Battle Realms follows the basic formula for many real-time strategy games. All of its factions have similar buildings with similar uses and workers. However, unlike in most real-time strategy games, the peasant worker unit is not just used for resource gathering and construction, but also for training into military units. Thus, military buildings in Battle Realms are not used for making units, but for transforming and upgrading them. Peasants gather the two resources in the game: rice and water. They also round up horses, which can be used to enhance military units in the game and can be outfitted as pack horses for peasants. Only one type of builder unit is required.
Peasants are the only units the player can produce outright. Most of the buildings available are training structures where peasants are trained into numerous other units. All the factions start off with 3 basic central training structures, which produce units along different paths of warfare, such as melee or ranged combat. In most cases, units can be trained at up to 3 structures to produce higher tiers of infantry.
Another difference in unit generation is that peasants are produced automatically, at no cost. However, the rate at which new peasants are produced is inversely proportional to the current population of the player's army.
Certain buildings can teach special techniques, or Battle Gears (commonly abbreviated to BGs), to units to improve their combat ability for a certain resource cost. This can allow units to defeat higher tier units they would normally struggle with or be defeated by. BGs also allow the player to further define the role a unit will play in a combat situation, such as damage absorption, building destruction, or reconnaissance.
One of the key elements of Battle Realms is the Yin/Yang system. Each army obtains points of Yin or Yang when in combat, depending on their moral alliance to the forces of light or darkness. The Battle Realms hero units, or Zen Masters, require Yin/Yang to be summoned and to improve their damage. Yin and Yang are also used at structures in the faction's base for military upgrades. The rate of Yin/Yang growth depends on the military strength and flair of the army and how far they are from the main base.
There are four available clans in Battle Realms, and each have a different philosophy towards life and combat. The Dragon clan favours honourable and valourous combat, while its offshoot, the Serpent clan, uses stealth, trickery and brutality to further its goals. The Lotus clan is an ancient group of sorcerers that delves deeply into the corrupting aspects of magic. The Wolf clan is a race of formerly enslaved miners. Their clan members live basic, healthy lives.
Unlike in most strategy games, all units in Battle Realms have a melee attack. However, missile units typically have drastically weaker melee attacks. Units are very detailed and have distinct fighting animations. Units can dodge projectiles if they run fast enough, and projectiles have different speeds and fire at certain angles.
A unit's attack has a property - either cutting, piercing, blunt, explosive, magic, or fire, as well as a bonus damage against buildings. The property of a unit's missile attack may also differ from its melee attack. Most units have resistances to particular properties, and weaknesses to others. For example, the Dragon Samurai has excellent resistance against cutting attacks, but a poor resistance to explosive and magic damage.
In singleplayer, the plot mainly revolves around Kenji, last heir to the Serpent's Throne. When he returns from exile, Kenji comes across bandits raiding a peasant village. He can choose to either kill the bandits and save the peasants, or, he can side with the bandits and kill the peasants. If he chooses to save the peasants, he will follow the path of the Dragon clan. If he aids the bandits, he will follow the path of the Serpent clan.
In Kenji's Journey, the player may choose which territories he or she wishes to attack first. Kenji returns from Malcomson. He must decide whether to rebirth the Dragon Clan and save the peasants honor with righteousness or take up reigns in his brother and his father, Lord Oja's footsteps and lead the Serpent Clan. Taking specific territories might give benefits, and other Zen Masters may join Kenji. Later on, the player can summon these Zen Masters from the Keep. The Story focuses on an artifact Called Tarrant's Orb/Orb of the Serpent which Kenji and the NPC Clans, The Wolf and Lotus Clans are seeking out. Kenji must get it before them.
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