Interplay recently stopped by our offices with a final candidate build of Sacrifice, which should go gold within the week, as Shiny only needs to make a few more small tweaks. As we've already covered the single-player story and the game's gods in our previews of the game, we took the opportunity to dive into the multiplayer game. The final game allows up to four players to play on a selection of over 30 maps. There are four game modes: skirmish (eliminate all opponents), slaughter (play to a set number of kills), domination (vie for control of manaliths), and soul harvest (convert a number of heathen souls).
After getting a sense of things in a couple of quick and lopsided battles, we were drawn into a long and evenly matched multiplayer game. The game is designed to reward aggressive players and promotes constant combat, since the primary way to gain strength is to gather the souls of fallen enemies and neutral units. You use these souls to summon your own creatures, and the more powerful creatures require several souls each. The game also uses an experience system to increase the effectiveness of your units - especially your central character, the wizard. As the wizard gains experience levels, he gains the ability to cast more powerful spells and summon more ferocious creatures. So if you turtle in a corner of the map, waiting for other players to kill themselves off, you'll undoubtedly be unprepared for the more powerful foes you will face.
Despite this heavy emphasis on combat, we found that the game seemed to naturally fall into a standoff at some times. The fact that the souls of your fallen units can quickly be converted into and summoned as an opposing force can really inhibit you from sending a large army against a strong opponent. So much of the action seems to focus on the casting of area-of-effect wizard spells and long-range harassment by your creatures. At lower levels, your wizard and troops really aren't powerful enough to take on a fortified structure, even when the bulk of the enemies forces are elsewhere. We were only able to break stalemates when the wizards crept up to higher levels and could cast dramatically more powerful spells. Luckily, you can customize your game to start all player wizards out at a higher level or limit the max level each wizard can reach.
One surprising element of the multiplayer game was how the camera, which is tightly focused on the wizard, often made big battles seem much more threatening than they were. You have a very good sense of how close your wizard is to dying, and when he's immobilized by a spell, it's practically impossible to carry on the battle. The camera also tended to make armies clump together around the wizard, which can make them quite vulnerable to the more powerful area-of-effect spells. In part thanks to this sense of close involvement in the fate of the wizard and his army, the matches were addictive and highly competitive.
Sacrifice should ship early next month. Watch for a complete GameSpot review at that time.