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Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence – PC Review

I’ve been a longtime fan of strategy games of all types; from the acrade-ish titles of the Total War franchise, to the insanely in-depth grand strategy titles like Hearts of Iron. A lot of people would not think of KOEI games when it came to strategy. KOEI Tecmo is usually more well known for it’s brawler battles series’ in Dynasty Warriors. They did however have some involvement in a PS2 franchise known as “Kessen”, a title that was an interesting attempt to blend RTS battles with console platforms. But perhaps they are most known in strategy gaming for the Romance of the Three Kingdoms series. Nobunaga’s Ambition is a clear continuation of that trend. It’s currently available for PC, PS3, and PS4.

The game is a simple experience that does well to introduce the player to it’s more complex elements. I do definitely recommend hitting up the tutorial campaign when getting into the game, as it’s possible you could get lost and end up not enjoying the game. Said tutorial tasks the player with menial tasks like managing crop production, recruitment and the basics of diplomacy. The tutorial does a good job of teaching the player the basics overall.

Like any good strategy game, militaristic expansion is the prime directive in Nobunaga’s Ambition. the ultimate aim is to use a mixture of diplomacy and military might to gain power over your rivals. While at the times in-between developing the needed support for your war machine. However, this is where one of the main flaws comes to the surface; a lack of proper planning will doom any expansionist efforts. This becomes an issue when players are incapable of having the necessary attention to detail bordering on omniscience that AI possesses.

Despite that issue, the mix of real-time and turn-based mechanics makes it easy for players to carry out all their necessary actions in a logical manner. The UI works well, assuming you take the time to learn it in detail. This does mean you’ll likely lose your first game or two if you skip the tutorial. Sphere of Influence operates on a month-by-month basis. Each month you set your generals to task on everything from fortifying your castle to recruiting other generals and diplomatic missions. When the month ends, you meet with your council and get an update on events. There is a speed option in the upper left that allows you to make the time go by fast or slow as needed. I generally kept it on fast progression unless there was combat taking place that month. Next month, the generals are refreshed and ready to be assigned new duties.

The combat itself rings true of Kessen, a mixture of strategic planning and real-time tactical combat. The battles themselves take into account terrain, equipment, as well as pure numbers in determining the outcomes. And once again, the player cannot just rush into expansion unless they want to waste effort and resources. Large scale battles can be frustrating, but I was able to force my way through by being more macroscopic with my commands and tactics. Usually in games like this, the combat is where it is at, and while it is still important, I was impressed with just how balanced Sphere of Influence is. I enjoyed everything pretty much equally, whether I was at war, working on some diplomacy, improving my region or simply watching historical events unfold.

In a departure from other strategy games, Ambition places a boatload of importance on diplomacy and the overall development of relationships and alliances. Keeping your citizens and your generals happy may be a bit dull, but it’s not overly hard. The generals are a complex system onto themselves, an entire cast of characters with traits both good and bad play that a role in how effective they are. In all, generals are arguably the most important element in building a strong military. The other major element in diplomacy lies in developing and maintaining alliances with the various unaligned tribes on the map. Everything in the various systems all serves to feed your expansion. Players can take that seeming lack of depth for what they will.

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ISKMogul is a growing video game publication that got its start covering EVE Online, and has since expanded to cover a large number of topics and niches within the purview of gaming.