Blood and Magic
Here's the first real-time strategy game based on an Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game. Blood & Magic takes place on the Forgotten Realms world in a previously unexplored area called the Litter East.
To wage this epic battle, you must utilize 28 legendary characters. A unique feature enables you to transform an army from one with the strength of mere acolytes to one with the might of warriors and wraiths. You also discover new magic spells, such as the Blood Forges, for conjuring entire armies.
Blood & Magic is the first original AD&D computer game in more than a year and a half, and it looks worth the wait.
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"Prepare to enter five sweeping tales of enchantment and conquest set in the most popular fantasy world of all time... TSR's Forgotten Realms.
"In a mysterious corner of the Forgotten Realms, powerful mages prepare for battle using magic long lost. You are one of those wizards, conjuring warriors, wyverns, sirens, wraiths and more. Armed with ancient artifacts, your troops rally forth to battle goblin hordes, dark wizards, and lords of chaos. Can you defeat your foes to become master of the realm?"
In the quickly-bloating, copycat real-time strategy genre, Blood and Magic is an anomaly. It doesn't look like many other games, and it doesn't play like them either. In addition, it is based on an actual story line (TSR's Forgotten Realms, familiar to Dungeons & Dragons players and avid fantasy readers), and displays more creativity than duplication. Finally, the interface, look, and feel are both delightful and refreshing, and the game in general is quite refreshing.
This game is absorbing, and it is fun. While other games boast about resolution levels and customization features, this game quietly sneaks in and hides my Warcraft 2 and Red Alert CDs, and then keeps me busy so I don't even notice that they are gone. It is addictive and distracting, two things I love in a computer game. There are a variety of small factors that greatly enhance the game, such as the multiple viewpoints provided.
There are five stories or episodes, and each one has several sub-stories within. Rather than picking one side and then playing through the whole game as that side, each of the five stories is somewhat disjointed, although ultimately intertwined with the others. As a result, you choose to be one of the heroes on either side of a quest, siege, challenge, or other mission, five times throughout the story. In addition, there are no "good guys" or "bad guys" such as those found in Warcraft 2 or Command and Conquer. Instead, the story is told from your point of view, so if you choose to defend the throne of the slain king you are a hero, while if you choose the opposite side, you are a freedom fighter, not a villain.
Blood and Magic's gameplay is just plain fun. For instance, in the final story, you have the opportunity to side with a group that was clearly the "bad guys," raiding human lands and carrying away prisoners. As I developed my forces, I was provided with the opportunity to produce several creatures not available in previous missions, and left out (probably intentionally) from the manual. One of the greatest of these was the harpy. It is a flying unit that, while slow, can produce a net (using mana, of course), and snatch enemy or friendly players away. Then you can choose to either drop the unit into a nearby chasm (goodbye!), or return to your camp and drop them in your boiling cauldron, at which point you receive bonus mana for the sumptuous meal.
However, if the enemy gets even one shot off at your harpy while it is carrying a character, the harpy drops its cargo and becomes an easy target for both the original attacker and the character it was carrying. In order to monopolize on this, I would send in a raiding party of goblins, elementals, and golems, then send waves of harpies to pluck opponents off of the front lines of the battle, bringing them back to camp for the final feast. Each of the 28 units (all from the Forgotten Realms universe) has its own distinct advantages and weaknesses, and there is a definite element of strategy that is necessary in this game. Units must be combined to be effective, but just the wide variety and different spells, special skills, and abilities make for a wide range of action. It feels heroic to be good, and sneaky to be evil, but the wide range in between is both refreshing and entertaining.
There are several new features of the game that add freshness and give it a unique feel. First of all, there are a variety of standard and magical items, many of which can be found when clearing ruins or exploring new territory. These allow characters certain immunities, abilities, and powers, such as healing, swimming, and protection from certain hazards. In addition, terrain factors are taken into account when determining attack/defense strength, as well as movement speed. Certain territories/areas, such as flame spouts, brambles, and cauldrons, are very hazardous, and enhance the strategic element. Many other factors, such as experience, which enables research of a wider variety of minions, in addition to a message queue and other game enhancements, are both new and welcome additions. Blood and Magic's interface is simple to use, and should not be difficult for anyone who has played other games of this kind. There is a large array of shortcut keys, allowing the user to whip through many of the standard commands, and almost any game player will find the controls well laid out and easily accessible.
I do feel that Blood and Magic could be better in three areas: graphics, audio and customization. While I discuss the first two in their relative areas, I would like to say a little about the customization of this game. Basically, there is almost none. Well, there is a little, but not enough of the kind users familiar with the genre will expect. There are no speed controls, and the game runs by default at a somewhat slow pace anyway. Other customization issues exist which I will not discuss here, but in general, I feel that an otherwise excellent game is hampered by a lack of expected features.
The in-game graphics in this game are intriguing. All of the characters and units are displayed in a "cartoony" sense, much like that of the Warcraft series of games. However, Interplay opted for a 320x400 resolution for the game, which certainly surprised me. Recently, any company considering a real-time strategy title has pushed for SVGA, which has been the standard since Warcraft 2 hit the shelves over a year ago. In spite of what you may be thinking, though, the graphics are quite nice. In fact, I would go so far as to say that they are the best medium-resolution graphics I have seen in a game of its type. However, I do wonder why the graphics were not in a higher resolution, particularly considering the thought and work that were put into this game. On the positive side, there is a wide variety of scenery throughout the different stories, from forests to woodlands, castles and cities to islands in the ocean. This scenery contributes to the freshness of the game, adding new challenges and opportunities with each new mission.
In addition, the "storybook" sections of the game, which tell the story and introduce each twist in the plot, are presented in a semi-animated style with a "bedtime story"-type voiceover. I thoroughly enjoyed this, but still missed the extravagant pre-rendered scenes of carnage and destruction that are rampant in other games of the type. Again, I enjoyed this element of the game, but felt that originality did not totally make up for a lack of quality.
The audio in the game is about average. Once you get used to the game, sounds become a good clue as to when you are under attack elsewhere, when you need to dispense mana, etc. In addition, the general bells and whistles provided in most games were available, but there was nothing outstanding other than the wide range of audio hardware supported. I did not feel that the game was lacking in any way in sound quality, but there was nothing that stood out to make it impressive.
DOS/Windows: IBM compatible 486DX-66Mhz computer with 8 MB of RAM. (12 MB if run inside a Windows 95 DOS box.), Microsoft compatible mouse (Blood & Magic also supports any keyboard "quick keys"), color monitor, and 256 color VGA graphics system, 2X (300Kb/sec. or faster) CD-ROM drive, hard drive with at least 35 MB of free space, MS-DOS version 5.0 (or better). Blood & Magic can also be started from Windows 95.
Blood & Magic supports the following sound cards: Sound Blaster and 100% compatible cards, including Sound Blaster Pro, Sound Blaster 16, Sound Blaster AWE32, Gravis UltraSound, Gravis UltraSound Max, Ensoniq SoundScape, Roland RAP-10, Roland Sound Canvas, ESS AudioDrive, Microsoft Sound System, Pro Audio Spectrum 16, Thunderboard, ARIA Chipset, I/O Magic Tempo, MPU-401, NewMedia .WAVJammer, Reveal FX/32, Sound Galaxy NX Pro 16, and Toptek Golden 16
The documentation is ample, although not totally complete, and the game includes a small paperback book from the Forgotten Realms series, although whether its purpose is to provide background or to interest readers in more books is not clear. Any feature or element not totally described in the documentation is presented well to the user within the game itself, so I never felt that the manual was deficient in any way. In fact, the manual, as with everything else in the game, presents the background and atmosphere of the game in a compelling way, and I felt myself drawn into the Forgotten Realms universe from the moment I cracked the manual. If there is one thing this game has, it is atmosphere.
Although not a ground-shaking release, I feel that this game has been somewhat overlooked in the mad rush of real-time strategy games this season. While it may not have the catchy graphics of other titles, Blood and Magic is more immersing and refreshing than any other title of its type on the market. I thoroughly enjoyed playing it, and was fascinated by the storybook presentation, as well as the lack of imitation and repetition. I recommend it to any player that has felt disenchanted or disappointed by the recent flurry of games of this type, and after the "carbon copy with hi-res and a couple of new features" feel of C&C: Red Alert, Blood and Magic was a welcome addition to my software library. Interplay's web site promises a new demo which you should download and play for yourself. It is nowhere near as expansive or involving as the full title, but it should give you a peek at what this game has to offer. While I can't justifiably give this game a score in the 90s due to its standard graphics and average sound, I think it deserves to be close, so I give it 87 out of 100.