Autumn Dynasty for iPad Review

Some game genres are hard to adapt for touch devices, but Autumn Dynasty is a powerful argument for playing real-time strategy games on a tablet. The simple interface and short list of units are the foundation of an accessible and challenging game.

Autumn Dynasty is set in a fictional Asian empire. The peasants are revolting, a hotheaded general is leading an army to put them down, and a young scholar is caught in the middle. As is traditional in Asian medieval warfare buddy movies, the mismatched General Li and Scholar Hsu come to rely on each other as they pursue the rebels and puzzle over a mysterious historian who has joined their army.

Story figures heavily in the campaign mode, which devotes almost as many map locations to dialogue as it does to battlefields. There are no surprises in the plot, but Autumn Dynasty does an excellent job of weaving its story and its missions together. Hsu and Li’s adventures add spice to the standard RTS missions of building bases, sneaking through enemy territory, and holding off overwhelming forces.

Pro-Skub clashes with Anti-Skub.

The units are also standard for a medieval strategy game. You get swordsmen, archers, pikemen, horsemen, and catapults, all of which counter each other with speed, strength, or endurance.

Each unit also has two special abilities. Pikemen can lie in ambush or avoid damage with heavy shields, while archers can slow other units down with storms of arrows. Other abilities are more spectacular, such as the horsemen’s ability to set fires in nearby forest terrain and burn out the units within.

Controlling units is a joy. Tap a unit to get its attention, then draw a line to where you want it to go. Draw circles around units to control them all at once. When a unit is selected, special abilities appear on buttons at the bottom of the screen, along with controls for constructing support buildings. The control scheme is simple, flexible, and fast.

Autumn Dynasty also simplifies many traditional elements of RTS games. Support buildings are constructed on points scattered across the map, which reduces the hassle of placement and forces you to expand quickly. Most units can find their own paths and automatically attack nearby units. This is usually convenient, but can be a problem when you’re sneaking past an enemy and start a battle you don’t want.

The relatively small scale can also pose a problem in multiplayer games. Autumn Dynasty has ten skirmish maps that can be played against the computer or other players (via Bluetooth and Game Center). Each map poses an interesting challenge, but your starting forces are often close enough to the enemy that a quick rush can win the battle.

Follow the arrow.

If you can avoid sudden death-by-rushing, however, multiplayer games are a lot of fun. The game is fast and responsive, and you can taunt your opponent over voice chat. You have flexibility in the units you can build and the special abilities you can research, but you have to pay attention to both the terrain and your opponent’s forces when you make your choices.

Autumn Dynasty looks good and plays well, but the initial release has a few problems. Achievements and leaderboards are not working yet, and players have reported some odd behavior in the computer opponents. In its forums, developer Bulkypix said that it had inadvertently published a older pre-release build of the game, and that the problems would be corrected on the first update.

Even with the bugs, Autumn Dynasty is almost a must-play for RTS fans. A few fixes and improvements may well put the game over the top.

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