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Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic (Windows)

83
MobyRank
100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
3.8
MobyScore
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  Technocrat (176)
Written on  :  Apr 05, 2007
Rating  :  2.67 Stars2.67 Stars2.67 Stars2.67 Stars2.67 Stars

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Summary

The sad end of the AOW saga.

The Good

Finally, the AOW developers put in a random map generator: one of the basic elements to call a game replayable. The scenario editor was complete enough to allow interesting work, and more so with the event engine. Also, some tools were provided to easily edit units, mages and magical items. Mods were a breeze to make, and personally I care as much for the modding capabilities as for the game itself.

The best of the game, however, was the tactical part. Not that was a deep and exhaustive model of tactical warfare (in fact, it was simple), but had a good amount of unit characteristics (both positive and negative) that allowed many possibilities and made up for a rich and fun battle environment. Death strike, Cold strike, Fire strike... all were different and had different and unique effects; so their counterparts (immunities), and others like Blurred, Cave Crawling or Path of Decay (that transformed any land you walked into a lifeless desert).

Deities were a nice idea: although not much variety of them (only 4) , the missions requested by your god provided something random, yet adding flavor to the game.

The Bad

Unfortunately, that didn't help AOW:SM become anything more than a flawed end to a saga. It wasn't the deepest of the strategy games; the management part was limited to construct a bunch of buildings and balancing gold income with army support. Neither was the strategic part: no supply lines, no attrition, very little effect of terrain. However, it could be a fun light game nonetheless if the developers didn't abandon it, with bugs unfixed and with none of the things they promised (and even advertised) to implement.

And what suffered the most was the AI. Supposedly, the AI would finally be able to use ships and sea warfare; it didn't. Also, to colonize and create new cities; it could, but only in premade scenarios with starting settler units; it was unable to build them. Also, to build and upgrade wizard towers; it didn't. Warfare AI wasn't very brilliant; on hardest difficulty as stupid as on easiest, only cheating more. When pushed over, left cities undefended and gathered all troops at the capital. Even with cheats, it was only a matter of waiting for its gold and mana to fall, so disbanding enough units and driving the player to an only final assault.

Diplomacy AI was even worse. In fact, the AI knew only about two things: propose a peace treaty and propose an alliance. Oh, and in that precise and exact order. A good diplomatic engine, capable of constructing and reviewing proposals, wasted. But well... since in random maps there was no other way of winning than total conquest, it didn't was something to bother.

Finally, the spell list was rather small; about 100 spells grouped in five schools, making 20 for each, and also a small list of summoned creatures. Seems smaller when remembering the +200 spells of Master of Magic, a game a decade older.

The Bottom Line

And that was the fate of AOW:SM... being a poor man's trying of MOM, despite good ideas. It didn't learn from its illustrious predecessor, but rather fell in many of the same errors, and in some aspects was worse. No fan of the original MOM (a declared source of inspiration from the developers) can feel that this title is going to take the throne of fantasy strategy games.

But the sad thing is that it could be fair only if the developers were actually willing to put a little work. They left the game uncooked, told their customers about many features, and broke their promises; things that were advertised were also promised to be in a patch that never came. Hell, it was made a 1.4 patch by fans (who couldn't touch the exe and thus not fixing the big ones), and Triumph Studios uploaded it into their site, so they were aware of it. But no other official patch has been released, so we have an unfinished an bugged game, killed by untrustworthy developers that add insult to injury. They don't deserve your money.