|(PC) Age of Wonders (1999) |
( Complete CD image 550mb / 3D / Turn base Strategy, Fantasy, Magic)
Age of Wonders encompasses many facets of games that have preceded it, but it adds improvements of its own and is consequently a complex and highly evolved strategy game.
Age of Wonders isn't ostentatious or innovative. Though it does do a handful of new things, its basic gameplay involves exploring a map, claiming as many resources as possible, and generating units at your towns to form armies to wage war with your opponent's similarly created armies. Specifically, its map exploration, resource management, and unit-based armies bear a striking resemblance to other turn-based strategy games that have been released before it. Age of Wonders encompasses many facets of games that have preceded it, but it adds improvements of its own and is consequently a complex and highly evolved strategy game.
Age of Wonders' visuals are inconsistent; its menu screens and opening movie are graced by elegant hand-painted art, whose effective use of shadow and simple color contrasts lend it a distinctive and pleasingly understated quality. Unfortunately, this picturesque style isn't carried over to the maps on which most of the game is played. Though the maps themselves have the same colorful and detailed look of New World Computing's Heroes of Might and Magic games, the same can't be said for Age of Wonders' units, whose miniscule size, stilted animation, and sometimes downright silly appearance contrast oddly with the game's otherwise high fantasy look.
Age of Wonders' sound is also inconsistent; at any given time, there's always some sort of music playing in the background, and it's usually stirring and thematically appropriate and never obtrusive. However, one of the most important - and frequent - components of Age of Wonders' gameplay is combat. Unfortunately, between the scurrying of poorly animated units across the screen and the alternating sound of the generic loud slapstick thwack when a melee unit hits its target and the accompanying generic yelp of pain, combat sometimes seems more like a Benny Hill skit than anything else.
Whatever else may be said about how it looks or sounds, Age of Wonders is a solid, if not entirely original game to play. Its resource management system, which mostly consists of moving your units over mines and other resources on the map to claim them as your own, is essentially identical to that of Heroes of Might and Magic. Of its two combat systems, Age of Wonders' isometric-perspective tactical combat is reminiscent of Master of Magic. Age of Wonders borrows its quick combat system from SSG's Warlords III: Darklords Rising, along with many other features, including the ability to create war parties without a hero in the lead, to create eight-creature army stacks, to raze and loot towns and other structures, and the ability to play turns simultaneously against your opponent.
However, Age of Wonders does manage to distinguish itself from its peers with several interesting new features. First and foremost is the sheer number of different factions to play: There are 12 races to choose from, and in turn, 12 corresponding sets of combat units. Though the sets of units may seem similar enough at first (and are therefore equally accessible at first), each distinguishes itself from the rest thanks to various inherent abilities and increasingly divergent upper-level units.Another important way in which Age of Wonders exceeds its fantasy-themed turn-based brethren is by having two combat systems: Any and all conflicts can be resolved either through tactical or quick combat, which helps expedite messy battles or easy walkover fights in an otherwise very time-consuming game. Neither system is at all innovative in and of itself, but the ability to choose between either makes combat so much more convenient, you'll wonder why other similar games haven't done the same.
The game includes 22 scenarios, two branching campaigns, and a map editor, which collectively provide many hours of solid gameplay. Unfortunately, Age of Wonders doesn't have a random-map generator, so jumping into a new quick-and-dirty scenario isn't an option. As such, after you've tried all the scenarios and the campaigns and familiarized yourself with all the maps, you won't have much new material to look forward to outside of player-made maps.
Age of Wonders looks and sounds good for the most part. It doesn't break much new ground, but it does integrate some of the best elements of some of the best turn-based strategy games out there with a few of its own features.
(PC) Age of Wonders II: The Wizard's Throne (2002)
( Complete CD image 500mb / 3D / Turn base Strategy, Fantasy, Magic)
Though it may seem difficult for beginners, Age of Wonders II sounds good, looks great, plays terrific, and improves on every aspect of the original game.
Age of Wonders II: The Wizard's Throne is the third entry in the fantasy-themed turn-based strategy race of 2002, and it's every bit as good as its competitors, Disciples II and Heroes of Might and Magic IV. Developer Triumph Studios clearly set out to address the problems that fans had with the original game, especially the long-standing complaint that the original game wasn't challenging enough--though the sequel may have gone a bit too far in this direction. And though some die-hard fans may wish that the game included a random map generator, this really isn't a major concern, considering how huge the game's maps are and how its loyal fan community will more than likely make good use of the included scenario editor to make new maps. Beyond that, Age of Wonders II is an excellent sequel that no self-respecting fantasy strategy fan should miss.
Make no mistake--Age of Wonders II is a very complex game, much more so than the original. While this added complexity adds a great deal of depth, it also tends to make the game difficult for newcomers to pick up, especially considering the sequel's increased difficulty. Like in other fantasy strategy games, you create an army of fantastic creatures to explore a large, colorful map, seize resources and treasure, and fight groups of enemy soldiers or wandering monsters. Like the original Age of Wonders, the sequel lets you fight each battle in a tactical turn-based combat mode or use a quick-resolve option to save time. But you'll find yourself concerned with lots of other things, including the progress of your cities and their buildings, the next powerful magic spell or new ability you're currently researching, and the constant encroachments of your computer opponents in the single-player game. These resemble the sorts of things you'd concern yourself with in the classic strategy game Master of Magic, but they're more complex, and the computer opponent is much tougher. So if you're new to fantasy strategy games, you'll want to make sure that you play through Age of Wonders II's tutorial missions and flip through its hefty manual before diving in.
A standard session in Age of Wonders II begins with selecting your wizard, a character who will appear on the map and can be moved and brought into combat, but won't gain any experience levels. It's best to keep your wizard in one place, usually in your starting city, and recruit armies from your own ranks and any hero units that show up randomly or are called up by the "summon hero" spell. You'll also choose which playable race you want to control. Age of Wonders II has a dozen playable races, and most of the original game's races return, though the aquatic lizardmen and the desert-dwelling azracs have been replaced with the swift tigrans (a race of cat people) and the powerful draconians. Each playable race can recruit armies that include priest units (which can heal and perform other actions) and siege engines, such as catapults and cannons, but the real diversity among the races comes from their different sets of military units. Like in Age of Wonders, the lowest-level units of each side are roughly similar, but the more-powerful units are increasingly divergent, and many of them have interesting and often devastating special abilities.
For the most part, Age of Wonders II is fairly well balanced between the different playable sides, and you'll want to try them all to get at their interesting top-level units and summon spells. Each playable race has a different, exceedingly powerful top-level troop, and each wizard has an affiliation with a different sphere of magic: life, death, fire, water, air, and earth. Since the game has a full campaign with about 20 different maps, plus an additional two-dozen scenario maps to play (these will let you customize your wizard, your sphere of magic, and which race you want to play), you'll find that Age of Wonders has more than enough to keep you busy for a long, long time, even without a random map generator.
(PC) Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic (2003)
( Complete CD image 700mb / 3D / Turn base Strategy, Fantasy, Magic)
Though the new stand-alone game reuses graphics and sound from Age of Wonders II, it has plenty of great features to keep turn-based strategy fans playing till the break of dawn.
The turn-based strategy genre is rooted in classics like Warlords, Master of Magic, and King's Bounty, and it remains alive today thanks to the efforts of developers like Triumph Studios. The company's previous game, Age of Wonders II, featured a huge amount of new content and improved graphics when compared with its predecessor, as well as a sizable single-player campaign and loads of single scenario maps. However, rank beginners found the game to be too difficult in parts, while veterans complained about the game's lack of a random mission generator. Triumph Studios has attempted to address both of these concerns with Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic. Though this stand-alone game reuses graphics and sound from Age of Wonders II, it has a far better tutorial, a random map generator, and plenty of other great additions to keep turn-based strategy fans playing till the break of dawn.
Triumph Studios' considerable experience in crafting turn-based strategy games is evident in Shadow Magic, since the game offers polished, well-balanced gameplay and an interesting story. The saga of the wizards Merlin, Julia, and Meandor continues in the new game, and it helps introduce the three new playable factions and the new playable units in the original 12 races. Apparently, a dimensional rift has opened into a mysterious new plane of existence known as the Shadow Realm, which bears a distinct resemblance to the plane of Myrror from the classic strategy game Master of Magic.
And as you play through the many scenarios of the game's single-player campaign, you'll see that Triumph Studios paid a great deal of attention to its fans. Like in other, similar games, in Shadow Magic, you'll begin the game aligned with a single fantasy race (though you may eventually recruit followers from other races, depending on the situation), start from a home base of operations, and explore colorful overland and underground areas with assorted armies of monsters led by powerful hero characters, until you conquer the entire map, either by wiping out your enemies in their castles single-handedly or winning an allied victory.
Yet the series' fans have demanded more balance among the armies and abilities of Age of Wonders II's fantasy races, so many units in the new game have had their individual strengths and weaknesses, as well as their production costs, tweaked so they stack up better against rival races and remain more useful over the course of the game. In addition, the game's new races represent interesting and distinctive new playing styles--especially since two of the three can travel quickly through the Shadow Realm (in which several campaign and scenario maps take place), and the third, the nomads, are an exceptionally mobile race with the ability to pick up entire fortresses and move them to new locations.
n fact, with all these new additions and enhancements, it's a shame that Shadow Magic looks and sounds practically identical to Age of Wonders II. That's not to say that Age of Wonders II's 2D art has aged poorly, because despite the fact that its military units are still extremely small onscreen, they're still highly detailed, well animated, and good looking, as are the game's colorful special effects. Similarly, the game's audio has largely been carried over from Age of Wonders II. Most of the new game's music and unit sounds are the same as before, and the military units sound just as silly as they did in the previous game. The game's interface has also been improved slightly, though it still has a few issues, such as its hard-to-read text messages, which appear in a cramped window at the bottom of the screen.
However, Shadow Magic features an enhanced version of Age of Wonders II's map and campaign editor, including a random map generator that lets you quickly and easily specify concentrations of monsters, resources, and treasures on the map. It's clear that between the enhanced editor, the random map generator, and the game's own dedicated fan community of mapmakers, Shadow Magic offers plenty of replay value right out of the box and will continue to offer even more in the future. You can even find competition online from the game's most dedicated players, and while the multiplayer can be remarkably time-consuming, it works well for what it is, especially with the rebalanced races.
Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic does a great job of improving on its predecessor's shortcomings and offering deeper, more-balanced gameplay. Despite its great complexity, its tutorials should help most new players figure out how to play the game, and its considerable depth should be more than enough of an incentive for experienced strategy fans.
System Requirement for Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic
Windows98 / XP / Vista
System: 800 MHz or equivalent
RAM: 256 MB
Video Memory: 32 MB
Hard Drive Space: 800 MB
Key Board & Mouse