UGO

Review:

Lords of Magic

by Impressions/Sierra


Lords of Magic is a strategy/role playing game from Impressions, makers of the fine Lords of the Realms games. Essentially two games in one, Lords of Magic seamlessly integrates resource management with tactical combat to provide an extremely entertaining and addictive gaming experience. You play as one of the 24 Lords of Magic, attempting to liberate your kingdom and all of Urak from the clutches of the evil Lord Balkoth. You can even play as Balkoth himself, once you've won a game as another Lord.

The game's graphics are excellent. The overland map is an actual 3D rendering of the terrain, not a flat map with points of interest laid out. Here the terrain matters, and you can use it to your advantage. Characters and character types are portrayed very well. All units are distinctive and easily identifiable. Animation is extremely well done, movement is fluid and looks great. Sounds are also very well done. Sound effects are quite good, although some of the battle cries tend to get repetitive very quickly. Music is excellent, it sets the mood very well and is certainly appropriate for the setting.

Pre-game operations include choosing your lord and the religion you will follow. Your lord may be of the warrior, mage, or thief class. Eight religions are available: Earth, Air, Fire, Water, Life, Death, Order, and Chaos. This essentially gives you 24 choices for your lord. The game is split into two types of gameplay - turn based strategy and real time tactical combat. The first is a turn based strategic viewpoint where you will move across the terrain and perform your resource management. This is essentially a point and click operation. You select your party, then click on a target location. A dotted line will show your path, with colors representing how far you can move during the current turn. A second click will verify your choice and move your units accordingly. Move into one of the command buildings you control, and you are presented with the resource management options available there. At your stronghold, you decide how many followers will work in the market for gold, how many will enchant crystals at the temple, how many will brew ale, and how many will sing your praises and raise your reputation. Your reputation is what decides how many people will decide to join your cause and follow you. A higher reputation means more followers to work in your kingdom. Of course, followers may be trained to fight at any time as well. When the game begins, you have only a couple of units and your temple has been infiltrated. Your first task is to liberate the temple and take command of the kingdom. Until that time, you cannot put people to work or train fighting units. Mercenaries are available for you to hire, but the price can be steep for someone with no resources coming in.

In addition to the common workers and soldiers, you may also hire mages and put them to work researching spells for use in battle (and take them into fights as well). A mage is put to work researching a type of spell, either defensive, offensive, etc. Each spell in the category will be researched in order. Once the research on a spell is complete, it may be used by your forces in the field. Early spells are not that powerful but the more research you do, the better the spells become that are available.

That explains the strategic turn based aspects of the game, but how about the tactical portion? In order to liberate your temple, clear out infested buildings, caves and all the rest you will need to fight. Once a structure is entered that contains an opposing force, the game goes into combat mode. Combat in the game is performed in real time, and utilizes the game's role playing elements. When a battle is begun, the game automatically pauses so you can get your bearings and scope out the battlefield. Orders may be given while paused, and magic users may prepare spells. When the game is unpaused, all orders will be followed, and new orders may be given. Troops may be ordered in real time, or you can pause at any time to evaluate your situation. Large battles can get a bit confusing due in part to limited sized battle areas, but the system works very well. Battle sites are given a level rating that may be observed before entering, so if you know ahead of time that you're outclassed you can decide not to even attempt the battle. Enemy AI has been greatly improved over Impressions' previous Lords of the Realm II. In fact, if an opposing force is hopelessly outnumbered, it will turn tail and run away. This is a refreshing change from the usual tactic of fighting against hopeless odds whether there is a chance of victory or not.

Multiplayer support is included. Two players may compete head to head via modem, or up to four players may compete via LAN or on the Internet using a free service, the Sierra Internet Gaming System (SIGS).

Lords of Magic does an excellent job of combining strategic and tactical elements together. The role playing aspects of the game are well developed - including experience levels, artifact discovery, the magic system, object use, and a host of other available options. So does the game have any flaws? The game has long load times when entering combat, although a patch has been released that relieves this somewhat. The longest wait however, is when the computer opponents take their turns during the strategic portion of the game. None of this takes away from the game, but it would be nice if the wait times were shorter.

Graphics 92%
Sounds 90%
Gameplay 93%
Interface 90%
Overall Impression 91%

Bottom Line: Lords of Magic is a wonderful combination of strategy gaming and tactical combat. The game looks great and is very entertaining and addictive. Some long load times and waiting while the computer opponents take their turns can be a bit frustrating, but nothing too terrible.


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