After returning to the PC during the dark days of Covid lockdown, I’ve been enjoying a heartfelt reunion with the strategy genre. From days lost in blocky base builders, to weeks retraining lapsed muscles for the satisfying ‘click and drag’ of RTS combat, I discovered that presiding over a top-down kingdom instantly let me escape reality. Yet as I slowly de-fogged a slew of gargantuan maps , one thought wouldn’t leave my mind: what if there was a game that combined the giddy highs of both my beloved strategy subgenres? It turns out such an alluring elixir does exist – Lavapotion’s early access RPG, Songs Of Conquest.
As I level up my chosen hulking hero and send them stomping around a colorful map, the constant clash of swords and constructing of keeps clicks into a cozy cadence. Feeling like a giddying blend of Age of Empires IV and Fire Emblem, Songs Of Conquest scratches the same all-consuming itch as last year’s phenomenal Loop Hero (which we loved despite its grind). Yet as any old-school PC gamer will attest, none of these games are the real inspiration behind Lavapotion’s latest. Songs of Conquest is instead an earnest love letter to fantasy classic, Heroes of Might and Magic.
Taking its cues from the seminal ‘90s strategy series, this tale of swords and sorcery sees you take the role of one of four mythical heroes. Split across multiple campaigns – or multiplayer battles, if you’re brave enough – the core loop finds you roaming across various danger-laden and treasure-littered maps. Unlike say, Age Of Empires, everything here is turn-based. With each turn, you have a finite amount of movement points to use in order to explore your mysterious surroundings. Do you go left and check out the ancient relic? Or dare to press forward towards the snarling rabble of pikemen?
Thanks to these limitations, each map feels filled to the brim with adventuring choices, each path you wander de-fogging another sliver of your sprawling surroundings. It’s a setup that demands – and rewards – exploration. And thanks to the almost overwhelming amount of foes taunting you, it’s one that dares players to battle outside of their means.
Ode to moy-der
If you hope to stand any chance of being immortalized in songs of your own, you’ll need to raise an army worthy of a bard’s ode. With every turn, you gather various resources, stocking up on items and equipment that allow you to construct better buildings – strengthening your units in turn.
Or, you can head down to your local pub. Getting boozy in the tavern rewards you with a merry band of rosy-cheeked bards, though stronger bannerman will require more time investment – whether that’s via gathered resources that upgrade existing units, or defeating ragtag militia to reclaim territory.
But let’s talk about the fun bit – those beautifully blocky battles. Combat in Songs of Conquest takes place on a grid, and is just as unforgiving as Might and Magic fans will remember. Playing out like a blend of Fire Emblem and The Banner Saga, attacks are based on your distance from your opponents, and your units’ respective range. With equippable armor boosting their stats and spells helping to buff your band further – or rain fireballs upon your foes – there’s a fair amount of depth to these charming skirmishes.
While combat is undeniably the game’s centerpiece, it's the aforementioned base building that keep Songs of Conquest feeling fresh. This is an RPG that you can tailor to your needs, allowing you to flit between battles and resource gathering as you see fit. Sure, you could venture forth to gather more stone and defeat a mission objective, but if you collect just three more Glimmerweave, you can finally upgrade your settlement. It’s this seamless meandering between compelling systems that constantly sees ‘just one more turn’ giving way to an entirely lost evening.
Where often the kingdom-building in combat-heavy strategy games can feel like an afterthought, there is just enough resource management involved in Songs of Conquest to keep it feeling like less a tacked-on mechanic, and more a welcome distraction from the bloodshed.
As someone who missed out on Heroes of Might and Magic entirely, it all feels utterly entrancing. Songs of Conquest’s secret sauce? That it’s more like a board game than its better-known peers. Yet, sporting a head-turning visual style resembling Square Enix’s ‘HD-2D’ graphics engine, it all looks slicker than an oil rig.
While the dialogue and story are merely serviceable, it’s the outstanding quality of animations, sound design and rousing orchestral soundtrack that keep Songs Of Conquest on the right side of endearing.
Still, this is an early access game - and it’s not without its issues. As you’d expect from a mesh of multiple intricate systems, there’s a fair amount to wrap your head around here. The problem? Many of Songs Of Conquest’s essentials are barely explained. Some systems are obtuse and almost entirely glossed over. It wasn’t until hours in that I gleaned vital information, like which buildings let you actually buy more troops. Turns out, having troops is pretty vital for a decent conquest (who knew??).
There’s also a fair amount of repeated content. After completing each campaign mission, you are rewarded with a gorgeously drawn artwork celebrating your fearless leader – with an accompanying ode, to immortalize your heroic deeds, of course. So far, however, these titular Songs are recycled, with disappointingly similar artwork shown after most missions. Still, this isn’t the finished release, so here’s hoping Lavapotion treats us to some more varied, ego-stroking splash screens.
Still, it’s hard to complain too much when this first run at the game gets so much right. This is an RPG that, like its bases, has been carefully constructed – and it’s hard to not fall for its charms. If you yearn for a return to HOMM, or simply want to enjoy an unusual spin on the strategy genre, Songs of Conquest is exactly the ballad the bard ordered.