Conquest of Elysium 3 first impressions: Not quite a chip off the old block

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Conquest of Elysium

Dominions 3, Illwinter’s 2006 magnum opus, is one of my all-time favourite games, but its depth and complexity make it a time-consuming beast. And so I jumped when I heard Illwinter’s latest title, Conquest of Elysium 3, was simpler and quicker-to-play. Dominions Lite, here I come! Instead, I found something very different.


My very first impressions of COE3 were misleading. Setting up a new game was an experience straight out of Dominions: I chose which era I wanted to play in, chose my leader (COE3’s equivalent of a Dominions faction+pretender combination), and emerged on the map screen to see sprites, and hear sound effects, taken straight from Dominions. It was only after playing a few games that I realised how dissimilar COE3 felt.


You call that a treasury?


Dominions 3 is about the clash of empires. Your resources are vast, but so are the claims on them. Every turn, tax revenues and magic gems will flood into your treasury, and even though you will never have enough of each, you will typically have enough to spend on something. You will raise enormous armies across dozens of provinces; script elaborate orders for your sorcerers; constantly research new and better magic. And your rival pretender gods do the same. They are the main threat, not the independent provinces meekly waiting to be bulldozed.


COE3, in contrast, is about scarcity. Your handful of commanders, and their retinues, must explore the map in search of farms and villages and mines, then fight their independent defenders tooth and nail – or, frequently, just move onto easier targets. Once you’ve taken the sites, you can’t just abandon them: wandering monsters are a constant threat. But if you leave 3 men to hold this village, and 5 to hold that gold mine, sooner or later those garrisons start adding up. Then it’s time to march back to your castle to pick up fresh recruits, if you can afford them – early on, amassing enough coin to recruit 5 or 10 soldiers is a big deal. Even later on, an army of 100 human soldiers (a modest task force in Dominions 3) would be an awesome host in COE3. The overall feel is of leading a few small bands through a savage land; think Mad Max or Fallout: The Strategy Game.


The net effect is that Dominions 3 fans shouldn’t go into Conquest of Elysium 3 expecting more (or less?) of the same. After playing heaven knows how much Dominions 3, my early experiences with COE3 have been rather like meeting the child of an old friend. The resemblance is there in the eyes and nose; but the soul behind them is entirely its bearer’s own.


Stay tuned for more!


Note: the above comments are based on a review copy supplied by the game’s developer, Illwinter Game Design.

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