Have you ever played one of those games that you can tell was good, innovative, and important, and yet just wasn’t the game for you? That is my immediate reaction to Immortal Realms: Vampire Wars. I love this game, and yet, I probably won’t be playing it very much.
Why? Well, let’s go over what the whole deal with Vampire Wars is. It is essentially a fusion of a Total War-style strategy game, a Fire Emblem style strategy game, a deck-building card game, and… well… vampires, and that’s really much more compelling than you might first believe.
For the most part, the major strategic map will be something fans are familiar with. You’ll move armies around from territory to territory, spending action points, conquering towns, and engaging enemy armies. However, there is one big twist here: blood.
Blood makes everything run in Vampire Wars and blood comes from those delicious humans. You can’t just run around destroying everything willy nilly. Instead, you have to conquer towns and turn the humans there into your cattle in order to keep your undead army running. Of course, to recruit more people into your undead army, you have to bite a human, thinning the herd.
This gives the whole game a Netflix’s Castlevania feel. It’s essentially a vampire politics simulator, and vampire politics are significantly different from human politics. It’s not just another strategy game with a dark gothic coat of paint. It actually feels different. The act of conquering towns, recruiting vampire lords, managing blood, and so forth, makes you feel like you are a lord of the undead, siccing monsters, and minions on your enemies.
The other major resource in the game are cards, and while cards aren’t exactly vampire in flavor they provide a neat little bit of ludonarrative. Essentially, you have a hand of cards that fills as you do things. Some vampire lords just get an economy of cards. Some get cards as they go out conquering. The thing is, cards always allow you to break the rules of the game somehow. Want to move right now? Use a card. Want to recruit a vampire without biting anyone? Card. Really need to increase your army’s fortifications this turn? Cards are the way to go.
However, you won’t always have the card you want. Instead, you’ll have a random hand of cards, which means your playstyle will be largely dictated by the hand you draw. This is actually one of Vampire Wars’ greatest innovations because your hand will very subtly dictate the way you play. Cards that increase mobility, for example, will make you focus on exploring, while cards that bolster your forces will make you bunker down and create a huge force that slowly moves across the map destroying everything it comes in contact with. It goes a long way toward making every encounter feel just different enough to push the repetition away.
Then there is combat. As is the case with most games like this, you have a choice. You can either let combat auto-resolve or you can get down into the nitty-gritty and take on combat yourself. Actually fighting turns the whole game into a grid-based strategy. I compared it to Fire Emblem earlier but Advance Wars is more the actual speed. Each of your units has a bunch of troops in it and attacking an enemy first allows them to attack, and then allows the enemy to counter-attack. Thinned troops do less damage than full armies so you actually want to avoid these counter attacks as much as possible, and that usually comes down to matching up unit types, taking advantage of the sometimes stupid A.I., and of course, more cards. Winning in combat lets troops get stronger, but of course that only makes it hit harder when they inevitably die in another combat down the line.
I fundamentally like the combat in Vampire Wars but it suffers from the same problem that every game with an auto-resolve system has. It takes too much time. There is a ton of combat in the game and fighting every single one out takes forever. Enough hours of the best combat system will eventually get repetitive. That’s why the auto-resolve function is there, but that just leaves your precious units to die to random chance, which frankly doesn’t feel good. This is one of the design aspects that I concede probably works fine for bigger fans of the 4X genre but doesn’t work for me as a fan of Fire Emblem and other lighter strategy games.
I also want to note again, that the blood balance is really compelling here. Blood isn’t just needed to, you know, do stuff, it’s also needed as upkeep for your army. The army grows bigger, and you need more blood. However, using cards also takes blood. So you are always playing a balancing game between making units, playing cards, and storing blood. It’s just a nice feeling resource game.
All of this is the basics of gameplay, but what do you do with it? There is a “kingdom” mode which tasks you with building the empire of three different vampire commanders but, unfortunately, these commanders don’t really feel all that different. That’s actually the biggest problem I had with Vampire Wars. There are all these choices, from Lord class to equipment to legacy bonuses and so on, but a lot of these choices don’t really feel all that important. Sometimes, as long as I had enough units, I felt like I could just win with overwhelming force.
I also have to take away some points for the way the campaign is laid out. While you can choose from three different vampire houses you have to play through them one at a time to unlock them all. So if you have no real interest in playing as Dracul, too bad. This would make sense if each campaign was weaving a greater story, but from what I played they don’t actually have a whole lot to do with each other.
The campaign takes about 20 hours to complete and then…. That’s it. The game’s replay value is almost completely invested in the standard battle mode, where you choose who you play as, what map you play on, so on so forth. I can tell that I was supposed to really get into this mode, setting up my favorite fantasy vampire skirmishes but… I just didn’t want to. I can tell that someone who really enjoys 4X games or grand strategy games might love it, but I really wanted more plot. Vampires always seemed intrinsically tied to story and drama, and I got very little back from bouncing my little fangy action figures off of each other in fantasy battles. I played some of the campaign and then just abandoned Vampire Wars for bloodier pastures.
So that’s where I’m left. Is Vampire Wars for you? Maybe. If you are looking for a new strategy game to sink a bunch of hours into and really like the vampire aesthetic, then you can probably enjoy this.
However, if you are looking for a game that really hooks you and keeps you hooked, then Vampire Wars is more potential than the payoff. Maybe with some DLC and a few quality of life improvements, this can compete with other Total War-style games. But for now, it’s more of a dark gothic curiosity than a towering undead behemoth.