Disciples II Expansions Preview

Strategy First has two expansion packs for Disciples II that provide new campaigns for the dark and light factions and let you turn up the graphics resolution.

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Despite the critical acclaim it's received, the Disciples series hasn't exactly taken the best-seller lists by storm. The turn-based strategy series, which consists of 1999's Disciples: Sacred Lands and 2002's Disciples II: Dark Prophecy, has developed a cult following among those who have come to enjoy the series' easy-to-learn gameplay, its strategic depth, and the romantic fantasy setting of Nevendaar. And now, Strategy First is working on two stand-alone expansion packs for Disciples II. Guardians of the Light is currently nearing completion and is set for release early this summer, while Servants of the Dark is expected to arrive not long afterward, possibly before fall.

An undead dark elf is a key character in Servants of the Dark, the second of two upcoming Disciples II expansions.
An undead dark elf is a key character in Servants of the Dark, the second of two upcoming Disciples II expansions.

Both expansion packs are slightly different from most commercial expansion packs, since they'll both have content from the original game, as well as new campaigns, characters, and units. Guardians of the Light, for instance, bundles the scenarios featuring the Empire and Mountain Clans from Disciples II with new high-level scenarios written to expand the saga of these good-aligned races. Not surprisingly, Servants of the Dark does the same thing for the evil Legion of the Damned and Undead Hordes, since most of the series' fans seem to prefer either the good or the evil races.

"The goal of the expansions was to try to appeal to a new, broader audience by allowing people to purchase a thematic pack based on the way in which they like to play these types of games (good or evil)," explained Ariel Gauthier, the expansion packs' producer. "We received a lot of feedback from the original Disciples II that indicated people were often playing only one race, and we decided we could offer a specialized version of the product at a discounted price. Of course, we want to reach as many new players as possible to build the Disciples fan base, get more people involved in multiplayer, and keep Nevendaar fresh in the minds of the public for future endeavors."

Gauthier and the rest of the development team also hope to accentuate rivalries between the good and evil player factions. However, followers of both good and evil should expect to play fairly similar scenarios. Even with the narrower focus, both Guardians of the Light and Servants of the Dark will continue the saga that began in Disciples. They will collectively form a single coherent plot, the main difference being varied perspectives on the overall story. While each campaign will be unique and will feature its own characters, mission objectives, and maps, the types of tasks you'll undertake will vary depending on which race you've chosen.

Guardians of the Light features the return of the Mountain Clans.
Guardians of the Light features the return of the Mountain Clans.

For example, when playing as the Undead Hordes, your objectives may simply consist of slaughtering innocents, followed by slaughtering more innocents. As you might expect, you won't have the same goals if you decide to play as the sanctimonious servants of the Empire. At the same time, the story won't be so convoluted that players will have to buy both expansion packs to figure out who's who. Strategy First certainly wants Disciples II fans to pick up both games, but it wants to encourage that with great gameplay, not plot contrivances.

"The overall plot was planned out before we decided to split the expansions, but it is told in such a way that you do not need to play one campaign to understand the others," said designer Ethan Petty. "Each campaign is a story in itself, but playing other races will enhance the story you have seen. Much like their predecessor, the campaigns in the expansion share a lot of characters and events, but no one campaign tells the full story."

War Returns to Nevendaar

The story in the expansions directly follows the events that took place in the final four campaigns in Disciples II, and it revolves around the trials and tribulations of Nevendaar's elves, a race so devastated in the previous two games that it was stripped of its patron deity. In the expansions, their god, Gallean, returns to the world, bringing with him his own ambitious agenda. His plans put the elves into direct conflict with Gallean's ex-wife, Mortis, and her Undead Hordes, who aren't about to let their ancient rivals build an empire without a fight. At the same time, the Legions of the Damned hope to take advantage of the confusion by attacking the Empire, which has descended into chaos without a proper king. In the meantime, the Mountain Clans are slowly rebuilding after Ragnarok and seeking the guidance of their god, Wotan. All these struggles pave the way for a new force to make its presence known in Nevendaar, a force that Strategy First isn't ready to reveal just yet.

The expansions allow you to turn up the graphics resolution, which is particularly apparent on the map screens.
The expansions allow you to turn up the graphics resolution, which is particularly apparent on the map screens.

As each expansion features substantial portions of the original campaigns from Disciples II, both will offer a lot of gameplay. Each expansion pack will include the original nine scenarios from the old campaigns for its two races, along with at least three new high-level scenarios spread over six new campaign maps, so you can expect a total of 24 campaign maps per expansion. Both expansions will also have new high-level "boss" characters and special characters who will figure prominently in the development of each race's story.

"As seen in the screenshots, there are four new bosses who are even more powerful than the capital guardians in the original campaigns," Petty said. "Each is completely unique and is tied into the climax of each race's story. A lot of special characters have been created to give more personality to the story, including an elven avatar, a fiendish undead dark elf, a twisted inquisitor, a noble paladin who seeks the Empire's throne, and a duchess who employs the finest assassins and spies in all of Nevendaar. Of course, there are many more characters involved in the story, but these are the major ones. We've also added a spectral beast that players will be able to use at one point in the story, but we wouldn't want to give away any surprises."

Other changes will include alterations to the artificial intelligence. Gauthier told us that "a number of fixes and enhancements" have been made in order to accommodate the high-level leaders and units in the new campaigns. Spellcasters are also being made more aggressive, so that battling them should be a challenge, even for veteran Disciples players. The multiplayer modes are being brought over virtually unchanged, so owners of Disciples II will still be able to compete online against owners of either expansion, though each expansion will also include 16 new skirmish maps.

The new battle sequences carry over the dark atmosphere of Disciples II.
The new battle sequences carry over the dark atmosphere of Disciples II.

The expansions will also feature improved graphics. Most significantly, the expansions will offer support for Direct 3D and higher resolutions, so you'll finally be able to play Disciples II at resolutions of up to 1600x1200. The expansion will also add new background graphics for capital cities, some new landmarks, and a slightly revamped interface that takes advantage of the higher resolutions. The expansions will even feature new music and add new events, terrain effects, and a random map generator to the updated version of the in-game map editor. Guardians of the Light should arrive in stores sometime in June or July, and Servants of the Dark is currently scheduled to follow a few months after that.

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