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Platform

PC

 

Genre

Turn-based Strategy

 

Publisher

GOD Games

 

Developer

Triumph Studios

 

ESRB

T (Teen)

 

Released

June 2002

 

 

- Plenty of challenge

- Interesting end-game scenario

- Manageable controls (once you learn them)

- Has all the conventions of a strategic turn-based game (and one or two new ones)

- Lots of different multiplayer options

 

 

- Sometimes really tough

- No customization options

- Graphics don’t compare well to other games in the genre

 

 

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Age of Wonders II: The Wizard's Throne

Score:  8.2 / 10

 

Age of Wonders II: The Wizard’s Throne (AoW2) almost got uninstalled 30 minutes after being installed.  My motive: I got killed 10 minutes into the tutorial.  Mission failed.  Game Over.  A digital equivalent to a slap in the face or kick in the crotch.  After seriously considering kicking the game back and sending it to oblivion, I decided to press on and trounce AoW2 – or at the very least establish I’m more than an inept fool that can’t get passed the first ten minutes.

 

age-wonders-2-1.jpg (27134 bytes)          age-wonders-2-2.jpg (23885 bytes)

 

The single player campaign puts you in Merlin’s shoes as the legs are about to fall off the Wizard’s Throne.  Your mission is to put things right, vanquish evil – standard save the world stuff.  The story propels the action along the 20 missions set in the domains of the various magical spheres (earth, air, water, fire, life, death, and cosmos), and that’s all you really need to know.

 

As the title might suggest, magic and spells play a huge part in AoW2, so much so that as a new player I thought them overrated.  Surely I would be able to whack the baddies with a combination of “traditional” ground and air units.  Do not be as foolish as I.  Casting incantations is central to AoW2’s gameplay.

 

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There is an extensive roster of spells to research and find, from summoning creatures to fireballs to lighting blasts to other standbys like rejuvenate.  Master your magical abilities and you’re halfway there.  Of course, this mastery doesn’t come easy owed to multiple considerations to ponder such as casting points, how large your domain is, incomes levels of gold and mana, and a number of other rules.  And since AoW2 is a tactical turn-based game, the conventions of 

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movement points, penalties, attack values, etc. are adhered to quite well.  All of it boils down to a lot of advanced planning on the part of the gamer (and a board-game feel thanks to the hex grid system).  Fortunately the turn-based nature allows for movements and expansions to be very planned.

 

To make progress you obviously want to expand and crush your opponents.  To expand you have to rely on Hero recruits (and a gaggle of “regular” units produced in your cities) that can acquire unique equipment that imbues them with extra attributes and basically do the grunt work such as capturing mana nodes and basically going toe-to-toe with the opposition.  Your wizard is a wimp.  Phenomenal cosmic power, but get a splinter and it’s lights out.  For 99% of the game your wizard should be installed in one of your wizard towers, which acts as a big magic amplifier.  When your wizard is in residence he can cast any number of far reaching spells of varying power and function.  At the start, managing both the magic and grunt work side of things is relatively simple.  But as your forces grow and you establish or claim more towns – razing the nastier ones – handling everything can grow a little cumbersome.  It’s not just the number of units, but also understanding the minutiae and nuances associated with each unit you’ve got on the map.  Being turn-based helps, but suddenly turns last a long time and your attention might be drawn out as well.  But if you enjoy chess, this kind of thing won’t bother you in the least.

 

age-wonders-2-3.jpg (25312 bytes)          age-wonders-2-4.jpg (24905 bytes)

 

One feature I liked extremely is the “free strike” rule that kicks in when someone attempts to disengage from a fight (i.e. retreat).  And the free strike isn’t tried by just the attacked group but also by any adjacent unit.  I like it mostly because chickens should be struck down – and eaten, either in a salad or grilled on the barbeque.

 

The technical aspects of AoW2 – graphics, interface, music, etc. – are all pretty good.  There’s an option to use your own MP3 music files (which every game should have).  The included tunes are of the “magical fantasy” type but they never get annoying.  Graphics lean strongly toward good with bright colors, neat spells, and interesting structures and environments.  The domain boundaries could have been lines instead of the pixalized dots – that’s really my only gripe, although in a few instances I wondered what it would all look like in 3D.  Interface is good with most functions just a click or two away.  It never got in the way of playing AoW2, which is pretty much all I ask of a game interface.

 

AoW2 kept me playing from beginning to end and I had fun along the way.  But that was it.  There are a host of multiplayer options to keep you going, including email games, but truthfully I liked the single player campaign just fine.  Besides, finishing AoW2 was more out of spite than anything else so playing against human opponents just didn’t give me the same thrill as beating the AI.  Missions are pretty linear but they are pretty long (even longer when you take into account the Spirit side missions) so AoW2 should keep you occupied for a few weeks of casual playing.

 

Age of Wonders II: The Wizard’s Throne does a good job with the turn-based conventions.  There’s a big list of spells, many details to track, loads of different units to recruit, train, and summon, a good level of challenge, an interface that doesn’t get in the way of playing the game, and a very intriguing end-game sequence.  If you’re into the turn-based fantasy genre, you’ll find it’s probably money well spent.

 

- Omni

(July 8, 2002)

 

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