So what do you do if you're stuck in the middle ages and half the global population has just been wiped out by a plague? Same thing you do every night, Pinky - try to take over the world! As we're deep in 1C territory with Reign, that predictably involves a videogame that shows precious few signs of the restraint or common sense brought to you by more prominent publishers; but as with so many of their titles, you simply can't get an experience like this anywhere else. You can take that as a recommendation or dissuasion depending on your tolerance for frustration.
Whether or not Reign's DNA appeals to you is a whole different matter of course, and in all likelihood the incredibly complex mixture of real-time, pausable-turn-based strategy and nation-building may well leave the majority of players alienated. It's a title that manages to make Civ IV look like pre-school training on more than a couple of occasions, and underneath those semi-pretty graphics, it's a spreadsheet-fetishists wet dream. As an example, your initial choice of unpronounceable nations is well above twenty, each with their own unique bonuses. Playing through them all would take the better part of a lifetime.
Just another day at the office
After surveying that seemingly endless list, making your initial selection and hoping it'll work out, you then get to choose a historical starting point, which in turn ramps up difficulty and involvement. Choosing an earlier date presents a fairly barren terrain and the ability to build your economic and strategic formations from scratch, whilst latter dates drop you straight into maps with more populated cities and provinces to negotiate with or crush through industrial or military might. As a rule of thumb, the latter dates play out a little more akin to a traditional scenario mode elsewhere, and if you're in things for the long haul, you'll want to begin with a clean slate. That's also the best way to learn, and so should be the default starting point for most.
This is as exciting as combat gets
In practice then, Reign plays out a lot like the aforementioned Civ series. Commands are issued to groups of individual units to move around a huge world map and build, conquer, fight, talk or do whatever else you please, and these can be queued whilst the game is paused; lending a slow and tactical pace to proceedings. Combat is automated once you decide to enter battle and set your formation, and overall territorial goals are set early in the game to give you something to aim for. As things progress further, mini-objectives present themselves to keep things ticking over. They help to keep you focussed, as without them the game map can be a little too much of a sandbox for clear progression to be easily measured. Minutia is the key to the overall strategy cocktail, and consistent, small adjustments to almost every facet of your game are required to succeed.
Indeed, even with relatively humble beginnings and a clean start, the sheer wealth of tactical detail quickly becomes overwhelming to keep track of. Cities need to be managed, workers assigned, structures built, gold distributed, food and industry balanced, a population to keep happy and an army to maintain, position and supply. On top of that, negotiations between provinces need to be micro-managed to the level of sending ambassadors into foreign territory, and royal blood lines need to be plotted in order to make sure those currently in charge remain in line for succession. Every unit can be upgraded and developed with various different abilities, and there are even some light role-playing elements added to the mix just as a sweetener.
The choice is yours
Commendably, the interface does a grand job of keeping all your options within arms reach. Whilst most choices might be buried a click or two deeper than strictly necessary, it's a wonder that any of it actually makes sense after a couple of hours of play, and it's to the developer's credit that such a difficult hurdle has been successfully overcome.
REIGN: CONFLICT OF NATIONS VERDICT
Unfortunately though, they didn’t have quite enough stamina to finish the race in front of their competitors. Reign isn’t a bad game at all, and it’s surprisingly well-balanced given the tremendous scope and ambition on show; but that’s a breadth that comes at a price, as none of the various elements in your kingdom ever feels completely well realised, leading to a lack of personality and ultimately forgoing that familiar Civdrive to play long into the night. If you want to test your management skills in one of the deepest strategy games of the year however, delve right in.