The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Preview

The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

Being a man of science, and to some degree mysticism, I must admit the whole "one god" idea never really flew with me. Indeed, all those years of Catholic school failed to convince me that the human civilization is only 1200 years old and that our wonderful planet was a gift from some long haired, love-starved old Caucasian guy who is all-knowing, all-powerful and always in need of money. You'd think the guy would learn how to balance a checkbook, or at least be eligible for a Discover card! As a matter of fact, the only really good thing Catholicism has done for me was point me in the direction of some good old debauchery. No offense to all you catechumen out there...(I wouldn't go to sleep tonight, Shawn...or should I say...blasphemer! - Ed.)

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The idea of a pantheon of deities has always been more appealing. Gods for the natural elements and gods for the seasons makes some archaic sense around which I can more easily wrap my mind. Well, lucky for me our preview copy of Sacrifice, Interplay's upcoming 3D Action/RTS, has arrived. Thank the wood nymphs, indeed!

In a distant realm, soothsayer Mithras has prophesied that a great evil has arrived. Unfortunately for you, this is the same evil that destroyed your previous home world, resulting in you fleeing to this realm to save your neck. Now it seems the evil, which was thought to be left behind, has resurfaced to lay waste to yet another plane. Your task is clear, but first you must make yourself known to the local powers on high. They must view you as a capable and efficient master of the arcane arts, if you are to enlist their support for your endeavor.

Sacrifice is set in a fanciful world overseen by 5 deities. There's Persephone, benevolent and beautiful mistress of peace and love; James, lord of soil, dirt, rock and other earthly matter (his resemblance to Earthworm Jim is no coincidence); and Stratos, deity of the air and somewhat disputed ruler over the heavens and the elements. These are the celestials of right and often share the same ultimate intentions.

Pyro and Charnel have an altogether different agenda. Pyro is the god of his namesake and the bringer of flaming destruction and chaos - though Pyro will argue that he is the spark of industry and the bearer of light. Charnel is evil personified. He is the appointed lord of slaughter and champion of death. Not a fuzzy bunny.

Each deity has their own special brand of spells and creatures which will be bestowed upon any capable and obedient wizard (namely, you). Spells range from prosaic projectile explosives to topography altering volcanoes and storm-spitting flying abominations. And for the most part, they look amazing. The particle effects and light-sourcing for these mystic delights is downright jaw-dropping. As I removed my mandible from the floor, I noticed the incredibly beautiful skies and clouds (most notably Pyro's areas). The graphics are just stunning and truly define "next generation."

The single player campaign has you completing missions for the different gods. But in a killer design twist, it's not really linear. You can align yourself with one god for one mission, then switch gears and help out an opposing god in the following mission. Want a few of Pyro's spells and creatures to accompany those that, say, Charnel betowed in the last mission? No problem - just choose to do Pyro's bidding on your next mission. Each deity has 9 missions, totaling 49 single player missions in all (including 3 tutorials). Tack on 5 different endings (1 for each god) and the ablity to save your wizard and beef him up even further by playing the campaign again or choosing a multiplayer game, and we're talking about a tremendous amount of replay value. Unprecedented, to be precise.

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Sacrifice is a fully polygonal, fully 3D RTS, much in the vein of Ground Control or Dark Reign 2. Controlling your character is not unlike the Tomb Raider series or any other third-person adventure game. This means you're in charge of dodging and maneuvering in and out of harms way - not a mouse click. This is perfect for gamers who like RTS titles for the impressive battles and intricate spells, but do not appreciate the pulled back, tiny and distorted camera views. With an over-the-shoulder camera that can zoom in and throw you face to face with a snarling Flummox, players take complete control over their mage. The camera can also be moved along the X and Y-axis for a better view at what is happening on the battlefield.

Sacrifice further deviates from the RTS norm in its resource management. Your two resources are mana and souls.

When you begin a mission, you need to find a mana fountain, a geyser of mystic energy that supplies mana to any wizard within range. However, you may build a 'manalith' over the geyser to claim it as your own. Much of the gameplay revolves around the protection/destruction of manaliths.

A manahore is a direct conduit to your manaliths. These creatures are completely unskilled in fighting and will perish shortly after joining the fray. This could mean the difference between appeasing your god or earning their ire. No manhores results in no mana, which in turn means the inability to create anything or cast any spells.

In order to create any units, you must have a certain number of 'souls' at your disposal. When a creature dies, its soul will float above its decaying carcass. Gather up these souls to create more units. Recycling certainly has its benefits.

And that's that. Compared to the overly complex, resource heavy Earth 2150 or even the classic Warcraft II, Sacrifice is a welcome change of pace.