Some of you might remember the awesome series Heroes of Might and Magic that brought an excellent turn-based strategy and RPG elements together, and created a memorable and colorful world. I followed the series up to the fifth part, and although some hardcore fans argue the changes to the system, I still enjoyed the campaigns and gameplay. But at the same time the fairytale-like graphics made me miss another game, probably less known, but darker… and as entertaining as HoMM: Age of Wonders. That’s why I couldn’t say no to GOG.com sale (thank you, GOG!) that offered me both parts of the game I started playing when I was still in high school (and that was quite a long time ago).
Age of Wonders got me glued to the screen for the long hours with it’s multiple choice plot line, dark graphic and generally less fairytale feel. It ensured I stayed immersed with the journal entries of the main character (that I got to create and keep throughout the campaign, just like in any “proper” RPG) and made me replay the campaign choosing different paths to the victory. I confess, I was more inclined to play with the Dark Elves’ Cult of Storms faction than to help High Elves’ Keepers, but all in all I’ve finished the campaign playing both sides… or so I remember.
The game’s graphic aged nice, and although they can’t be compared to the modern strategy games, especially with so many of them pushing for 3D now, but they’re clear, they set up the mood, and they don’t make one’s eyes hurt. Each of the 12 playable races (yes, twelve!) has their own distinctive designs for their towns and units, so when looking at the map it’s easy to recognize whom we’re dealing with.
What’s probably the most interesting and original aspect of the game is that all the races have an alignment, so we can forget about the Orcs leading an army of Halfling slingers or High Elves making a good use of Goblin beetles. The same comes with conquering the towns: some of them might rebel if we don’t keep a garrison big enough. The hostile and neutral races can be befriended by building upgrades and fortifications, but while sometimes it’s worth it (when the race is not too far from our own alignment), many times it makes more sense to just migrate one of the friendlier race into the town, which will devastate the relations with one race and improve them with another. It’s quite important, because friendly towns don’t rebel (and the units produced there won’t be marked as “unruly”), and the neutral towns inhabited by befriended races can be bought, which not only saves us the pains of the battle, but also results in those neutral units joining us.
The gameplay itself doesn’t offer surprises, following the trend set by Heroes of Might and Magic: conquer towns, build units and destroy your enemies. Meanwhile you can research spells which are divided into six “elements”: life, air, water, death, earth and fire, and the game allows you to pick up to three of them—you can’t have the elements opposite to one another. The towns can be fortified or upgraded, and they can produce merchandise (gold) or units. They can be also sacked and razed if needed. Aside towns, there are mines, farms, shipyards, magic nodes and watchtowers on the map, so nothing beyond the standard, though there are also dungeons and caves to be visited for rewards (and experience!).
The battles are fought in the tactical screen, but the game also offers the “quick” version that only requires the player to watch the units kill their enemies in a small window. A mighty feature if you really don’t feel like going through several turns of tactic battle with all your troops only to kill those two poor dwarves hidden behind the wall. What is noteworthy is that while your team can have up to eight units, you can surround your enemies with more teams, overwhelming them… but of course, they can do the same to us. The game doesn’t require superb strategy skills. It can be challenging enough to apply some thinking, and—yes!—strategy, but most of the times it’s not too difficult for a casual player.
So what makes this game so addictive? The world. The story accompanying the scenarios. The alignment of the races and their unique design. The dark mood the game sets is so different from the Heroes of the Candyworld… erm, I mean of Might and Magic. And there’s also the music that nowadays might sound a bit old school, but still serves well as the background.
All in all I consider the game worth both its price and the time spent playing. And even though I vaguely remembered the end of the storyline, I’m still excited to rediscover it and play through all the maps.
- Story: Medium
- Immersion: Medium
- Inspiration: High
- Relaxation factor: Medium
- Procrastination risk: High
Joanna Maciejewska is a fantasy and science fiction author who enjoys all things SFF: books, movies, and video games.
Her short stories appeared in magazines and anthologies in Polish and in English.
Her epic fantasy adventure series, starting with By the Pact, is available in ebook and paperback at all major retailers.