Immortal Realms: Vampire Wars, the new game from Palindrome Interactive and Kalypso Media Group, hasn’t lit the world aflame since its somewhat muted reveal. It might not be the best strategy to introduce a brand new intellectual property with complex mechanics and deep, intersecting gameplay systems via a minute-long animated cinematic. It’s a shame too, because if more had seen something that closely resembled the very impressive gameplay presentation for Immortal Realms I saw at E3, there are many people who would be very interested in playing this game. There is something special here, I think.
To give an admittedly reductive elevator pitch: it’s basically Heroes of Might and Magic with a dark fantasy setting and added card game mechanics. And there’s nothing wrong with that: Heroes is a phenomenal template for turn-based strategy, and it’s one of the greatest (and most under-appreciated) franchises in the history of computer games.
One thing that Immortal Realms does have to its benefit is a unique visual identity. I can understand the temptation to focus on the artwork: the carefully illustrated, strange, sensual Warcraft-ian character designs set against deep blacks and blood-red neon hues. But the gameplay of Immortal Realms is what makes it interesting.
As players spread one of three clan’s vampiric tendrils across a misty realm called Nemire, much of Immortal Realms is about building an empire to create new units, fortifications, and settlements. Where it differs greatly from the Heroes formula is in its card game mechanics. They’re not simple to entirely wrap one’s head around during a brief demo, but during both combat and exploration separate decks allowed players to choose different perks. One card buffed the population of a settlement, another restored all military units to full health, and so on. It’s not a massive innovation, but it adds another layer of mechanics to tinker with.
Combat is where the Heroes influence really rears its head. Units are organized on a tactical grid with square cells drawn across the map. Combat is turn-based, as ranged units fire from afar and infantry strike out one square in each cardinal direction. Again, the card system plays a role here. Each general has their own deck of cards (which you lose access to if they die, even if your other units carry on) with their own skill set.
But not every card exclusively benefits: one card would do damage to nearby opponents, but also to your general. If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it, and besides the card-based skill system, the combat was Heroes. Perhaps the final game will reveal a level of depth I didn’t grasp during our short demo session, but if it’s Heroes with vampires and trading cards, that’s alright by me.
I can understand why Immortal Realms has flown under the radar. It’s not particularly flashy. It’s a modest game with modest ambitions. While it has a coherent and attractive visual identity and great artwork, it’s not a hyper-real-open-world-RPG-shooter-battle-royale-cinematic-whatever. And that’s fine. It’s a strategy game with some fun trading cards. Not everything has to be a huge production. There’s something admirable about the humble craft of a game like Immortal Realms. It reminds me of the early-2000s PC glory days, when novel-sized print manuals for games rich with layers and layers of deep mechanics ruled over Hollywood spectacle. And plus, it’s coming to Nintendo Switch, so I can play it on the toilet.
Expect Immortal Realms: Vampire Wars to arrive on PC this fall, and then on Xbox One, PS4, and Nintendo Switch six months later in 2020.