There is a certain amount of inconsistency in the title of this game. Is it Age of Wonders 2, Age of Wonders II, or Age of Wonders 2: The Wizard’s Throne? I guess I’ll just have to go on… Wondering.
Cough, quickly setting that aside, AoW2 is quite similar to AoW in design. The big change would be that 2 has a much greater focus on the magic system, which is basically the same as the first game but given a much higher billing. Oh, and I found the story slightly more interesting as well.
The campaign of AoW2 follows Merlin, a wizard-in-training. See, apparently the “good” elves won the war in the last game, but although they didn’t deliberately wipe out humans, it seems that humans managed to get themselves nearly wiped out anyway. By cat demons, apparently. I won’t ask if you don’t.
Anyway, Merlin is fleeing with some other humans on an airship when they get attacked by dragons popping out of nowhere. Merlin gets hit by some burning rigging and is knocked overboard into the ocean to drown; but he is saved at the last minute (or possibly, slightly after the last minute) by Gabriel, an extremely powerful wizard with a beard like an axe.
Gabriel used to be the master of all wizards, but apparently they all abandoned him for reasons unknown, possibly out of jealousy for his beard. Not entirely content with this, Gabriel fishes Merlin out of the ocean and assigns him the task of bringing all the rogue wizards to heel by mastering the seven spheres of magic: Life, Death, Fire, Water, Wind, Earth, and Cosmos (read: all of the above). It isn’t entirely clear how Merlin felt about all this, but I suspect that he felt that the situation was 100% better than drowning, which seems reasonable.
The actual mechanics of using magic are mostly the same as in the original, but since I glossed over it yesterday, let me explain how it works now. You wizard and towns generate a set amount of magic crystals each turn. An adjustable number of these are stockpiled to cast spells, while the rest are used on magical research. Merlin does not begin the game with many spells, but he can choose one to research over the course of several turns; once the spell is finished researching, he and his heroes can cast it for the rest of the level. I’m actually not sure if spells carry over to the next level of the scenario — two hours of play was not nearly enough time to clear even the first scenario. (Especially since I spent about an hour screwing around in the tutorial level, reading lots of tooltips.)
There are two new concepts added to AoW2 compared to the first game. The first is that you can use your research points not only to learn spells but also to improve your wizard’s skills, for instance increasing the amount of mana points he can use each turn. The second thing is the concept of a wizard’s territory: wizards can cast spells at a distance, but only in a certain radius around themselves. By placing a wizard in a town with a Wizards Tower, the range is greatly increased, creating a situation where the wizard is both well protected and extremely effective. Which is cool. Normal units can’t be supported by a wizard’s spells outside his territory; but hero units are an exception, projecting a very small area of wizard’s territory around themselves even when in enemy terrain. Which is also cool.
Other than that, movement and combat proceed pretty much the same as in the first game. What was functional then is still functional now, except I have learned the joy of launching pincer attacks on enemy armies. I’m still having trouble balancing the troops I need versus the income I can bring in; and I’m not sure if I’m just being impatient, or if I’m still developing too slowly. If I played for another ten or twenty hours, I’m sure I’d get a better grasp of things… but, that’s not going to happen. I’ve got another Age of Wonders to experience next, after all.
Time played: 2 hrs.
Pros: Pretty much the same as Age of Wonders, with good complexity and player choice, but makes better use of its magic system.
Cons: Let me repeat my comments from yesterday: “Complex mechanics can also be confusing, and it’s hard to tell if you are making bad strategic decisions before it comes back to bite you.” Being an all-powerful wizard doesn’t change these truths.
Worth playing: If you like strategic empire building and don’t mind sinking in several hours to learn the nuances, certainly.
Worth the price: $10 is a bit… Well, I’d look to get it on sale, myself.
Random observation: I suspect I’d be much more supportive of the tiger demons wiping out the humans if their wizard lord, Yaka, wasn’t such a jerk. 😛
Arbitrary grade: B-
So, that’s all for this week! Tune in on Monday for the third game in the series, Age of Wonders 3— No. It’s actually Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic, still by Triumph and Paradox.