “click and drag” pleasures of RTS combat, from days of immersing myself in blocky base builders, I discovered that ruling a top-down kingdom offered an instant escape from reality. But as I slowly unraveled the massive array of maps, a thought kept nagging at me. What if there was a game that combined the giddy exuberance of both of my beloved strategy subgenres, Lavapotion’s early access RPG Songs Of Conquest?

With an exciting blend of Age of Empires IV and Fire Emblem, Songs Of Conquest” is an all-consuming itch to scratch, much like the phenomenal “Loop Hero” (which we love, despite its difficulty) released last year. But as any old-school PC gamer will attest, the real inspiration for Lavapotion’s latest is not in these games; Songs of Conquest is sincere. It is a love letter to the classic fantasy Heroes of Might and Magic.

(Image credit: Lavapotion)

Inspired by the iconic strategy series of the 90s, this sword and sorcery tale puts you in control of one of four mythical heroes. Unlike Age Of Empires and others, everything in this title is turn-based: you can play through multiple campaigns and, if you are brave enough, multiplayer matches, but the core loop has you roaming various maps full of dangers and littered with treasure. Each turn has a limited number of movement points that can be used to explore the mysterious environment. Do you want to go left and check out an ancient relic? Or do you dare to advance toward the snarling hordes of spearmen?

As a result, every map is filled with adventure options, and each place you wander off to is another foggy patch of the surrounding landscape. This makes the exploration both challenging and rewarding. It can also put you at the mercy of an overwhelming number of enemies, forcing you to fight battles out of your stature.

Ode to moy-der

In this game, the goal is to be “composed in the song” and to develop an army worthy of a bard’s poem. Each turn, you can collect various resources, construct better buildings, and strengthen your units.

You can also visit neighborhood taverns. Drinking at the tavern will get you some rosy-cheeked, jolly bards. Still, as you become a stronger bannerman, you will have to spend more time upgrading your existing units with the resources you collect, defeating rag-tag militias to reclaim your territory.

But let’s talk more fun. I’m talking about the beautifully blocked combat in Songs of Conquest, which takes place on a grid and is as relentless as “Might and Magic” fans remember it, a mix of “Fire Emblem” and “The Banner Saga.” Attacks are based on distance from the opponent and the respective range of the unit. There is considerable depth to the engaging skirmishes, with equipable armor to boost stats, spells to enhance the band further, and fireballs to rain down on the enemy.

(Image credit: Lavapotion)

While combat is undoubtedly the heart of the game, it is the aforementioned base-building that makes Songs of Conquest so fresh and enjoyable. This is an RPG of your choice, allowing you to move freely between combat and resource gathering. You can collect stones and take on missions, but if you collect three more glimmer weaves, you can finally upgrade your settlement. This seamless back-and-forth between these fascinating systems constantly transitions into a night where “one more turn” is completely lost.

While kingdom building often feels like an afterthought in combat-heavy strategy games, Songs of Conquest’s ample resource management makes it feel more like a welcome, bloody distraction than an add-on mechanic.

Above board

(Image credit: Lavapotion)

It all seems utterly fascinating as someone who completely missed out on Heroes of Might and Magic. The secret weapon in Songs of Conquest? It’s that it’s more like a board game than its well-known cousins. But it looks smoother than an oil rig, thanks to an eye-popping visual style that resembles Square Enix’s “HD-2D” graphics engine.

While the dialogue and storyline are adequate, the appeal of Songs Of Conquest lies in the superior quality of the animation, sound design, and rousing orchestral soundtrack.

Nevertheless, this is an early access game, and it is not without its problems. The mix of multiple complex systems can be quite difficult to understand. The problem is that many of the essential aspects of Songs Of Conquest are barely explained. Several systems are arcane and largely unexplained. Important information, such as which buildings could be used to increase troops, was unknown until many hours later. It turns out that troop availability is quite important for a decent conquest (who knew?).

(Image credit: Lavapotion)

There is also a wealth of recurring content. Each campaign mission completed is accompanied by gorgeous artwork honoring your brave leader and, of course, an ode to immortalize your heroic deeds. But so far, the “song” of the title has been used, and, unfortunately, similar artwork appears after most of the missions. Nevertheless, this is not the finished product, and we hope that Lavapotion will provide more variety and egotistical splash screens.

Nevertheless, if this game plays so well the first time around there is little to complain about. The base of this RPG is so carefully constructed that it’s impossible not to fall for its charms. If you’re looking for a return to the HOMM or simply want to enjoy a different take on the strategy genre, Songs of Conquest is truly a ballad ordered by the bard.

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