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Platform

PC

 

Genre

Turn-Based-Strategy

 

Publisher

Gathering

 

Developer

Triumph Studios

 

ESRB

T (Teen)

 

Released

Q3 2003

 

 

-Random map generator helps avoid playing the same game twice
-Challenge level and thinking power needed to be successful not for the faint of heart or weak of mind

 

 

-Turn-based strategy might take a little more meticulous game-playing patience than real-time strategy gamers are willing to expend
-Characters can get lost from gamer's sight onscreen in the heavy forested landscape
-A lot of reading tiny on-screen text to find out what's going on

 

 

Review: Age of Wonders II: The Wizard's Throne (PC)

Review: Disciples II: Dark Prophecy (PC)

Review: Kohan: Ahriman's Gift (PC)

 

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Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic

Score: 8.5/10

 

Age of Wonders is one of the more revered PC turn-based strategy game series among strategy game purists, and the newest addition to its line, Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic (AoWSM), does nothing but reinforce that deserving reverence. Although it uses essentially the same 2D/pseudo-3D game-engine and graphics as last year's Age of Wonders II: The Wizard's Throne, AoWSM isn't an expansion pack for that game.

 

age-wonders-shadow-magic-1.jpg (92004 bytes)         age-wonders-shadow-magic-2.jpg (93856 bytes)

 

Instead, it's a completely stand-alone title that adds an enticing new chapter to the Age of Wonders story with new races and includes plenty of features to keep series fans completely happy exploring the adventures of mythical wizards and heroes in the realm of Merlin's magical kingdom. 


AoWSM's storyline takes place immediately after the events of AoWII, making this a sequel of sorts. The legendary mighty wizard Merlin's magical influence has created a unified dreamland for all to enjoy.

Alas, that unity hasn't lasted long as now demons from the murky Shadow Realm under the control of the evil and nefarious Phobius have imprisoned Merlin himself in their shadowy, dangerous reality. You will be able assume the role of a choice of mythical wizard-heroes to stop Phobius by rescuing Merlin and restoring peace and tranquility to the world.

 

To help defeat Phobius, a plethora of new features make an appearance in AoWSM. First off, three new races join the Age of Wonders: Nomads, Shadow Demons, and Syrons. Dozens of the Age of Wonders roster of classic races have also been updated with new units and a city upgrade for each. AoWSM includes 16 new long-lasting gameplay-packed scenarios covering five episodes in the single-player mode.

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Once you've completed the entire five episodic adventures, you can create your very own scenarios with the editing tools included. These editing tools and the random map generator assure that Age of Wonders aficionados will never run out of AoWSM quests to partake in. AoWSM also has plenty of online gameplay options, including playing a game via e-mail, for up to eight players at once.

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Admittedly, I'm not a huge turn-based strategy gaming fan. I prefer the melee frenzy of Blizzard-style real-time strategy classics such as the WarCraft series that require less thinking and more aggressive on-the-fly battle instincts. AoWSM is a good game as turn-based strategy games go, however, playing out like a fine and thought-provocative game of chess with its gameplay, requiring thoughtful movement planning. I'll warn you that this slower-paced gameplay may be a little sleepy-time inducing for players more accustomed to hardcore WarCraft-type action in their strategy games.

 

age-wonders-shadow-magic-3.jpg (88053 bytes)          age-wonders-shadow-magic-4.jpg (90483 bytes)

 

Not that there isn't plenty of scraps to be fought in the war against the Shadow Realm denizens. But be prepared to use your old noggin for a lot of tactical plotting instead of simply relying on your character and supporting forces muscle to defeat the followers of Phobius.

That well-devised strategy will come in handy too, because this isn't an easy game to play. AoWSM's challenge level can strike heavy and hard if you go into gameplay sessions thinking lightly of your opposition's chances of defeating you. Expect to spend an all-nighter-worthy manual study session to learn the nuances of playing the game and understanding all the varied controls of AoWSM. There's a lot of information that Merlin's manual needs to impart to you in order to grasp a working knowledge of how to play.

 

Thankfully, for players new to the Age of Wonders series including AoWII, there's a tutorial level available to teach you how to move around and also flip through numerous gameplay menus.

Besides reading the manual, make sure your spectacles are handy if you need them, because you'll be doing plenty of on-screen reading during the game scrolling through various menus and when encountering new characters appearing in your path.

This game does use the same gameplay engine as its series predecessor, AoWII, so don't expect today's cutting-edge PC visuals. The environmental graphics are appealingly vivid, but the game's wizards, warriors, and creature character models aren't exactly DOOM III quality in their detail. One big problem I had with the isometric 2D game camera was that it was relatively easy to lose your character's placement in the deep forestry and thick bushes on some levels, which was disorienting and distracting. Calming your nerves from character loss is the melodic music that wafts through the
air of your magical adventures, setting a just-right mood for playing a fantasy strategy game.

Series devotees will find plenty of reason to step out from the shadows of late summer frolicking to play AoWSM. The new races added to Age of Wonders already fantastic fantasy world and a host of customizable campaign and level editors means that fans of turn-based strategy will never have to play the same missions twice. Not even Merlin himself could conjure up a more endless gameplay opportunity than that.

-Lee Cieniawa
lcieniawa@armchairempire.com

August 28, 2003

 

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