Age of Wonders II: The Wizard's Throne Preview
We take a look at an early build of the sequel to Age of Wonders.
Though well received, the original Age of Wonders had a few problems, including relatively subdued sound and visuals and a lack of a random map generator that would've gone a long way toward extending the game's replay value. Not surprisingly, almost all those issues have been addressed in Age of Wonders II: The Wizard's Throne, which not only features a revamped graphics engine that blends two-dimensional sprites with full three-dimensional backgrounds, but also boasts a random map generator, a streamlined interface, and a series of other improvements that you'd typically find in a sequel. The development team at Triumph Studios has also made an effort to place more focus on the role-playing and empire-building elements in Age of Wonders II--though, fans will find that most of the gameplay from the original game remains intact.
Age of Wonders II's single-player campaign begins where the original game left off. The game opens with a cinematic that details the escape of a wizard named Merlin on an airship. Moments into the flight, the wizard's airship is bombarded with fireballs from a group of dragons that have seemingly appeared from out of nowhere. The airship sustains massive amounts of damage before it eventually crashes, leaving the wizard stranded in a new land. It's here that you meet up with Gabriel--your guide throughout most of the game--who tells you about the six different wizard spheres and reveals that the wizards who control these spheres are constantly at war with each other. Your main task is to unite the spheres under your own power and take the wizards' throne.
As you might expect, these spheres are the basis for the game's single-player campaign, but you won't have to acquire them in any order. Each sphere mission is divided into three submissions that you will have to complete in order to gain the sphere. In addition, each sphere represents an element of magic and the type of wizard that you'll encounter during the mission, so you'll engage the fire wizard while playing through the fire sphere mission. Once you've selected a sphere and started its mission, Gabriel and other characters will give you pieces of information that are helpful for navigating through the land that you're in. Moreover, they'll give you background on the land and its inhabitants as a way of drawing you into the game's storyline.
While Age of Wonders II is quite different from its predecessor on a visual level, it still retains many of the elements that made the original game so entertaining. Though, some changes have been made to give the game a little more depth. For example, towns will have a number of options to select from in terms of constructing new units and structures that can assist you in taking on enemy forces. Towns also play a key role in the use of spells.
Tougher Than it Looks
When the fire sphere mission begins, you'll almost immediately notice a small town to the south that's on fire thanks to the actions of the fire wizard. Since cities are what make unit construction possible, you have to move Merlin to the town so he can engage any enemies that might be lurking inside. At this point, the game shifts from its overhead map perspective into a closer isometric view of Merlin, his support units, and any enemies or obstacles that are on the screen. In this case, there's just one enemy located behind a small gate. With Merlin's forces outnumbering the enemy, this battle wouldn't appear to be much of a problem, but this single foe turns out to be much more of a problem than initially expected. After a few different spells--which make excellent use of various special effects, including particles--this lone enemy can take out one of Merlin's soldiers with no problem. When it becomes your turn to attack, you can stay behind the fence guarding the enemy and simply rely on long-range attacks to do all the dirty work, or you can take the fence out and attack him with a melee weapon. In this case, a few basic spells are enough to take the enemy down.
Once the town is captured, you can start to build structures, such as barracks, that you can use to produce additional units for combat. You can also construct the wizard's tower, which grants access to additional features such as the item creator and the hall of enchantment, which enables you to give special powers to your units. There's also a force field that allows you to protect your town from any spells that enemies might use to attack it.
Another benefit of capturing a town involves the domain of magical influence. Whenever you're in a campaign, there's a color-coded border that surrounds the general location of your units. This border is known as the domain of magical influence, and it indicates the area in which spells can take effect. If you were to cast an enchanted road spell--a spell that lets your units travel faster along the roads--then it would only affect the roads within your borders. The moment your units cross into another domain of magical influence, they'll travel at normal speeds. This holds true for other spells as well, such as the ice spell, which you can use to freeze waterways that are blocking a particular passage--any water outside of your domain will be resistant to the ice spell. The best way to expand your magical influence is to invade enemy territory and free towns from enemy control.
During your journey through the six different campaigns, you'll encounter 12 races in the game, two of which are new--the draconians and the tigran. The draconians are the tougher of the two new races and have a specific emphasis on magic (or fire spell) capabilities. The tigran don't have the same magic capabilities of other races, but they do have added bonuses in stealth and speed. Triumph Studios has also added more race-specific units to enhance the differences between the 12 races.
From the looks of the current build, Triumph Studios has most of the features and visual aspects integrated into the game. The three-dimensional terrain has plenty of details, and the units animate well. The map editor is probably the most impressive extra feature at this point, as it basically gives you the same tools used by the development team to construct the maps and stories that unfold within them. We'll have more on Age of Wonders II when it reaches beta status in a few months.
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