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Lords of Magic: Special Edition

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by Sierra Studios
battle.GIF (15070 bytes)Balkoth, the evil Lord of Death, has risen once again in the magical realm of Urak. As a young Paladin of the Life faith, diametrically opposed to the doctrines of Death, I view these dire tidings with no little trepidation. With a small band of loyal archers, I rapidly gain practice with my trusty battle-staff by dispatching various parties of goblins in the small huts surrounding the Life Capital. Satisfied with my advances in abilities as a result of battle experience, I lead my skilled warband to free the Great Temple of Life from vile desecration. By banishing its evil occupants to the void, I bring the Great Temple back to its former glory. My fellow Life worshipers demonstrate their appreciation for this heroic act by promoting me to Lord of Life. As a result of earning the full support of the Life Capital, I have direct access to the resources of Life, including the Barracks, Mage Tower, and Thieves Guild. I set my mages to learning important spells to aid me in my campaign, and I build up a larger standing army. At the head of my army, I clear the surrounding countryside of assorted goons, and gain various valuable artifacts to aid me in my quest. Leaving a portion of my army behind to protect the homelands, I set out from the verdant land of Life to secure some allies. The Lords of Air and Order join my cause in rapid succession as I successfully free their Great Temples. Their combined assets allow me to approach and parley with the Fire faith, and a great many gifts later I have their trust, their Great Temple, and finally their support. I bring an enormous tribute before Fafnir, the legendary Fire dragon, to gain his support as well. With Fafnir ravaging portions of the lands of Death, I am free to seek out the most dangerous dungeons in the land, to gain the artifacts and spell scrolls hidden within. Girding myself with these ever-more-powerful artifacts, I summon an enormous host, backed by two skilled mages (well versed in the spells of Life) and by the legendary Phoenix. With this host I finally track down Balkoth and send him once again to greet his evil master Golgoth in the nether void. Victorious at last!

Lords of Magic (LoM) certainly lends itself well to tales of epic proportion, perhaps because each individual game can be epic in both scope and length. LoM is a turn-based game in which the player starts as a relatively inexperienced Lord of one of eight faiths: Life, Death, Order, Chaos, Air, Earth, Water, and Fire. In addition to choosing a faith, the player is also expected to choose a hero type. Paladins are militarily strong, Mages have access to extremely powerful faith-specific spells, and Thieves have stealth and a ranged attack on their side. The object of LoM is to marshal your forces to defeat Balkoth, unless you are of the Death faith, in which case the object of the game is to defeat all of the other faiths. When the game begins, the player starts with the chosen Lord and a small party of followers near the capital of his or her chosen Faith. The capital is accessible, but the Mage Guild, Barracks, and Thieves Guild can only provide mercenaries until the Great Temple associated with the capital is freed. Once the Great Temple is freed, the capital is critical for providing resources. Every seven days (turns), your capital will attract followers whom you may designate to various tasks to provide the resources of Gold, Ale, Crystals, and Fame.

mage.GIF (16642 bytes)The default view in the game is the overland map. Every important structure in the game is visible from the isometric overland map except for the resource allocation areas found in the capital. All parties are also displayed on the overland map with a flag of the appropriate color prominently displayed above the unit. If the party is comprised of multiple units, all units are visible on the overland map—a very useful feature when examining enemy units. However, if units are within a structure, then the only indication that any units are present is the standard above the structure. Movement is as simple as clicking on a unit and clicking where on the map the unit should go. The path of the unit is shown, as well as the number of additional turns that it will take to get there—pretty standard fare for games of this type.

When an occupied structure is entered, the level of the structure is indicated. A single warrior may defeat a level one structure, while a level 11 structure is best saved for a large host very late in the game. Once the battle has commenced, the two armies are placed by the computer on an isometric map related to the area and type of structure (a bridge encounter will have a bridge, etc.). Although the human player is not allowed to place any armies on the map, there is usually enough separation between the two armies to allow for some quick readjustment of battle lines. In addition, the initial placement is dependent upon the order of your armies in the overland map. Battle itself is pseudo-real-time, or real-time with a pause feature. This is quite useful because it is often very difficult to click on a moving opponent. Battles can be quite satisfying to watch once you have set up your defensive lines, as arrows fly and enemy units are battered by the rapid blows of your Paladins. Unfortunately, it is often quite difficult to have precise control over your units, especially when a unit is composed of more than one individual. For example, one unit of Crossbowmen is depicted as three individual Crossbowmen. To move only one of the individuals you must control-click without selecting any other units. This can be exasperating in the thick of battle—use of the pause feature is definitely recommended!

As you might expect in a special edition, LoM Special Edition is not the first incarnation of the lands of Urak. When the original LoM graced my hard drive late last year, I was initially impressed but rapidly disappointed by numerous bugs. Within a week I had written a letter to Sierra politely requesting help with some of the bugs (which included random crashes, incredibly slow load times, and an inability to win the game normally). I was pleasantly surprised to receive a prompt reply specifically addressing the bugs that I had encountered, and a patch was soon released that resolved many of the problems.

winter.GIF (16174 bytes)The Special Edition does far more than address these bugs. It includes a new legendary creature for each faith, upgrades for the Great Temples, multi-level dungeons, a custom Lord editor, improved AI, and five new mythic quests. These quests are extremely entertaining (as well as difficult, in some cases), and tell the stories of King Arthur, Siegfried, and Beowulf. I was particularly impressed with the Arthurian quest. The Lord editor is very nice for a somewhat less-lengthy game (try a Life Paladin with the Ring of Healing!), but I was originally disappointed because every time I tried to use it, the artifact that I had spent my limited points on within the editor was unusable! Fortunately, this was quickly resolved by Sierra staff once again—all that was required was to append a .LDR extension to my saved custom Lord and I was ready to go. The change that seems to have the greatest impact upon the game is the inclusion of the legendary creatures. Each legendary creature may only be summoned once (except the Water Giant Arachnids, although occasionally the game does not allow me to recruit additional Giant Arachnids), and most have absolutely fabulous stats. Fafnir and the Ice Drake are so impressive that they cannot be integrated into a larger party, yet each one is capable of negotiating most level 9 structures single-handedly.

In the final reckoning, Lords of Magic: Special Edition is a good game with average graphics, an excellent engine, pleasant music and sound effects, and somewhat useful documentation. Unfortunately, it is still plagued by the occasional bug, awkward unit handling in battle, and an unimpressive AI. However, I can do nothing but rave about Sierra’s technical support for this game and its predecessor, and it is also backed by an unconditional money-back guarantee. If you were a fan of the original Lords of Magic, then this game is an absolute must, particularly as it is accompanied by a $20.00 rebate for owners of the original game. If you enjoy such games as Heroes of Might & Magic II and Warlords III, I would also firmly recommend this game. As for the average gamer, it might be worth a try to pick up a copy while you wait for your next favorite game to be released. If for some reason you are not thoroughly entertained, send it back to Sierra with a letter explaining LoM’s inadequacies—perhaps your concerns will be addressed in LoM 2. As for myself, Lords of Magic: Special Edition calls—I, Balkoth, Lord of Death, shall crush the denizens of Urak beneath my iron-shod boots!

cheat.gif (1707 bytes)--Jeffrey W. Peterson