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Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic

Fans of Master of Magic have been waiting for the Age of Wonders series to pull all the aspects of a great turn-based strategy game together, and Shadow Magic does it. With the inclusion of a highly customizable random-map generator, three new playable races, and small but significant gameplay additions, developer Triumph Studios has addressed just about every player request and criticism. The latest Age of Wonders game is a huge amount of fun and a great choice for any turn-based strategy fanatic.

The new campaign, in which each player controls five wizards through a series of loosely related scenarios, is somewhat formulaic but still enjoyable. Fifteen additional pre-created maps showcase some of the changes, most notably the strange new Shadowland, which provides maps with a third level that already includes surface and underground locations. Shadowland is home to the evil Shadow Demons and their long-suffering enemies, the Syrons. The terrain, which serves as a backdrop for the campaign story, is harmful to non-native races, although the effect can be countered by spells and unit abilities.

The real meat of Shadow Magic, however, is its random-map generator. Players can choose from five general templates, each geared toward a different playing experience, or delve into the dozens of configuration options. Random scenarios range from small, combat-intensive maps to vastly epic games of exploration. Some of the largest maps, which have three different levels of land, can provide dozens of hours of gameplay. When using the advanced settings, players can restrict terrain types and races, select the frequency of various map locations, and choose which spheres of magic are playable. For players not satisfied with random maps, Shadow Magic includes a fully featured editor for creating custom scenarios and campaigns.

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Shadow Magic adds new spells to every sphere of magic (including a whole new category of unit-enhancement spells), new units to every playable race, and three new races. There are also city upgrades, including an item forge, which gives players the ability to craft their own magical items for hero units. Shadow Magic’s changes make the game superior to its predecessors, even without the new graphics or radical redesign of a traditional sequel.

There is, arguably, one area needing improvement. Even at 200 pages (including the sections available only on the CD), the manual is still the game’s weak spot. There is too much detail to fit into any printed manual, but there are some frustrating omissions in the existing text. The description of spell effects remains strangely vague in many cases, and some key tables of statistics are simply missing. This complaint is a minor one, though, and really the only blemish on an otherwise fantastic title that will satisfy AOW veterans and newcomers alike.

Editor's Choice

Verdict: A great strategy game that’s worth purchasing for the random-map generator alone.

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Copyright © 2003 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally appearing in Computer Gaming World.


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