|At first glance, itís easy to dismiss turn-based strategy game Age of Wonders as a clone of Heroes of Might and Magic 3. That would be a shame, because this game is every bit as addictive. |
Hereís a world where humans upset the great balance of the usual fantasy-game Tolkeinian races (elves, dwarves, halflings and the lot), sparking a world war. When the dust settled, the elven king Inioch was dead, as was his firstborn son Meandor. The queen had fled with daughter Julia, and the races reverted to a series of autonomous city-states.
Years later, Julia emerged as leader of the Keepers, an organization devoted to restoring peaceful rule. Meander, who was only pretending to be dead, vowed revenge for his fatherís death and formed the Cult of Storms, an evil group led by dark elves.
The player starts as a champion for either side. Both are racing toward the Valley of Wonders, former capital of Iniochís kingdom. Whoever gets there first will be lord of the land.
The campaign is presented as a series of scenarios, often branching and forcing the player to choose between loyalties within the respective alignments. Then itís off to the playfield, where our hero conquers independent and enemy cities, raises armies and tries to knock off the opposing champion.
Those cities produce merchandise (to raise cash) or soldiers ó and, unlike the M&M series, armies can be moved independent of champions. Each race has a few unique units, so it behooves the player to not immediately immigrate loyal forces and displace the current residents. If the race owning the city is of the opposing alignment, they need to be kept in check with plenty of soldiers (of the playerís alignment), or the residents will rebel. Luckily, lots of races are neutral, and so wonít rebel and may actually develop fond feelings for our hero.
Thatís done by upgrading the city and its fortifications, letting the residents know that the player is looking out for their best interests. Itís a nice touch.
Battles are fought either within a tactical field or automatically. While the tactical battles are intriguing, trust us when we say itís far easier to go automatic, especially toward the end of the campaign when battles tend to involve large groups of soldiers.
As with any fantasy game, the landscape is littered with special areas that often prove beneficial. Mines and power nodes grant gold and mana, respectively. Other places, like crypts and dungeons and ruins, let the player fight for magic items or additional troops.
Oh, and whatís a fantasy game without magic? Spells are allocated when the player chooses from elemental disciplines (earth, air, fire, water, life and death) to study. Gaining levels can let the player increase a championís spellcasting ability, which sometimes allows new spells to be researched.
In all, it makes for a fun ride, albeit one that probably will be overshadowed by the HoMM games. Pick this one up before it fades into legend.