Art of Conquest, or AoC, is a mobile game developed by Lilith Games, a Shanghai, China company that has developed only mobile games so far. AoC has elements of Strategy, RPG, and MMO all mixed together. The RPG elements are limited to choosing a starting nation and one of three starting heroes. You and everyone else can eventually unlock all the heroes, so that choice is more initial preference than anything. Each Kingdom has a small backstory, but it has zero impact in-game other than separating players into factions. The game also advertises being able to choose from different races, currently only three, but everyone is forced to start as human. Dwarf and Lich can be chosen later after they have been unlocked, but what race you play as again has zero impact or regard for the Kingdoms/Factions.
Before I go any further, I need to address that other than placing your units before battle, using hero abilities is the limit to the amount of control you have in any battle. Once the battle starts, units go after the closest enemy unit and fight until one is the victor. That’s not to sell short the impact of hero abilities on a battle, but other than that, there is zero real-time input from the player. Since that cat is out of the bag, back to it.
The impact the races has on gameplay is, as expected, huge. Each race has their own specific units and upgrades that must be researched, and each unit has their own strengths and weaknesses. Since the game limits how big your standing army is, your army composition is extremely important. Think of everything as a triangle of counters, if you stray too far into one area, your army is going to be squashed if you fight against the counter. Great example is Archers can murder Pikeman from a distance, Calvary will trample the Archers, and Pikeman will stop the Calvary in their tracks. Most units follow this simple counter thought process and each race can produce the units needed to counter basic units. This is where specialized units shine. Humans for example can research Priestesses that heal your units and deal damage from afar. The upgraded version, named Abbesses, also deal extra damage to undead units. Damage to undead units will put a large strain on Lich armies, but of course have no impact on Dwarf armies. Keeping all this in mind leads into how you fight your battles against NPC’s. At the start of each battle you align your troops across a set amount of space on the battleground and can only use 2 groups of troops for every hero you deploy. Your heroes can only be deployed if they have stamina to fight, which is recovered automatically over time. From there, troop deployment is like a jigsaw, trying to make all the pieces fit with the space you are given.
Units, especially specialized ones, take a large toll on your Kingdom’s resources. A majority of your resources will come from buildings in your Kingdom that I’ll talk about later, but the rarer ones must be harvested. These rare resources typically come from nodes scattered across the map that you can harvest once every 12 hours. Harvesting is instant, but transporting the resources to your Kingdom is not. The resources get bundled up into a wagon and are sent on their way with a travel time you can see, but your enemies can see it too. Not only do they see the time left, they see the exact path the wagon will take to your Kingdom. If they choose to intercept the wagon, they will raid it and take some of the resources, but not all of them. Wagons can only be raided once, so it’s up to you whether you defend every single one, but if someone raids one that you’re protecting then the two of you will battle.
Battling other players is the end goal of the game, all to prove your Kingdom is the superior force in the land. Direct PvP battles amounts to setting up your forces the same way you would against NPC’s, but a fog of war keeps you from seeing their troops. The fog forces a guessing game of what units to deploy and where. If you deploy all Cavalry and the enemy has all Pikeman, you’re going to lose. You also have only a short amount of time to array your forces before the battle automatically begins, which is why the fog makes sense. If there was no fog, you and the enemy would constantly switch units to counter each other until time ran out. The other type of PvP you can engage in are sieges. Your Kingdom isn’t impenetrable and neither is the enemies’. That doesn’t make the fight easy though, as you are forced to combat the garrison and break down the walls of the Kingdom to succeed. To make matters worse is that every Kingdom is a part of a great city that a guild of up to 40 players controls, so if you start a fight, be ready for retribution. The spoils of war make it worth the risk, because raids will allow you to steal any stockpiled resources and if there is a full-scale war against that city, then your guild can take over and inhabit the city. Cities towards the middle of the map, and closest to all the faction fighting, are a lucrative reward and have large bonuses to your resource production rates.
That brings me to talking about your all-important Kingdom. Simply put, they serve as a hub for you and grant you an overview of every cog in your respective wheel. You can’t customize it, but it at least reflects your current race with themed buildings. As you level up your Kingdom, you can add more advanced buildings and upgrade old ones. You have everything from resource generation to defense to manage, each taking time and resources to build or upgrade. Upgrading your Archery Range for example, will allow you upgrade and build stronger Archers, so having a priority list is smart. Each building can be interacted with and remind you of its purpose, and although you will eventually fill your Kingdom with quite a few buildings, the screen doesn’t become too clogged with information.
My Two Cents
AoC is a mixed bag for me. The combat is easy to understand and is balanced with no certain unit or race reigning supreme. That can always change over time, but I never encountered any problems I couldn’t adjust to. The actual gameplay isn’t a burden and if you choose, you can keep out of the PvP altogether by keeping your Kingdom in a safe zone, but you won’t get any of the perks of being in a city closer to the middle of the map. I threw my weight around and did some siege warfare and ambushed quite a few caravans, wins and losses on both fronts, having fun all the while. Losing does mean a huge toll on your resources though because of all the units that died, but you know that price going into the battle. Overall, AoC is a very solid experience, but the game is relatively new and I can foresee problems for new and old players. The game is free to download, but sports a shop with micro-transactions. The shop goes through rotating stock and allows you to purchase almost everything in the game. There are also chests that you can buy that contain 3 random items, and these chests are the only place to unlock rare heroes. Hooray RNGesus! To be fair, you receive a free chest every 24 hours, but those with more disposable income will have an edge up on you. When half the gameplay is PvP, pay-to-win becomes a tedious game “mechanic” real fast for me. But hey, the game is free and developers need a way to support themselves. If you can look past that fact, then AoC is a great mobile game to pick-up and enjoy.