Episode V: Striking Back at the Empire
When the media blames yet another violent incident on video games and gamers,
they never mention that millions of us enjoy games without
launchers. Although I love a good headshot as much as the next guy, I've always
been a huge fan of the slower, more thoughtful turn-based games. I still play
Heroes of Might and Magic 3
across the country whenever I travel. I once lost an entire semester of college
to King's Bounty.
the genre doesn't get a lot of new entries these days. Even mainstays like X-Com
have fallen by the wayside, leaving only the ongoing sagas of Heroes of Might
and Magic and Age of Wonders to continue
So when a new contender showed up in my mail, I was excited. Some fresh blood
is exactly what turn-based gaming needs.
Unfortunately, Empire of Magic started bleeding right when I took it
out of the box. After spending a week playing this game, I urge all of you to
do the opposite. Go to the movies, build a model ship in a bottle, learn to
knit, but don't waste any of your hard earned money on this weak and anemic
Even in the game's story, this empire is in trouble. Whole towns and garrisons
of troops have been vanishing without a trace. The dead have begun to rise from
their graves, and they're bent on destruction. The Council of Mages just sit
around arguing and bickering, leaving it up to you, Artemain, apprentice mage,
to do all the work.
And playing this game is clearly work; I would have never done it if I didn't
Let's start with the graphics, which are pretty hard on the eyes. The landscapes
are the only good thing going on, since they are all designed by hand and not
from a tileset, giving each map area a unique feel. It's the dumpy-looking,
really, really badly animated characters and monsters that infest these
backdrops which is the problem. Forget combat - these guys don't even have any
animation for turning.
Even worse than the graphics is the sound, which is abysmal. I'm not talking
about the music, which is an adequate orchestral score. I'm talking about the
sound effects, which are the worst I've heard since my Atari
2600 stopped beeping. Swords sound like someone hitting a pie plate with
a screwdriver, grunts and groans are clearly one of the programmers using the
free microphone that came with his Dell, and I swear they got their echo effects
by just moving that mic to the bathroom.
At least you don't have to deal with any bad voice acting, because there is none. No voices at all, that is. The whole story and every encounter is told through text, often badly translated from whatever language this game was originally in. Even standard messages, like level increases, are stilted.
unfortunately, the gameplay is the most work of all. This really isn't a strategy
game at all, playing much more like an RPG. But it keeps all of the turn-based
limitations. Want to go back to town to buy that new skill? Let's say you have
four little groups of units. You have to move Group One a few spaces (based
on how many "action points" they have), then Group Two, then Three, then Four.
Then you have to end your turn. Then you wait. Then you move Group One a few
spaces, then Group Two...you might have to do this 20 times just to get back
to town. Big fun.
Even if you run into a fight along the way, it doesn't get much better. The "action" zooms in a little closer, but there's almost no strategy to the fighting whatsoever. Every unit can move across the whole battlefield and attack in one turn, so there's no placement or movement strategy. Almost every battle comes down to who has action points left and who doesn't, because if you have no action points, you just stand there like a moron while the enemy pounds on you.
But wait! There's more! Empire of Magic is buggy beyond belief. Crashes
are frequent and there's even a bug that prevents you from continuing the game.
Patches fix the absolute worst of them, but plenty more are lurking under the
The multiplayer game is LAN only, where you can try to kill the other player on one of two total maps. Since you have to play the same tedious game only now you have to wait for another person as well, it's barely worth mentioning.
Normally, I love my job. Hell, I get to play video games and write about them
and call it work. But in this case it really was work. Playing Empire
of Magic was something I really didn't want to do, and that might be the
worst thing you could say about a game. Let me put it another way: as soon as
I'm done writing this, I'm hitting the uninstall button. Trust me, learn to
fiddle like Nero
and let this Empire burn.