Written by  :  Jean-Paul Cardinal (19)
Written on  :  Dec 30, 1999
Rating  :  4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars

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Warlords 3.9 meets Master of Magic - what could be better?

The Good

1) Very pretty graphics, in 16-bit color, which look even better in 640X480 resolution (That's rare...and you can change the resolution-mode from within the game itself);

2) 12 distinctive fantasy-races, which means a diversified lot of weird creatures running around and more sides to compete against (You can reduce that number below 12 if you feel that a scenario is too crowded);

3) A great map editor which allows to create new maps or to modify and expand published maps (Two underground levels can be added: they look like dark, labyrinthine tunnels, and you can put enemy home-castles there if you feel that the surface level is too crowded to start with);

4) Lots of pre-game customization options;

5) The option to incarnate yourself directly into the game as a "leader" hero: if he gets killed, you "die", and it is game over for your side;

6) A lot of spells, some of them creating spectacular audiovisual special-effects when cast on the main strategic map (Such as a huge lightning-bolt striking a city);

7) The possibility of moving creatures without heroes, so the map progressively becomes infested with annoying pests harassing your weaker armies, cities, and territorial possessions (The strategic gameplay thus becomes more complex and the computer-players gain more options to harass the smarter humans);

8) Cities are more difficult to capture: if your hero does not have a special talent to breach walls or if your army does not have siege-engines, city-garrisons protected by walls made of wood or stone simply cannot be attacked (This poses logistic problems: you often have to produce siege-engines and to pull those slower machines to the target-city);

9) Cities can be immediately razed, or looted (then razed), or even better, you can eject their populations and migrate your own race into the conquered cities;

10) The diplomatic matrix is the most sophisticated in any strategic game because it not only takes into account your relationships with the other leaders, it also keeps track of the quality of your relationships with the various races (For example: you can be at war with the leader of the Elves but at the same time be in friendly terms with the Elves! This forces you to take care of how you treat the population of a conquered city: if you hurt the Elves in one city, you negatively affect your relationship with all of the Elves...including your own Elf mercenaries);

11) The automatic combat-resolution mode is not simply a general outcome-summary, it displays enough tactical details to make it a worthwhile substitute to spending time playing out the battles from start to finish;

12) Units can have many special abilities which render combat more complex and sophisticated (For example: some battles end up in a stalemate because your army is not equipped to fire on flying units or on spectral units which are immune to physical attacks!);

13) There are many options which favor multiplayer encounters;

14) The musical score is very good and the particular sounds associated with the various units and situations are exquisite in their diversity and weird effects;

15) I'm sure I forgot something: it's a great game.

I'm a fanatic of the "Heroes of Might and Magic" (HMM) series, and I wasn't very thrilled with the two versions of "Warlords 3" (1997 & 1998). I must admit that there are many interesting features in "Age of Wonders" which make it a more sophisticated game than HMM2 and HMM3, even though I find the latter visually more beautiful, especially during combat and within cities. It is difficult for me to admit that: I hope the designers of an eventual HMM4 will integrate elements of the superb "Age of Wonders".

The Bad

1) The inner cityscapes (layout, buildings) are simplistic and just plain ugly (far from being as beautiful as the ones in HMM2, a 1996 game, and not even as pretty as the cities of "Master of Magic", a 1994 game!)That's an odd weakness in such a sophisticated game that took so much time to develop;

2) There are not enough maps, especially extra-large ones, included on the CD (build your own!);

3) Even though it is interesting to have units move without a hero, it is annoying to see solitary, low-level enemy units scrambling to capture resources, and even cities (by financial negotiation) from the very start of the game (I've even seen a lone battering-ram used as scout for those purposes!)Those kinds of operations should have been limited to certain types of units, and this problem can be reduced by editing the maps so that most resources are solidly guarded and that cities which can be bought (because of racial affinities)are not placed near a side's starting forces.

I can't find anything else!

The Bottom Line

If you enjoyed "Master of Magic" and the "Heroes of Might and Magic" series, if you found "Warlords 3" and "Disciples: Sacred Lands" unsatisfactory, you will enjoy the intricate challenges of a long game of "Age of Wonders" on an extra-large map. Oh, by the way, Hasbro has recently announced that a "Master of Magic 2" has been slated to be released in 2001...