After what seems like an eternity, we've finally won our Shadow Empires server, winning the round by 19215 Victory Points.
It was basically a battle of who can sim up the fastest and coordinate members to different regions the best. While the change from classic servers was interesting, and I enjoyed the different side to strategic planning (e.g targetting specific regions instead of WWs and Arties) I can't help but feel it's missing something.
Overall the concept is solid, but the way it actually plays out is far less exciting, especially towards the end of the game.
For me, the early game was the best part of this server, with lots of unclaimed regions and heavy internal battling amongst faction alliances it made for a hectic start. I guess it's not particularly different to securing your quad on a normal WW server, however having unified factions mass settling and climbing the rankings before you've secured your faction adds a little more early game pressure when in normal games I feel it's not there to the same extent (at least in the early stages).
Once our meta had soaked up or was farming most of the competition in our faction I enjoyed the planning of the next steps.
For example, were under the Rebels faction, and got thrust into leadership after our leaders deleted. At the bottom of the leaderboard, we decided it was best to push North into a region called Hibernia. We chose this because of the high victory point gain of 600VP (3x higher than any other region on the map). While it was a difficult objective to take and perhaps we could've taken easier ones in a fraction of the time, we went for it clashing with our first other faction. This ultimately got us back into the runnings to contest for a victory, jumping from 5th into 3rd.
These aspects I really enjoyed (From a leadership perspective at least), the planning and coordinating of new regions and the looming battles to take them.
Perhaps I'm biased however, I've always been a sucker for early game mayhem.
The mid-game was just building off the early game (I know that sounds obvious, and like a bit of a dumb statement but hear me out).
A lot of the factions still hadn't fully clashed yet, most of the fighting was taking place in two or three regions between one or two alliances of opposing factions, it was a stage where most people had a single enemy that was contesting most of their regions. This simply came down to the direction factions/alliances chose to go, and the enemies they decided to contest against in the early game. As more of the map became unclaimed, wars on multiple fronts began to start.
For us, this manifested itself in my wing still in Hibernia pushing further North battling The Marauders faction (2nd) in 4 of their regions in the United Kingdom area, while our 2 other wings pushed far South into the Spanish regions contesting The Empire (1st).
While there were some moments of hecticness, sending defence all over the map, overall this is where it became a bit dull. Most of the challenges from a leadership perspective were organising players into groups and keeping on at them to settle in the right places. I feel some of this was partly due to the deciding factor of gaining regions, artifact powers, and winning the game was population.
It seemed like everyone was conservative with their hammers and stacked defense while they played Sims. Now we don't overly have a leg to stand on here, as most of our focus was also keeping on at the non-compliant members to settle where they're told, not conducting operations. However, I do feel that there were a few mechanics that made launching operations slightly less beneficial.
The defence forwarding mechanic made it incredibly easy to stack newly contested regions with massive anvils only minutes away from aggressively settled villages. While I understand the reason for this feature (People are scattered all over the place, and defending the whole map is a challenging task at the best of times), it would be naive to say it didn't impact on other areas of gameplay.
If you're unaware of this mechanic, basically you can forward reinforcements to other friendly players from previously reinforced villages.
One of the biggest strategies we saw was setting up def fortresses in newly contested regions and then having a quick response to everything in that region, this completely eliminated the risks of aggressive settling, and made it just as difficult to hit even the smallest of villages in most isolated regions.
This coupled with the fact that hammers (for obvious reasons) can't be forwarded when attacking leads to some slightly unbalanced gameplay biased towards sitting and simming behind a defence wall.
While I'm sure this wouldn't overly impact any good premade meta or top tier OCs, on a server full of solo players (Many of them new) this was incredibly challenging, especially when the main focus was the organization of settling.
Furthermore, with artifact powers being based on controlled regions, there wasn't any incentive to steal artifacts like there is in WW servers.
The End-Game was both exciting and dull at the same time, it's difficult to explain. By this time The Marauders had joined up with Empire and we'd absorbed the Dynstay faction's meta into Rebels. This gave rise to more contestation across the map and a massive headache for the already understaffed leadership team but also seemed to amplify the "simming" in regions side of things.
Ultimately it came down to 3 or 4 regions swinging between faction control while we all settled/chiefed endless villages.
More operations were launched at this stage of the game between both factions, however, most of them consisted of destroying a vast number of new(ish) villages in the target regions, not high-value targets like capitals, simply because it didn't have any real impact on Victory Points and the outcome of the game.
By the last 2 or 3 weeks, it was pretty much over, with us sitting at a 10k lead over our opposition, slowing them down by swinging regions back 'n' forth.
Overall the experience of this server was "interesting", and I can respect the different styles of strategic gameplay, however in my mind, it just misses some of the core elements of Travian that make it fun.
I think artifacts shouldn't be tied to regions, as it takes away another main objective for metas to go after.
Perhaps Victory Point artifacts could be a thing as well, to add more depth to the gameplay and more of an incentive to not just sim in regions.
I think if 4 organized premade metas were to play this it'd be a lot of fun, but playing with and against somewhat disorganized alliances gave rise to a more boring game.
With all that being said, thank you to the people that brought something to the table and made this server as enjoyable as possible, I can't wait to jump onto a WW server and have some more "conventional" Travian fun!
Thanks for listening to my rambling account/review of Shadow Empires, if anyone has anything to add or any outlooks on what I've said feel free to comment
All the best!