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Platform

PC

 

Genre

RTS / RPG

 

Publisher

Bethesda

 

Developer

Climax

 

ESRB

T (Teen)

 

Released

October 2001

 

 

- Neat looking graphics

- Great combination of RTS action with role-playing elements

- Availability to use all spells regardless of alignment

- Fast loading times

 

 

- Poor interface

- Awkward camera angles

- Repetitive gameplay

- Cut scenes cannot be skipped

 

 

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Magic and Mayhem:

The Art of Magic

Score: 6.5 / 10

In Vienna, incidentally where I was on vacation this winter holiday season, there is a great ice cream shop called Tichy. The ice cream there is absolutely fantastic. Itís extremely rich and creamy and there are lots of flavours to choose from. If youíre ever there, I suggest you try the mango sorbet; itís exquisite. What I cannot recommend you try, is what I have found to be a very vanilla flavoured game, in Climaxí The Art of Magic.

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Now vanilla ice cream isnít all the same, and to itís credit, The Art of Magic is probably on a par with the vanilla ice cream from Tichy. However, itís fatal shortcoming is similar to that of vanilla ice cream; it suffers from a blandness that will fail to keep many gamers coming back for more.

The Art of Magic (TAOM) is the sequel to Magic and Mayhem, and as the title suggests, spell casting and magic are what the game focuses on. The game is set during a time when the worldís balance between good, neutral and evil forces have just become unbalanced due to the death of a powerful neutral wizard. The gamer takes on the role of Aurax, a young man who has just become awakened to the fact the he has the ability to use magic. As soon as he finds his new identity, he is forced into battle to restore the balance between good and evil.

 

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Now as cheesy as the plot sounds, it is only made more painful by some of the character dialogue. Itís not that the voice acting is much worse than any other game, but itís one thing to read lines like ďHer name is Nadia, and she has magic in her,Ē and another thing to hear them. This is made worse by the fact that cut scenes cannot be skipped.

Plot and voice acting gripes aside, TAOM does initially have some 

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interesting gameplay. Before the gamer enters a level, they will decide what spells to equip. Players do this is by placing herbs into different orbs. For each herb there are three different spells; one evil, one good and one neutral. There are also three different types of orbs; also good, neutral, and evil. The resulting spell equipped will be different depending on which orb the ingredient is place in. Players gain orbs throughout the course of the game, so that eventually more spells can be equipped but initially, the gamer begins with two neutral orbs.

Spells for the most part do one of the following; summon creatures, neutralize a foeís spell, attacks a foe, or temporarily increases one of Auraxís attributes. Spells that are equipped can be cast an unlimited number of times. Scattered throughout the map are also items that will allow Aurax to cast a spell a certain number of times.

Spells cost mana to cast, and mana can be gained by controlling Places of Power or by using mana sprites which will fill up Auraxís mana a certain amount. Places of power are mana fountains that are scattered throughout a map. If one of Auraxís allies, creatures, or Aurax himself stands on one of these places of power, his mana levels will be refilled. The more places of power that Aurax controls, the faster his mana levels will regenerate.

Herein lies the primary contributing factor to the boredom that the game induces. Besides controlling the places of power and the health items, there really isnít that much else to fight for. Level after level becomes all about scouting quickly for about four places of power, securing them as much as possible, and then pointing and clicking your way to victory. Iím sure that many gamers would welcome the removal of buildings and resource management in favour of action, but the gameplay here is a little too stripped down. As far as strategy gaming is concerned, there should be a little more challenge in the way of designing a strategy as well as in its execution. That being said, the action is fast, furious and entertaining, though repetitive.

Another frustrating aspect to the gameplay is the way in which spell casting and movement are handled. To move Aurax, you must first select him by left clicking and then right clicking on his destination. To cast a spell, you must first select the spell, and then right click where you want to cast it. On paper that bad, but believe me when your wizard is being attacked by a horde of evil skeletons and your desperately clicking first to move your wizard and then selecting a spell and then you're clicking all over the place to cast it, it can become frustrating. A more streamlined interface should have been implemented to complement the quick action packed gameplay.

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Every time a gamer completes a level, they gain a certain amount of experience points depending on what they have accomplished in that level. These experience points can be distributed to increase three attributes: health increases the level of hit points Aurax has, mana, his maximum amount of mana, and control limit the maximum number of creatures he can summon at one time. These RPG elements to the game are a neat addition but should have been taken even further as the similarity of the levels and the less than compelling plotline do not offer the gamer enough to want to continue playing the game further.

Aside from its competent execution in over simplicity, TAOM has some interesting presentation aspects. The overall look of the game has a sharp bright look with the graphics making you feel like you are playing with digital clay models. The sound and music create a dreamy kind of mood which strangely, complement the look and feel of the game quite well.

The camera in TAOM can be zoomed in or out and can be rotated around as the world is fully 3D. The only problem is that at each level of zoom, the angle of view is fixed. This means that fully zoomed out, you will see an overhead view of the action, and fully zoomed in you will see an almost completely horizontal view of the landscape from a few feet behind Aurax. Everything in between will be at some interval depending on the level of zoom. This can create some annoying camera angles and some frustration when trying to control your character.

The multiplayer elements of AOM are fairly basic with two basic game types.  One is a timed game, where the highest score wins and the other is a last wizard standing game type.  Up to eight AI controlled or human opponents can play.  The setup of the multiplayer allows for a quite lot of customization.  Players are able to decide their alignment, and hence how much it will cost to cast certain spells, what herbs to use, and how many of each type of orb is available to them.  This is the one part of the game where the stripped down gameplay contributes a little more to the fun factor, but not for too long.  Although clicking around and watching the pretty spell effects is fun for a while, the lack of depth eventually catches up to it despite the fun of the action.

With more RPG elements or strategy elements or both, this game could have been a lot more fun. The game isnít without its merits however as what it does present, it does so with few problems. The game does present a lot of action and is sure to entertain gamers for at least a week or two, but in the long term, the game will unlikely enter the classic status of vanilla ice cream.

- Mark Leung

(October 2001)

 

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