Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic
Here's a worrying thought: sometimes I actually like elves, dwarves and goblins and all that nonsense. Recently it's been happening more often too; first Neverwinter Nights, then Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne, and now this, Age Of Wonders: Shadow Magic. It must have something to do with growing fat and getting old - maybe I should get out and play more golf.
At the end of AoW II: The Wizards Throne, Merlin was victorious over the Circle of Traitorous Wizards. Sadly, as he settled on his throne a terrible cataclysm struck. Shadowy demons began to spew from the old wizard's towers and eventually all wizards including Merlin were banished forever. A couple of wizards secretly remain though, in order to rid the world of these foul demons, and this is where AoW:SM begins...
Like most turn-based games such as Heroes Of Might & Magic IV, Warlords III and Etherlords, the main aim in AoW:SM is to romp around a fantasy landscape fighting monsters. Your heroes and armies gain experience, collect magical items, uncover secret treasures and embark on the odd impromptu quest set by the gods. Overall it's a non-stop magical mystery tour of the highest calibre.
However, economics also play a vital role. Building barracks, wizard towers and temples to make your cities stronger and capable of pumping out better units is just as important as battlefield tactics. Gameplay for most turn-based games is slow and thoughtful and in that respect AoW: SM remains loyal to its forefathers. Minor, if not earth-shattering improvements have been made though. There are now six spheres of magic to learn, and there are three new races: Nomads, Shadow Demons and the mysterious Syrons. Needless to say these races boast their own new heroes and units.
All 12 existing races have undergone changes. Each species has a new city upgrade, which comes with a new unit. Elves, for example, can grow a secret forest, which not only acts as a cloaking device for their town, it also produces the powerful Ent-like Treemen. Overall gameplay feels more balanced than in AoWII, as each race is as good as the next.
The AoW series has always been playable and AoW:SM is no exception. It's certainly value for money with 16 campaign scenarios as well as a further 19 for skirmish and multiplayer (plus a level editor), yet overall it's nowhere near as groundbreaking as Etherlords.
That said I will be playing this for a good while yet, the trouble is it is just so bloody addictive -and that from someone who's usually a bit wary of goblins. But hey, it's the gameplay that counts, and AoW:SM is exceedingly playable. If you're hanging on for Warlords IV: Heroes Of Etheria, you could certainly do a lot worse than this while you wait.
Download Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
Age or Wonders: Shadow Magic is probably the pinnacle of turn-based strategy titles to date. Proven game developer Gathering has produced yet another winner in the Age of Wonders series, this title having you taking the role of the forces of Good to defeat a powerful and mostly unknown entity from another dimension intent on conquering the known world.
Those out there who have enjoyed such titles as Warlords and the Heroes of Might and Magic series will have an advantage of sorts, in that basic gameplay is similar. But thankfully, the developers have deleted the outdated 'stack'? type of battles for a more balanced, 3-dimensional angle to movement, even allowing for 'quick battles' in case you want to cut straight to the chase. AoW:SM also boasts excellent racial delineations, well defined characters and NPCs, and possibly the best AI that I've ever gone up against. Graphics are top notch for this style of game, and in-game audio is also excellent, with fantastic thematic elements to set the mood.
One of the nice facets to this game is the Simultaneous Mode, which allows players and NPCs to react at the same time. This makes for good multiplayer as well. AoW:SM uses the familiar if not fantastic GameSpy Arcade for multiplay connections, and while I noticed no real flaws in gameplay, even on a 56k connection, there were only a few people taking advantage of the GameSpy client at the times I was able to check in.
A word to the wise: While AoW:SM has an easy to use interface and basic moves can be figured out quickly, it is also a very richly appointed and complex game. Even skilled turn-based strategists would do well to give the manual and excellent tutorial a quick look to pick up some of the finer nuances of the game. Highly recommended for all gamers, as this title raises the bar for all successors.