NIBU is a real-time strategy survival game, released in January 2019, and developed by Enki. It’s a game where you have to survive hordes of attacking “barbarians.” I have to say it could surely be fun to play as exotic, ancient era civilizations like the Medes, Assyrians and Babylonians which are the three playable civilizations present in the game NIBU.
I know people will say it’s more fun to play as medieval Kingdoms like Britain, France, Spain (Castile or Aragon), or even the Holy Roman Empire and if earlier, Rome, Athens, Sparta and Egypt. But why limit ourselves to these most successful civilizations (or rather civilizations whose exploits were much better recorded than say those in Africa and Meso-America) which, even the ones with zero knowledge of history, know about. What about the thousand plus others that have left their mark, however minor, in the historical world in the distant past?
Historical strategy games like the Total War series, Europa Universalis and Crusader Kings are vaults full of historical knowledge and allow the player to immerse himself/herself in that time period by playing as a ruler or kingdom from the past. Infact in some you can play even as a lowly Count (Crusader Kings II). The possibilities are endless, and the fun, as well as the learning, infinite.
In fact how many people have even heard about ancient Mesopotamia to know that the first civilization in mankind was born there (The Sumerians), let alone that it invented writing where most were illiterate, agriculture where most were nomadic and the wheel where most travelled long distances by foot.
So nothing could go wrong, could it? NIBU is based on a time period that sets it apart and introduces civilizations, though powerful, in the cradle of civilization (Mesopotamia: Modern day Iraq) and time period, yet largely ignored. I will admit, it sounded like the game had potential. I was disappointed.
So, the first place I went to, was to start a game. My objective was to learn the game and test it. There was no tutorial to ease you into the game so I selected the easiest setting and played the game. Needless to say, during my first gameplay I was destroyed in the second wave (out of fifty) as I didn’t know how to proceed at all. I ended up killing my villagers in an attempt to allow them to build something (When you select a villager, you can’t order him to build anything.) At least the painfully slow scroll speed could be increased. Anyway I was easily beaten. Challenging games can be fun but the game was also quite boring, from the start.
Next, still unwilling to give up I sought solutions in the Encyclopedia. That encyclopedia menu is the only thing close to a tutorial you can come across. I sifted through the chapters and to give the game credit it had a list of all buildings and units in the game, including those for the AI horde. You still had to look at the 1990’s style, awful caricatures accompanying the senseless paragraphs of text though. This is where the developers tried to give the game a story, which has some strange vendetta against the Greeks.
Now it isn’t clear how the developers want to position the games plot. It is something of an alternate history featuring the ancient empires of Babylon, Media and Assyria which are at war with Sparta and Athens though it tends to lump both as Greeks though they had diverging histories. In reality the Greeks never went to war against Babylon, Media or Assyria and there was very limited contact between them, mostly through visiting traders.
It is unknown if the developer was so lacking in historical knowledge that he confused them with the Achaemenid Empire, which came later and controlled the same territories along the Tigris and Euphrates (among their heartlands further east in Persia). The Achaemenids were conquered by Macedonia’s renowned King, Alexander the Great.
The story is as follows. The Babylonians are humble people and from among them a general rises to become a commander for the King. He is chosen to be King himself when his benefactor dies and begins to rule himself (Strangely the King has no sons, brothers, or a clear line of succession). He plans the liberation of oppressed Helots from the Hellenic Kingdoms (Sparta, Athens, Thrace, Macedonia etc) with the help of Assyria and Media (In reality these kingdoms were fighting amongst themselves most of the time) but is killed in battle. You are his son, a Babylonian prince. The Tyrant is the main villain, a Spartan and he is followed by the Crow and Maggot, all of whom are Spartans. All three are mentally ill, deranged and psychopathic. The Greeks are evil barbarians and oppressors. The Mesopotamians are civilized empires. Even though in those times nothing was so simple. Even the most tyrannical leaders could be generous at times and the most chivalrous ones eager for conquest and prone to acts of selfish violence.
The story, which does not extend beyond the encyclopedia, stinks of vaguery, with poor character development. The encyclopedia does not and cannot tell us what drives the “prince” or enemy bosses, their emotions, and their way of life, because instead of telling this story through the eyes of the character in some meaningful way, possibly in the game, all that is given in the name of story are these sorry paragraphs that make the eyes hurt because of poor writing-and the accompanying art, which a child could draw.
The “wisdom”is equally bad. These are quotes from various sources that appear while loading a new game or exiting one. Where they could have focused on the sayings and doings of characters like Nebuchadnezzar, Astyages, Gilgamesh (Ancient rulers), all of which are relatively well-preserved in tablets from this era they focus on quotes from Hitler or bits of poorly researched information. And, yes, Hitler. Now Hitler was a student of Mesopotamian history, but he is hardly a non-controversial figure that can be quoted without thinking twice.
Sometimes it’s good to see unique perspectives cleverly presented in games. But glamorizing Hitler? Really? I am not being supercilious here. Some people respect Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire. In Mongolia Genghis Khan is a national hero. Not because he and his progeny killed of 5% of the worlds population but for putting Mongolia on the map. Others name their kids after Timur the Lame. Both are historical tyrants far less infamous than Hitler in the modern world, but equally savage. Fact is people tend to admire tyrants for their own selfish reasons. So I am ready to belittle this even though I personally do not like it.
The thing is, desi gamers, third-world gamers or gamers from other parts of the world other than North America hunger for games that tell their stories or come with unique viewpoints which are presented through an engaging story. Regardless whether we (or someone else) agree with the presented viewpoint or not. In fact some of the success for GTA San Andreas (for those who don’t know San Andreas has been one of the few games with a dark skinned protagonist) and the Assassin’s Creed series can be attributed to taking the story and character development to exotic places, introducing new locations and presenting ethnic and national groups and that haven’t been presented in video games before. Good gameplay clearly played a role but this freedom to explore a new setting and a chance to play as an outlandish character like “Al Tair,” did have its own excitement.
So the developer failed to utilize the exoticness of the concept they brought to make even a half-decent game. So let’s move to the other wisdom this game has to share and its historical inaccuracy.
One of the pieces of wisdom shared states that the Roman’s conquered Greece easily. If you count the five plus wars and campaigns in Greece/Macedonia/Epirus by the Romans that resulted in thousands of Romans and Greeks being killed you will know that the Greeks fought the Roman Empire though not as well as the Carthagnians but well enough nonetheless. None of these Macedonian nations were evil though.
It is also debatable if not incorrect that the Romans conquered Greece without resistance. Or Greece produced huge barbarian “hordes” of senseless and brutish warriors since at that time Mesopotamia had a larger population than Greece. Such lack of historical knowledge is surprising in a game that brings three unique factions to the forefront. I wanted the game to do better. Also Iam not a Greek but I find this games unhealthy obsession with Greeks disturbing while Greek gamers have expressed anger at such a depiction (And Greeks take their history very seriously).
Another gem that passed for wisdom in the game was “The Persians did not wear Hijab’s in ancient warfare.” The hijab was worn only by women and though it dates back to 2500 Bc it had nothing to do with warfare. In modern day it has Islamic connotations while the Greeks were pagans just like the Medes, Assyrians and Babylonians. So it is not only poorly researched but also irrelevant.
NIBU does nothing right. Not only does it not teach anything of value which would have turned it into a valuable learning tool (To name Crusader Kings and Europa Universalis which are even recommended by history teachers in colleges), it is also not at all fun, fundamentally flawed in gameplay, has bugs, and has no depth. What this game tries to be, is a cross between They Are Billions and Age of Empires and horribly fails in the attempt. It might also have taken inspiration from Age of Mythology for its plot where it introduces mythical units like lion-riders or goliaths to the roster though all the best units are possibly reserved for late game, if anyone manages to get there.
Being a lover of history I have ranted long about the historical inaccuracies of this game, but to name a few basic issues, you can’t rotate buildings, can’t tell your soldiers or villagers where to go easily, and can’t set rally points easily for your only starting building. Selecting a single unit can be difficult and confusing, especially if he is moving. Telling him to build something, more so. Pathfinding is pathetic in this game. And once you manage to place down building foundations through much trouble, no villager is working on the building and you have to manually assign them. You just have to make a few villagers and then you need a district to support a larger population. The space provided initially in your town isn’t large enough to construct the needed buildings. There are no hotkeys. The menu does not even open up when pressing escape on the keyboard.
As updates are still incoming perhaps we can ignore some of its bugs and unpolished, dull mechanics. But the gameplay and entertainment value is just as bad. And seriously. I have never had so much trouble selecting a single villager, and then telling him what to do, even if it is to just gather food from a berry-bush, in any real time strategy game where resource management is key, ever.
This game is why tower defense aspect of games are ignored by most strategy gamers. Lets hope Conan Unconquered can live up to the hype. Note that this comes from a person who is willing to explore almost any strategy title available in the market. This game is one of the worst I have tried. Bear in mind it is being updated though I don’t have high hopes. The planned changes include a tutorial and a sandbox mode.
Review Platform: PC
- Unique setting and factions. Can choose from 3 of the earliest civilizations in the world.
- Each faction has its unique traits.
- A list of units and buildings is present in the encyclopedia
- No tutorial at launch.
- The game is a mockery of history. Not a single piece of “wisdom” about history is correct. The encyclopedia also focuses on make-believe rather than reality.
- NIBU is boring to the core.
- Buggy and incomplete.
- Not enough space for buildings at the start.
- Most of the units are the same in all three playable factions.
- No storyline-only a few paragraphs in the encyclopedia.
- Artistic style and graphics are outdated.
- The drawings in the encyclopedia look like they have been drawn by children.
- Lack of depth. The only available game mode available is where you fight hordes of barbarians that keep coming. And there are only 3 levels. (This has changed in the latest update)
- No short commands. Even pressing escape doesn’t bring up the game menu. Everything has to be done manually.
- The game producer clearly dislikes Greeks and is by all means, a racist.