First Impressions - Warsim: The Realm of Aslona
If you became the leader of one of the world’s most dominant countries tomorrow, what would you do? Would you make wearing masks mandatory, tell my editor to fire me for starting half of my reviews with a question opener, or would you simply opt to force everyone to wear a hat? It’s a question that many have pondered over the years, and something that’s inspired more than a few games, the latest of which is the Early Access title Warsim: The Realm of Aslona.
Like in almost every other kingdom-sim game, the premise for Warsim is simple. The gods that be have determined that you’ll be a better leader of a terrority than the land’s current king. Without much of a backstory, you’re anointed king or queen of the kingdom, go through a quick tutorial and are then given complete control of your procedurally generated province’s government until you’re overthrown or rule for a set number of turns.
Just like in every other try-not-to-turn-into-an-evil-overlord game, then, you’re also given the usual list of things that need doing if you want to succeed with that task. You’ll need to keep your people happy, appoint the right people to your court, build buildings, raise armies, enact laws and invade countries. You can’t make yourself too evil, your laws need to remain somewhat within the confines of reality and you can’t just spam build giant armies of slaves if you want to actually get anywhere.
Although none of this is uncharted territory, what makes Warsim interesting is that everything in the game is rendered in ASCII. From the faces of the procedurally-generated races to your throne room to the lands over which you rule, everything can be typed on a normal keyboard. It’s a weirdly enjoyable design choice that harkens back to the early days of indie gaming. There’s enough variety in the game’s faces and worlds to make things still seem fresh after hours of play, but everything looks simplistic enough that you’ll never focus on them instead of paying attention to whichever one of the game’s strategy elements needs your attention.
It’s worth noting, too, that all of Warsim: The Realm of Aslona’s aforementioned list-managing gameplay takes place within ASCII as well. In order to govern your people, enact new laws, and so on, you’re limited to pressing a number on your keypad. You can’t use your mouse at all, and when it comes time to go to war, you’re limited to seeing a Mount and Blade-esque kill list instead of actually commanding your army in any significant way. You can see visual representations of your kingdom as you explore it and visit ASCII versions of cities, but it’s all done in the top of your screen with a large set of text prompts underneath it.
Like with the game’s visuals, however, this never really detracts from the overall experience. At first it’s strange to not be able to command your troops to any significant degree or to not be able to actually explore a three-dimensional world, but as you play the game more you’ll likely come to enjoy the simplicity of it all. You don’t need to memorise any key combinations or manage your inventory with an annoying grid, but instead you’re simply able to enjoy the game visuals without ever thinking too much about them.
This all works well, too, because of the game’s excellent and humorous writing. Although most of what you do in Warsim: The Realm of Aslona is very serious business, everything is presented with a degree of bluntness that makes it comedy gold. Things like forcing your entire population to become slaves or enacting a walking tax aren’t exactly funny when you think about them, but when the prompt on the screen says just that, it’s hilarious to say the least. The lines of your subordinates, too, are often presented with the same degree of point-blankness and have a quality of writing that’s far better than certain AAA games.
All of this is made better by the degree of customisation that you have when setting up your game. Although you can always opt to use the game’s pre-defined and somewhat boring starting conditions, without any modding, you can create a game that’s a recreation of your favourite fantasy world, whatever that may be. There are presets already created for Skyrim and Mount and Blade’s world’s, but it’s easy to create something that’s straight from more strictly licensed properties. When combined with the ability to name yourself, your kingdom, your pronouns, it’s easy to create a world that’s perfectly suited to whatever level of silliness you have on a current day.
Taken as a whole, then, Warsim: The Realm of Aslona is a game well worth a purchase for anyone who likes to run empires on their days off. For a game that’s being made by a lone developer and one that costs less than a Happy Meal, it frequently sports a level of quality that exceeds whatever expectations you may have from it. The writing is superb, the graphics are a fond callback to the golden age of indie gaming and the actual gameplay is just as enjoyable as more financed empire simulators.
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