Playing the disappointment that was Seven Kingdoms: Conquest got me nostalgic for Seven Kingdoms 2.
I’m not going to talk about the plot, because there is no plot. There are 12 (increased from seven) nationalities, existing alongside a half-dozen or so Fryhtans. No past or future given. The campaign is a set of randomly-generated scenarios, with the ability to carry over your king (and up to five selected “royal units”) to each successive scenario.
The heart of Seven Kingdoms 2 is in its great complexity. Simply put, no other RTS has the depth of SK2. This is somewhat hidden – after all, each nation only has three units, and one of these is the villager type, identical for all human nations. Doesn’t sound complicated, but SK2 is altogether a big numbers-game with highly intuitive systems.
For example, each unit potentially has four stats – Loyalty, Combat, Leadership, and Spying skill. Loyalty is easily explained – on a scale of 0-100, how loyal a subject is. A disloyal subject may turn traitor, while a disloyal town may spark a revolt. If a general has a low loyalty, there’s a chance he’ll defect to a strong opponent, taking some of his troops with him (depending on their loyalty). However, there are certain subtleties to loyalty that “feel right.” A town will be more loyal if a general with high Leadership is nearby – more so if that general is of the same nationality as the town. A soldier will likewise be more loyal if serving a particularly gifted general or one of the same nationality. Soldiers who are themselves particularly skilled will not be content to serve under just anyone – and often, the best soldiers will also be among the most unruly. Spies, of course, put on a face of one loyalty but often have another.
Combat, Leadership, and Spying all increase naturally over time and with use. Soldiers naturally “train” if placed in a fort with a general – with the speed of improvement dependent on the general’s skill. There is a limit to the use of training, though, and raising combat over 100 can only be done through battle. SK2 really emphasizes conservation – people are your greatest resource, and sending soldiers (much less talented generals) off to die accomplishes nothing. Avoid sending soldiers into battle entirely, though, and your troops may quickly be outclassed due to lack of experience. To make things more interesting, occasionally a soldier will show a spark of talent – perhaps his combat skill increases a bit faster, or his leadership skill increases simply by training. These soldiers make the best generals, and finding them is just another of the tiny delights of kingdom management.
The ability to train and increase skills makes foresight among the best virtues in Seven Kingdoms 2. Being able to predict your opponent’s next move is often the best way to counter it – whether it be recruiting and training a fort full of soldiers, or sending spies to a neutral village before it is conquered, thereby infiltrating their kingdom at the lowest level. Those spies, like ordinary citizens, may be trained to become soldiers. It’s entirely possible the same spy you sent to your rival’s city at the beginning of the game rises through the ranks to become his greatest general. No doubt the look on that rival’s face will be priceless when that general betrays him, taking along his finest troops.
One of the highlights of the espionage system is smuggling these spies into your opponent’s kingdom. A spy can be either covert or overt – a covert spy, if given a “cloak” of an enemy’s color, will simply appear to be doing “his own thing” – if you mount a distraction for your opponent, or you’re just sneaky enough, they won’t notice your spy at all until it’s too late. An overt spy is trickier – the opponent receives a message that the unit defected (generally, it’s better form to switch the spy to “neutral” first, and move it to a neutral city to allay suspicion). The opponent may execute any unit at any time, so if he suspects a unit is a spy he will often execute him outright. If that unit is not a spy, the opponent takes a dent to his Reputation score; otherwise, the infiltrating kingdom will take the same. Under certain conditions one of your units might naturally defect – low loyalty is a factor, and soldiers serving under a defeated general have a chance to defect as well.
War and espionage are all well and good, but no good RTS is complete without an economy to protect or raid. For humans, gold is best obtained indirectly. Citizens may be taxed occasionally, but this decreases loyalty (aside: in one of the most user-friendly features ever, there is an automatic way to impose taxes when loyalty hits a certain level). Better than taxation, though, is creating goods and selling them to your dull-witted consumer populace. Natural clay, iron, and copper deposits are randomly placed on the map, and occasionally appear as old ones run out. Building a mine and a factory allows goods to be created and sold at a marketplace – all three must be linked to towns to be effective. Mines and factories (along with other production-type buildings) require workers. These workers must be paid, but in return they tend to purchase more goods than their farming (slacking) counterparts. Farmers have their use – they produce food, and an unfed army is an unhappy army – but food is not often as large a problem as money.
If you can’t make your own goods, you can generally trade with someone who can. Once a trade treaty is established, you can import the fruit of your opponents’ labor and sell it to your people – not quite as efficiently as if you made them yourself, but such is the advantage of natural resources. Diplomacy is fairly simple, and is mostly a vehicle to postpone conflict with some kingdoms in favor of warring with others – as it should be!
Although I’ve pointed out some of its more prominent qualities, there are dozens of little details that I can’t cover in any review while keeping the word count manageable. I have yet to play a good multiplayer game of SK2, but it entertains me for weeks at a time with just single-player campaigns and skirmishes.
Seven Kingdoms 2 allows for a slightly slower, advancement-based RTS without a whole lot more time investment. The orientation toward preparation and building a strong foundation generally means you know whether you are losing or winning – it’s possible to turn the tide, but more difficult than in a 4X game. SK2 is ideal for a min/maxing player who enjoys finding a new layer of strategy with each new game – I am still learning bits and pieces of it after owning and playing the game over the course of years.