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Gametapage: Disciples II

Yesterday, I tried out Disciples II: Rise of the Elves on Gametap.

The interface in Disciples II is gritty and medieval-feeling, reflecting expertly the tone of the rest of the game.

Compared to Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic, the artistic direction in Disciples II was significantly more profound. There was a heavy gothic motif to everything. There was a nice dynamic musical score that felt alien and depressing, but in the right way, as though here is a fantasy world that is down on its luck. The individual units were detailed nicely with giant, eye-popping sprites.

So it was with some disappointment that I found the game itself to be lacking. It's not a terrible game, exactly, but it does not have a whole lot of depth to it. It was modeled more after Heroes of Might and Magic than it was Master of Magic, but it's even less deep than the former game. Building structures in the cities are restricted entirely to three units which offer vital in-game functions and all the rest of the structures exist solely to allow your units to level up.

It's the leveling up mechanic, and the way it tied into the overall balance, that bothered me the most about this game. Accessing higher tier units involves successfully matching lower tier units in combat again and again until they gain enough experience to level up into the higher tier unit. If you're having a particularly rough campaign, a real battle of attrition where both sides are having their units eliminated in roughly equal portions, then it's not long until everybody's been knocked down to their first-level base units again.

My first campaign battle was one of those battles of attrition. I had ownership of five out of the seven cities in the game and all the map resources but all I could do was build pathetic base units. I eventually overcame the heavily guarded city to complete the mission by simply building up several groups of these and sending them to their death until the defenders were worn down.

Combat is about beautiful as 2D pixels get, but the smarts do not match the beauty.

Another thing that bothered me was that, during battle, you had exactly one move you could perform with each unit (or "guard", which opts not to attack in exchange for taking less damage). The squire attacks an enemy unit in melee range, the archer attacks any enemy unit, the acolyte can only heal, your mage hero leader can only do an area of effect attack against all enemy units, ect. It's sort of novel in that it seems like RPG combat, the many member party choosing to attack or guard, but the novelty soon wears off in the face of the over-simplicity.

Sadly, this beautiful game probably won't fish me in to play any more. I'll likely be sticking with Age of Wonders for my turn-based fantasy jonesings, unless Warlords: Battlecry or Heroes of Might and Magic IV turn out to better hold my attention. I can only really recommend Disciples II to the gamer who likes his strategy games beautiful but simple.

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