We've all had those days when we're ruling over some infernal pit or another, only to be suddenly yanked away by a sorcerer who transforms us into a lowly imp. Such is the universally relatable situation of Impire's protagonist (antagonist?) Báal-Abbadon. As the once-great fiend, you're tasked with terrorizing the Kingdom of Ardania (which should be familiar to fans of the Majesty franchise) in a system that has been described as one part Dungeon Keeper and one part Dawn of War. I got my talons on Impire at Paradox's event in Iceland last week, and have emerged with chthonic wisdom.
The missions I played started me out in the corner of an underground complex where Báal is tasked with spawning workers and fighter imps to help him complete objectives. Workers are in charge of constructing rooms and hallways deeper into the dungeon, where enemies can be found for the fighters to beat up. All the while, the goal is to place rooms (which work a lot like buildings in traditional RTSes) to gather resources and unlock new units and traps.
But you aren't restricted to subterrania. Near the front of your dungeon is an entrance to a second, outdoor map which often contains objectives of its own. In addition to tunneling and building your lair, you'll often have to creep out into the battlefield and take the fight to the enemy. Meanwhile, adventurers will occasionally enter your dungeon from the outside (in balanced RPG parties, including tanks and healers) looking for loot and glory. It becomes a delicate balancing act of taking control of the dungeon itself, keeping your holdings safe from heroes, and venturing forth to cause havoc.
The individual demons you train can be grouped into squads of four, which will move and fight together as squads of infantry would in Dawn of War or Company of Heroes. The control scheme should be fairly familiar to RTS veterans, with most unit creation and actions selected from radial menus on individual units and buildings. The build I played was missing a few comfort features, such as being able to shift-click to add a second squad to your control group when you already have one selected. Control group hotkeys are also locked down to the numbered squad you place units in, so I wasn't able to create a single hotkey to select multiple squads without having to drag a box around them every time. Beyond this, however, most actions were streamlined and intuitive.
One of the more interesting elements in Impire is that certain combinations of units will give the whole squad a synergy bonus. Creative Producer Yves Bordeleau told me that in the later levels, it will be "almost impossible" to win without making use of these. The primary faction, the Fiends, has about 10 units to pick from with three upgrade levels each. According to Bordeleau, this translates to over 200 possible squad compositions. A second, undead faction (the Soulless) has a similar number of units, and is available on some campaign levels and in multiplayer.
I wasn't able to check out Impire's multiplayer modes, but there are two of them. Capture the Dragon will give each player their own dungeon, built around a common battlefield with a dragon egg in the middle. Capturing the egg and bringing it back to your dungeon, CTF-style, will allow you to score. The other mode replaces this egg with a control point, which must be held in a King of the Hill mechanic to achieve victory. Up to four dungeon masters can compete, with AI heroes harassing everyone along the way. I'm not sure how well these conventional mode templates will line up with Impire's mechanics; I like the idea of an asymmetrical mode more than either of these, but we'll wait and see.
I couldn't conclude this preview without mentioning that Impire claims to contain "over 400 heavy metal references." I was able to pick up on at least 14 in the small portion we played. While non-metal fans may be scratching their heads at the random insertion of phrases like "Rainbow in the Dark" into NPC dialogue, the headbanging faithful will have plenty of verbal easter eggs to discover.
Impire is out next week. Pre-ordering will add an extra unit for each faction: a Vampire for the Soulless and a Medusa for the Fiends. Both will be available in a stand-alone DLC after release as well. For more information, tunnel over to the Impire website or check out a playthrough video of one of the levels I got to play.