Disciples II: Dark Prophecy
"The gates of hell have been sealed, and the four races have staggered, bloody, but victorious, to their respective homes. They are greeted by ruins, for the war has savaged the land." -
Apocalyptic fantasy stories don't seem farfetched in today's world where we fight a global war using magic-like, high-tech weapons against an unseen, evil enemy. Attributes of valor, loyalty, and cleverness in battle seem more important than they used to. Heroes are no longer fictional characters, but real policemen, firefighters, soldiers, and airline passengers who can be observed in everyday life. With plenty of heroes, villains, and everything in between, Disciples II: Dark Prophecy is the sequel to Disciples: Sacred Lands, released in 1999.The game falls into the turn-based strategy genre with some discernible role playing elements. It has been frequently compared to New World Computing's Heroes of Might and Magic series. If you're new to this type of game like me'normally my reviews involve fragging, flying, or racing'understand that turn-based means that you don't have a lot of pressure to do things quickly as in real time strategy games like Homeworld or Command and Conquer. There are enough formidible foes in this game, so not having to fight the clock is nice. Simply take your time, figure out the best move, and click "end turn" when done. It helps me to think of turn-based strategy as a chess game where you observe the pieces actually fight each other.
These are dark times for Nevendaar. All four of its distinct races, the Empire, the Mountain Clans, the Legions of the Dead, and the Undead Hordes, have their own unique woes. A generation ago, the Empire celebrated its Golden Age, but now, this epoch is so removed that it has been relegated to fantasy. Victory has long passed from the Empire. They have been only surviving, existing in a climate of fear. They long for the ancient peace they once possessed. Then, a dark prophecy from the Elders is whispered, "The accursed angel, riding his fiery steed, will curse the land, and the poisoned soil shall harvest beasts and demons."
You don't have to be Notstradamus to know that trouble is brewing for an already troubled land. Ten years after the prophecy, the state of the Empire has sunken into strife, plague, famine. To make matters worse, the king lost his consort and only son during the Great Wars, a time which marked the breaking apart of the Empire itself. He now hosts himself only to the Empire's greatest pity party, sitting as a recluse atop the highest tower of his castle.
The Mountain Clans have become radically separatist, even by Dwarven standards. After being told of an ominous dream by Memnor, the oldest and wisest of the Dwarves, and that their salvation depended on interpreting the ancient runes, they sent an expedition to research the runes. Upon their return, they discovered, to their horror, that the goddess Mortis had marched upon the Dwarven Mountain Clans, unleashing destruction of their land and killing their king. Under those circumstances, it's hard to blame them for retreating to an underground city.
The Legions of the Damned belong to a once beautiful angel named Bethrezen, a Lucifer-like figure who was allowed to create Nevendaar, but ended up mismanaging it. For his punishment, he was locked up by the High Father and the Legions of the Damned were imprisoned in their mountain temple. However, the Legions have broken out and are about to free their fallen angelic leader.
To understand the Undead Hordes, you have to know something of the tragic tale of the life of the goddess, Mortis. Formerly, a goddess of life, she was transformed into a vengeful killer after Wotan, the god of the Mountain Clans transformed himself into a wolf and literally tore the heart out of Mortis' beloved husband, Gallean. The hideous army she raised to carry out her wrath upon the Mountain Clans carries the name, the Undead Hordes. She and her horrific legions only backed off after wreaking massive destruction upon the the Mountain Clans.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
The Quest and Saga are the two forms of gameplay. The Quest is a standalone adventure; the Saga comprises a series of linked Quests. Before beginning your world conquest, you select a race that suits you. I chose to start out as the Empire race because I can relate to humans and jumped at the opportunity to destroy evil forces. Next you select from one of three Lords: Warrior, Mage, or Guildmaster. Choose a Lord with strengths that match your long term strategy: combat (Warrior), spell casting (Mage), or thievery (Guildmaster). Regardless of which race or lord you choose, you'll encounter a diverse multitude of enemies as you complete your objectives. You're liable to cross paths with White Wizards, Druidesses, Gargoyles, Dreadwyrms or others of the thirty or so units that comprise each race. As you expand your territory, your race builds structures, manages resources, and researches spells. You can also ally with another race against enemies. Hint: watch your back.
Most of the graphical energy goes toward each character's unique animations during battle. You will see characters move and fight with detailed action against a 2D background using their magic spells or fire or physical weapons. Although impressive, seeing the same guy perform the same animation sequence each time begins to wear. I am resisting the temptation to judge a turn-based game by the same graphical standard as the action games. The interface maintains the haunting medieval mood quite consistently. Subtle moving water and fadeouts catch the eye. The unsexy gray look reminds me of the old TV series, Dark Shadows, which used to strike mortal fear in my spine as a small child. Truly, this is a dark game in every sense. You may even find yourself upping the brightness on your monitor. But don't think of adjusting your resolution higher than 800 X 600 because that's the limit.I didn't notice any graphical anomalies and this resolution seemed acceptable for the most part, especially given that the title has been in development since 1999.
The sound effects are of the usual sort and ring a bit average to me. The music is a different story. It's not often that I have the thought of "wonder where I can get that mp3 file?" when I hear game interface music. My musical taste is very discriminating, but the gothic music with bells and wailing female choruses and strings won my approval. The production is of the highest quality I've heard. Here's a thought: Dead Can Dance soundtrack for Disciples III?
You can play Disciples II: Dark Prophecy over a LAN, the Internet or connect to another modem. Being turn-based, the game fittingly has a mode for playing someone right there in the room with you: the Hotseat mode. This mode can be particularly useful for challenging that stubborn friend or relative that everyone has who refuses to play online and insists on dwelling exclusively on single player games.
Not being a fan of turn-based stategy or role playing games, my positives concerning Disciples II: Dark Prophecy are more of appreciation than enjoyment. However, this game gave me a new respect for turn-based strategy. Turn-based does not equal boring, as I had thought. Clearly, a lot of hard work went into this game to balance the units for challenging gameplay. One thing that bugged me throughout the game was that the story and characters seemed to have been drawn from every source imaginable and thrown into the melting pot and stirred. Anything goes: elements from Tolkien, Norse mythology, Judeo Christian theology and even Himalayan folklore appear in the mix. If you're trying to teach your kids about religion or science or diplomacy, they are probably going to be very confused after giving this game a whirl. Other occultic elements like spirit possession, will be too much for some to handle.Those who already enjoy turn-based strategy or who are enchanted with today's fantasy genre will likely be captivated by Disciples II: Dark Prophecy. For others, it may require being under a spell.