Lords of Magic
If you have ever played Heroes of Might and Magic you will find the gameplay in Lords of Magic by Sierra On-Line to be much the same. In the end, though, Lords of Magic has superior graphics to Heroes of Might and Magic but lacks the playability it needs to be a standout in its genre. The Lords of Urak, who had the powers of Light and the Infinite Ones, have imprisoned Balkoth the Destroyer, trapping his soul inside the Great Amulet of Darkness. Golgoth, Balkoth's evil cohort, has stormed the Temple of Life, smashing the Amulet and freeing Balkoth.
Now Urak is in dire need of help. With Balkoth free, the temples are overrun with the power of Darkness, and the land begs for a savior to return it to its former glory. It is hard to imagine anyone, mortal or god, who can defeat the powers of Golgoth and Balkoth, but that person must soon be found. Until that time, Urak will languish in despair, its people desperate and starving. Who will come and gather the power of Urak to defeat this horrible pestilence that has ravaged the world?
Like Heroes of Might and Magic, you start playing Lords of Magic with a small group of units and a Hero (or Champion). Unlike HoM&M, you will need to conquer your starting town. To do this you must take back the great temple of your faith. With this done, you can begin to capture locations that give you the four resources of the game; gold, ale, fame, and magic crystals. You may also assign followers (a number of who are generated each week that you still control your temple) to work in your town to create any of the 4 resources.
Followers have another purpose as well. You may train them to be military troops. If you face off with any bad guys, you are taken to a combat screen to conduct the combat in real-time (well, I guess some people would play it that way. I used the pause button every few seconds to give new orders to my mages, essentially turning the combat into a turn-based affair). If you don't like real-time combat, or if you just don't want to wait to see the results, you can click the auto-calculate button and the computer will instantly figure out the battle results. (Hint: The auto-calculate button does not take into account troop placement or spell points left. So if your unit placement is bad, press the button after you have used your most powerful combat spell to tip the odds in your favor).
The controls are simple: click the unit you would like to perform an action, and buttons are shown that display all your options. The only three things that are not totally intuitive are: 1) You need to use a unit to perform an action at a building. 2) If you want only one unit of an army to do something, you must click on his portrait, and then you must click the button with the action you want. 3) When you want to cast spells there are only two choices shown -- to get to any of the other spells you must right-click on one of the buttons which brings up a menu with your remaining spell-casting options.
The interface is good-looking, compact, and easy to use. The only thing left to say is that it does its job perfectly.
The graphics are good (although there were not a lot of frames in the animations) and clear: they are easy on the eyes and you can tell which units are which. The terrain is very well done and even when you get terraforming spells and mess up the landscape, it still looks good. When playing Lords of Magic, I kept thinking about HoM&M, and how much better I liked these "real" graphics than the "cartoon" graphics of HoM&M.
The music was good, the sound effects were good, and the voices were nice the first time you heard them. Luckily you can turn off the voices, because like any game with voices they can quickly become annoying. The music went well with the game and did not make itself annoying at all. I did not really notice the sound effects, which to me means that they were average to good: they served their purpose without wowing or annoying me.
I only got one multiplayer game going after about 20 tries. The WON.NET service crashed every time I, or anyone else I talked to, tried it. Lords of Magic did work on my LAN after I borrowed a computer from a friend for a bit. Multiplayer games are much like HoM&M, where you grab as much land as you can hold and get more magic than your opponent.
Required: Pentium 75, Windows 95, 16 MB RAM, 2X CD-ROM drive, SVGA that supports 32k colors at 640x480, Windows-supported sound card with DAC
Recommended: K6-200, Windows 95, 48 MB RAM, 4X CD-ROM drive, ATI 3D Expressions+ PC2TV, SB 16
All in all, Lords of Magic looks better than HoM&M, but does not play as well. HoM&M has better multiplayer and replayability, and the cartoon graphics are not all that bad when you consider the strength of the gameplay and the replayability. Save yourself some money and pick up a copy of Heroes of Might and Magic II.