Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic
Some Age of Wonders-fans frowned their eyebrows when they heard that Triumph Studios would release some sort of stand-alone expansion. Not that the fans won’t like an expansion but the fact that we would have to pay the price of a full game for it is something that’s not so well appreciated. Does Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic really offer worthwile new things so the price is justified? I took my wizard’s staff and left on a journey to withstand a new threat in the world of Age of Wonders…
A new threat indeed, one that is far worse than the hunt on wizards organised by emperor Phobius. The danger originates from a strange world this time, the Shadow World (which is in-game a third layer next to ‘Surface’ and ‘Underground’) where the black and ruthless Shadow Demons rule and where the old, white Syrons are being oppressed. The wizard Merlin (which some might know of Age of Wonders 2) calls the other remaining wizards for help and the game can begin. During 16 scenario’s you’ll have to fight evil (or help it if it suits you). ‘Only’ 16 scenario’s? Yes, but it has to be said that one scenario can take a couple of hours to complete. So we have pretty long missions which don’t get boring at all because of their sidequests and design. You’ll have to complete each time a campaign of three scenario’s (except for the last campagn, a well done and much needed tutorial campagn is also present).
One of the campaigns you can chose in the beginning is that of the Nomads, next to the Syrons and the Shadow Demons the third new race in Shadow Magic (which brings the total number of races at 15). All these races differ from each other through looks, units and abilities. A new ability f.e. is Shadow Walking; inhabitants of the Shadow World have this ability since they got used to the strange magic there. They can live without penalties in this dark world unlike the other races (which suffer from the Shadow Sickness once they enter the new world, receiving all kind of penalties which make them a lot weaker in combat).
Qua gameplay the most part of the game hasn’t been touched; it’s still turn-based and once again it’s the intention that you conquer the world while taking over cities, creating buildings and units there. With now and then an old ruïn or dungeon which deliver new items/units there are like in previous AoW-games rpg-elements present. Each of the 12 ‘old’ races (which are somewhat rebalanced again) received a new building and unit. Together with new spells and abilities they make the whole picture a bit more interesting than Age of Wonders 2. An enhancement that most of us will be happy about is that your wizard can choose his spheres freely in the campaigns. If you want a combination of different species during the campaigns, it’s all possible now. The fact that you can play a certain species only during his campaign has remained. The combat-part hasn’t changed either, although you can accept an enemy’s surrender now too.
Graphics haven’t been altered much in Shadow Magic (it’s still a 2D engine making use of a 3D card for some things like spell effects), but even today it remains a nice sight. I don’t think you can achieve the same atmosphere with a pure 3D engine. The design of the new races and the Shadow World is good and the size of the interface has decreased which is a very welcome addition if you think back to the large Age of Wonders 2 interface (filled up almost 1/3 of the screen). Sound effects are well worked out and once again there is beautiful (although sometimes familiar) music. Too bad there aren’t many (almost none) voices in the game for your wizard/heroes. …
The most important addition perhaps is the random scenario generator, where you can choose for a Battle, Epic, Archmage or Empire Building scenario if you want to start right away. Otherwise you can configure a lot of settings if you like to. Infinite gaming pleasure guaranteed? No, it’s not that thrilling but it sure is an excellent option for those who’ve already played the 19 stand-alone scenario’s. Shadow Magic also contains an improved scenario editor where the community can work with for a long time. Multiplayer is available too of course, still through internet, LAN and e-mail. All these options (except for the scenario-editor unfortunately) and new additions are well described in the manual which is as big as the box of the game.
Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic is a decent game which would have tasted even sweeter if Triumph and Gathering released it at the price of a stand-alone expansion. People who’ve never played an Age of Wonders game (do they still exist actually?) and want to try out this genre can buy this game with no concerns since the games in this genre don’t come to us better than this. Of course, there will always be people who stick with the HoMM-series f.e. but they also should give this a try, nothing has ‘worsened’, things have only improved from Age of Wonders 2. For Age of Wonders (2)-veterans there have been made numerous small and less small improvements/additions which will be appreciated very much. Though all this enthousiasm gets quite a dropback because besides the random scenario editor I didn’t see that much new ‘groundbreaking’ stuff that would justify the price. Nevertheless, Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic is a nice game which will hold you busy for quite some time.