WHAT’S OLD IS MADE NEW
Once upon a time, in the distant era remembered by some as “the Nineties” there was a game called “Master of Magic” that became a cult classic of 4X gaming. That game has been updated to the standards of modern gaming by MuHa Games and published by Slitherine – it is this remake of the classic (originally released in 1994) that is the subject of this review.
The game is an interesting combination of a strategy game (that ol’ 4X, you know) and a role-playing game in a fantasy setting where you take on the role of one of 14 stock wizards with diverse backgrounds who compete to dominate the linked worlds of Arcanus and Myrror. Each wizard can cast spells from one or two of several different schools of magic and command a nice variety of fantasy races while they race to expand their power and control over the world.
The bottom line for those whose attention span might not warrant a complete read is that if you enjoyed the original, you will enjoy the remake just as much – and possibly more. And if you’re a fan of 4X type games, it’s likely you’ll find this to your liking as well.
The game, according to Slitherine’s website, is tagged:
“Take up the role of a great wizard, wield powerful spells, command fantasy races and challenge your rivals in this remake of a cult turn-based strategy classic. Do you have what it takes to become Master of Magic?”
Zaldron the Sage, leveled up to “Lord” and something of a badass…
The core gameplay of “Master of Magic” should be familiar to fans of the 4X genre. It’s fairly stock in that regard: it’s an empire-builder that takes place on a map that is itself split into the realms of Arcanus and Myrror and where you’ll build your cities, do your exploring and move your armies. The game also has a separate battle mode with a zoomed-in map where your units will take on the opposition in a tactical faceoff. This is true whether the opposition is a neutral faction, some monsters guarding a treasure horde (or a well of all-important “mana”), or in the toughest case, an opposing wizard’s forces.
The learning curve on this one can be a little tough. For one thing the AI is no joke – it does a nice job of expanding its territories, upgrading its magical arsenal and producing a roster of units that can give you an old fashioned whuppin’ if you fail to keep up. The central, key element to everything is the diversity of the game in its roster of races, units and most of all spells. You can go into battle thinking that you’ve hit upon a successful formula only to find out that the units you’re facing are immune to the spells you used in your last fight, and what’s more, they have some spells of their own that end up decimating your precious heroes and units. There’s nothing quite so frustrating as taking a hero you’ve painstakingly built up to an epic level and have him be wiped out by the opposing wizard’s undead beetle cavalry amped up on some particularly nasty death magic.
You will need to marshal your forces, build up a stockpile of both gold and mana (the currency of magic) and know how to best employ both to fit out your units and in the case of mana, wield your magical powers upon the world at large. The unit mix is fairly standard, but the variety of races gives some units an edge even with an archetype. Every race might have a swordsmen unit, but they’re not all created equal.
All of this does of course provide you with a plethora of options when it comes to replaying the game. Played as Merlin and got wiped out? Try Horus… or Ariel… or any one of the other ten or so wizards, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Eventually you might figure out how to become a arcane powerhouse by hitting on the perfect mix of spells and units, but it’s likely to take a lot of effort and frustratingly tough fighting to obtain that information.
Birmihaven, capital of Merlin’s empire, showing the completed buildings
HEXED… OR BLESSED?
Bottom line? This is an update of a classic that is extremely well-executed. The game is engaging and tough enough to be challenging without becoming frustrating. It also offers a plethora of that much-beloved “replayability” – the sheer diversity of the magic, the units and the wizards (and yes, you can craft your own arcane master) means you can go at it again and again on new maps with new experiences.
Some may take issue with a somewhat slavish adaptation of the old 1994 game – perhaps some additions to take even more advantage of the technological leaps made in video gaming over the past 28 years would have been nice. But that’s nitpicking and I can’t really come up with a specific improvement that I’d like to have seen in this release. According to Steam I have nearly 50 hours into the game already and will likely have many more before all is said and done.
I give this one a hearty recommendation to fans of the 4X genre. There’s a lot of room for new content here too and I hope that MuHa and Slitherine do produce some DLC content to keep growing the game. The game itself is available on the Slitherine website and also on Steam.
Video review of “Master of Magic” showing core gameplay elements from the Hexed & Countered YouTube channel.