The game features an excellent and robust spell system, but gameplay itself is chaotic, messy, and simple to a fault.
This fantasy real-time strategy game from the makers of X-COM was originally going to be released in the US under the title Duel: The Mage Wars. It's a good thing Mythos decided to stick with the European name, because Magic & Mayhem is a much more fitting moniker. The game features an excellent and robust spell system, but gameplay itself is chaotic, messy, and simple to a fault. It can be fun at times, but some very problematic design issues mar the experience.
Magic & Mayhem is not a real-time strategy game in the traditional sense. It is in real time, and it is a strategy game, but because of its lack of base building, the game falls closer on the spectrum to something like Myth: The Fallen Lords. Even this comparison isn't entirely accurate, however, as Magic & Mayhem lacks that game's tactical depth. Magic & Mayhem also implements a character-building system that would be right at home in an RPG, and this is certainly the highlight.
You control Cornelius, a young mage who has been apprenticed to his uncle, Lucan. Arriving at his home to begin your studies, you find that Lucan has vanished. This sets you off on your adventure, traveling through various realms searching for Lucan and, after finding him, trying to stop the greater evils that possess the land. It's pretty typical fantasy fare, though there is a good element of suspense that keeps things interesting, at least on the story side. Mythos has also included a hodgepodge of references to famous myths and legends (Greek heroes, the Holy Grail) that seem to serve little purpose other than giving the designers an easy way to name artifacts and enemies.
Each mission is roughly the same: Your goal is to kill an opposing wizard. To do so, you have a selection of spells at your disposal, including the usual offensive (fireballs, lightning bolts, summoned weapons) and defensive (armor, healing) requisites. But the majority of Cornelius' spells summon monsters, which work as your troops. You can summon unicorns, manticores, elf archers, and many, many more. You must have a supply of mana to cast spells, and mana can be obtained through mana sprites (small, colorful power-ups your mage can acquire) or through places of power, which are pedestals that slowly generate mana as long as your mage or one of your units stands on them. Once you defeat your rival, a portal opens, and you move on to the next region.
As you progress through regions, Cornelius gains experience points based on how many tasks you accomplish in each area. These tasks are generally simple, such as talking to a character (usually unavoidable) or finding a special item. Experience points can be used to increase Cornelius' mana, his health, the number of monsters he can command at one time, or to grant him additional talismans.
Talismans are part of the game's spell system. During some levels, Cornelius will find spell ingredients. These ingredients are placed into talismans to create spells. Talismans fall into three categories: chaos, neutral, and law. Each ingredient can be used to create three different spells, depending on which type of talisman the ingredient is put into. For instance, the ingredient alectorus will give you the ability to summon a hellhound, a crocodile, or a phoenix, depending on which type of talisman you place it into. The ingredients can be moved around at will between missions, allowing for many different spell combinations throughout the course of a game.
While the spell system is unique and intriguing, the missions generally descend into a simple click fest. You summon some monsters. You throw them at your rival. They die. Repeat until victorious. What's worse is that your biggest enemy in the game is not your rival - it's your allies. These are characters that you encounter along the way and who will travel with you for a while, theoretically aiding you in your quest. Problem is, they often do more harm than good. They take your mana sprites. They throw their own creatures on places of power. They wander around the map aimlessly, then scream for help when they get into trouble. And if they die, you lose. You have absolutely no control over them, so your only hope is to set some of your own troops to guard them and hope for the best.
Magic & Mayhem features claymation-like animation that looks good in theory but gets a bit choppy and too often crosses the line from whimsical to silly. The sound effects add to the game's levity but are a bit scarce. The music is quite good and, along with the spell system, is the game's highlight.
With more control over your allies, more interesting combat, or just a bit more depth, Magic & Mayhem would have been a better game. But with its numerous problems, it's just a fairly fun single-player game and an only slightly better multiplayer game. The missions are just too repetitive, and the mechanics just too unrefined, to be intriguing for more than a short spell.