Madness reigns in Veil of Crows

Veil of Crows, developed by Kerry Fawdray and published by Humble Sage Games and Arrow Face Games, is an interesting piece of software. It is not Mount & Blade. It is, however, compared to Mount & Blade a lot and could be considered a real-time-strategy spin on this title. And spin it does.

The basic idea of Veil of Crows is simple: establish a domain in a land full of highwaymen, cutthroats, barbarians and warlords, and become their ruler. Your path to glory will be as chaotic as the faux-medieval world that Veil of Crows is set in.

Veil of Crows is chaotic, both in regard to combat and organisation.

The game does offer a sandbox and a battle mode, but at its core is the eponymous Veil of Crows mode. Here, you generate a character and are dropped into a campaign world with numerous villages and towns, warring factions and bandits. If you fail to become the lord of the realm and die, the world persists and you can enter once more with a new character.

Veil of Crows is ultimately a real-time strategy game and, while there is a good deal of fighting, its core gameplay loop is more reminiscent of management sims and builder games. Settlements provide you with a number of resources and can be expanded to be more profitable and harder to conquer. You can use said resources to raise an army, which naturally conquers more towns to expand further.

It is not quite that simple, however. At the start of the campaign, you are not the biggest fish in the pond. Thankfully, not every AI faction automatically hates you and some may even become allies — or betray you later. Even hostile armies can sometimes be bribed and persuaded to join your cause or at least leave you be.

Rags to riches, peasant to king.

Be prepared to throw a lot of men into the meat grinder, because the world of Veil of Crows is a violent one. At the end of the day, only your main character needs to survive, but you probably want to keep your hero units alive, too. As a reward, you can level them up — which adds some RPG elements to Veil of Crows — and provide them with shiny new equipment.

Veil of Crows has a lot of good ideas. Your protagonist is not exactly a superhero and needs to be protected. Thankfully, you fight battles in third person and your character does not have to risk their lives, unlike in Mount & Blade. Castles can taken apart completely, which comes with a certain satisfaction. The persistent world means that even a lost game does not necessarily feel like a waste.

As good as these ideas are, they come with a whole host of issues. Veil of Crows is poorly optimised and devours RAM faster than an Adobe product. Crashes are not uncommon and loading times sometimes stretch out for seemingly no reason. During the Total-War-style battles, the frames drop as quick as your cannon-fodder soldiers.

Castles can be taken apart, but not be customised, unfortunately.

Other problems are less technical and lie with the game’s design. Your domain is highly dependent on resources — sometimes it seems impossible to break the loop of requiring resources, doing quests to get them, needing an army for the job and needing resources for the army. Even if you have the resources, micromanaging your domain with little automation can become tedious.

Equally frustrating is the asymmetrical challenge that Veil of Crows offers. It is difficult to code a truly competent AI, especially with a small team or no team at all. The Veil of Crows AI cheekily just ignores troop upkeep and various other restrictions. As a result, you sometimes get overrun by a faction that should be weaker than you, but somehow manages to field almost a thousand soldiers.

None of these issues is systemic, but they do give Veil of Crows a distinct Early Access vibe, so if you decide to give the game a go, be prepared to make some concessions. Veil of Crows is a very rough little gem, but a little gem it is.

Veil of Crows is now available for PC via Steam.

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