Worlds of Magic is a straightforward sandbox 4X game. There are no racial quests, scenarios, or storylines for you to follow. It is pure 4X goodness. The object of the game is simple: destroy your enemies by either conquering all of their cities or by casting the Spell of Domination. There’s no namby-pamby diplomatic or cultural path to victory, nor a quest you can complete to circumvent your enemies and take the ultimate prize. WoM forces conflict.
eXplore: The game begins during character creation. Normally, one doesn’t think of that part of the game as playing into eXploration, but it definitely does in WoM. Unlike say Age of Wonders, in which you play a hero that personally leads your armies, your main character in WoM is an abstract sorcerer-lord who rules from within a tower. You can start with a pre-made lord (there are 12 to choose from) or a customized one, and that is where the title really begins to shine.
Just look at all the options in the picture above. On the left are the “disciplines” or special abilities. According to the game’s Wiki, there are nearly 50 disciplines to choose from. That’s an insane amount! In the center of the screen, you can see the spell circles. There are 12 in all and, combined, they have close to 400 spells. It’s impossible to select every level for all 12 circles, so it will take multiple playthroughs in order just to see most of the spells in the game (they are assigned semi-randomly as you research them). I’ve been playing the game since it first went into Alpha back in August of 2014, and I still have not cast every spell in the game. All these options expand greatly upon what was originally possible in 1994. It’s easy to tell that the development team truly paid homage to MoM in every part of character creation, but they weren’t limited by what MoM did.
Once you’ve generated your lord, selected one of the eight playable races, and chosen your starting spells, you’re ready to start the game. Just like in MoM, play begins with a single city (your capital) and two basic units on one of the planes. There are seven planes to choose from. They work in much the same way that “shard worlds” do in Warlock 2: The Exiled. Each is distinct from the others, with its own modifiers and resources that affect play. My One of the keys to launching a really successful title is finding a game or a type of game that doesn’t exist yet. That’s incredibly hard. Video game companies are constantly searching for a new idea, a new take on gaming that no one has thought of before. Sometimes in the search for something new, however, developers forget to look in the opposite direction: something old.
It’s been 21 years since Microprose introduced the all-time classic fantasy 4X game Master of Magic (MoM) and, in that time, no one has come out with a sequel. This has been an enormous opportunity that was overlooked and ignored…until now. Wastelands Interactive and Lucid Dreamers Development have teamed up to make a spiritual successor to MoM in the form of Worlds of Magic (WoM). This game, while quite unpolished, captures the true spirit of the original, incorporates all the classic elements of a hardcore 4X game, and fulfils the long-held wishes of fans who have been waiting over two decades for an update to a beloved title.
A personal favorite in WoM is the Plane of Paradise. It allows for the fastest population growth, which makes expanding your cities and building new units much faster. Your basic units will be fine for scouting, but don’t expect them to survive combat for long because they are rather weak.
I found that the world map is something of an acquired taste. It’s drawn in a much more realistic style than say Fallen Enchantress or Warlock. However, the board can get a bit busy with all the trees, mountains, and other landmarks. Should you play this game on a subpar machine, the forest and ocean animations will slow the game to a crawl. Not everyone will like the look of the game, so if visual aesthetics are important to you in a 4X title, you might want to check out some screenshots or gameplay videos before buying the game.
eXpand: Expanding your empire is a bit of a process in WoM. First, you have to build a settler unit. Unlike MoM, each faction has a different name for the settler. For instance, they are called Serfs for Orcs, Spinners for Dark Elves, and Forefathers for Dwarves. While that naming convention does add some nice flavor to the game, it increases the learning curve to a slight degree.
The AI is merciless on unescorted settlers and unguarded cities, so you’ll need at least two basic units to protect the settler. Next, you’ll want to use the Survey tool (it’s under the “Info” button on the main GUI). That will tell you the expected population cap, food bonus, production bonus, and special resources you’ll get if you build your city on a given tile. Finally, you’ll move your army stack with the settler to the desired tile and found your city. Each city starts with 1000 population which means growing it will be slow. Start off by building a Builders’ Hall and Granary right away. If you have enough gold in your vault, hurry the production on the Builders’ Hall.
Once you have that down, it’s easy to expand, and oh the places you’ll go! I mentioned the planes previously. MoM had two: Arcannus and Myrror. In WoM, there are a total of seven planes. According to Wasteland Interactive’s CEO, Leszek Lisowski, Worlds of Magic has a maximum map size of 128×256 tiles (for comparison, the largest map in Civ 5 is 128×80 hexes). This is an ENORMOUS amount of space for potential expansion! In fact, I sometimes wonder if Wastelands Interactive didn’t go a little overboard here. Thankfully, they give you a lot of options during game set up when it comes to map generation.
As you can see from the image above, you can greatly influence the amount of land, map size, feature density, and more for each game. This gives the user a lot of room to personalize play to his or her taste, which is a major feature of WoM. The developers want users to have as many options as possible when it comes to customize the gaming experience, and I have been assured by lead designer Aaron Etheridge that even more options are on the way.
There are some obvious gaps in the wide range of options though. First, you can’t choose your starting plane. That’s a pain. Second, you can’t have different size maps for different planes. For instance, you can’t have a large Prime Material map and a small Shadow map. This may limit people from experimenting with different planes and different combinations of planes. Finally, the game limits you to only two opponents if you choose a small map on a single plane. While there is some logic to that, the game is being trumpeted as a modder’s paradise. If the dev team is encouraging people to go ahead and mod the game in any which way they want, why limit something like this? Modders can just change it anyway. With all the personalization possible in the character creation and spell systems, it somewhat boggles my mind that they would choose to limit the player in this regard.
eXploit: Exploiting maps is where the real play begins in a 4X game. There are three areas where WoM exploits the map: Features, Resources, and Crafting. There should be a fourth, but it’s absent. More on that later.
In MoM, there were six “dungeons” and three “nodes” that you could explore. Inside most of them were some monsters to fight, and, if you beat them, you’d get some kind of reward. Standard 4X bread and butter.
WoM took this a step further. There are too many dungeon types for me to count, but not all of them work the same way. There are also a number of World Features that will have persistent effects once cleared. For instance, there is the Ivory Tower. Once you kill all the monsters in the Ivory Tower, you can station up to 16 units inside. For each one, you get 2 bonus research points. There’s also a Watchtower where any unit stationed inside gets a massively increased scouting range. If you conquer an Obelisk with a hero unit, the hero will get a random unit ability. A Great Fortress provides units stationed there with a defense bonus, and on and on it goes. Goody huts are not just there to be looted and forgotten in this game; they are strategic locations worth fighting for and occupying.
Most 4X games, including MoM, have some form of special resources connected to tiles that will give a city near those tiles a bonus. WoM is no exception. There are around 30 special resources in the game, and fans of MoM should recognize them easily: wild game, coal, fish, mithril, etc. As in other games, you will want to build cities near those resources to gain the associated advantages.
However, those resources aren’t just for cities. The crafting system in WoM is one area where it greatly deviates from MoM’s formula. In the original, you had to use your spell casting to create artifacts. This could be a serious problem. You might be just a few turns from finishing a magic sword for one of your heroes when an enemy wizard invades your territory. You then have to decide, “Do I cancel my artifact spell to combat this new threat or do I try to ride it out and get my item?” Whichever option you choose, it’s going to cost you big time.
In Worlds of Magic, you don’t have to make that choice. WoM’s separate crafting mechanics allow you to make an artifact without the need of spells. Here’s where the eXploit comes in. If any of your cities have access to a special resource, like Darkwood, Mithril, or Adamantite, you can create artifacts using those resources! Warlock 2 has a comparable mechanic, only there, these unique resources grant you access to specialized buildings which in turn let you build unique units or armor/weapons. Finding and guarding strategic resources in WoM is all important. If the AI sorcerer-lords get them and have enough time to start making artifacts, their heroes can become difficult to deal with in combat.
The fourth area of eXploitation should be diplomacy. Except, it’s not. Saying diplomacy in WoM is barebones is generous. I regard it as a skeleton that’s a few bones short. About all you can do with the diplomacy system is ask for something and see if you get it. MoM came on a few floppy disks back in 1994, but its diplomacy mechanics were far more advanced than what WoM featured on release.
There are many visual cues in the image above that help you know what’s going on. Because of current relations, it’s clear which items the enemy wizard is willing to discuss. Second, the eyes on little imps that frame the mirror change color in order to give you an idea how the other wizard feels about you: green for good, yellow for neutral, red for hate. There are even shades within those colors letting you know how close you are to the next one! Next, the wizard’s facial expressions change based on your offer. It was plain to see what effect your offer was going to have. Finally, the wizard’s dialogue provides clues about what they might say or want in your next meeting.
In WoM, any and all of these visual cues are absent. There’s no way to know how the other sorcerer-lord will react. There’s no clue about their disposition at all, and most offers are rejected outright for no apparent reason. Most of the time, the best you can hope for is to trade low level spells and items. Signing complex treaties or goading another sorcerer-lord into attacking another lord is out of the question. I’m all for a game that focuses on conquest, but to completely ignore political intrigue as a tool in the conqueror’s toolbox is a shame. I am confident that the developers will eventually add a more robust diplomacy system, but I don’t expect it any time soon. As a result, WoM’s release version is almost purely a war game.
eXterminate: Speaking of war, WoM excels in this department. There was much consternation and worry concerning the AI prior to launch. I’m pleased to say that the AI has reached a level of competency that should provide a fair amount of challenge to anyone who buys the game.
The AI is always hard to get right in a 4X game, and people often misunderstand what its purpose is. For more information in regards to this discussion, check out our eXposition on AI.
However, Wastelands Interactive has done a great job of creating an AI that is challenging both on the world map and the tactical “battleboard.” Do not make the mistake of thinking you can waltz into a map feature or city with a couple units and take it. Even when the odds are even, the AI has a way of surprising players. Expect to lose units – lots of them – when assaulting a sorcerer-lord’s capital. DO NOT leave your cities lightly guarded or completely unguarded. I recently stretched my garrisons too thin and below is what showed up on my doorstep.
That’s going to be hard for anyone to deal with, and it’s here that the improvements in the AI can really be seen. In this army, the AI has four ranged units, three spellcasters, two meatshields, and a cavalry unit that can teleport around the battlefield. This is an excellent mixed unit force. I have to choose what to do with my melee units against it. If I move them up to engage the ranged units, they have to get through the meatshields first and that leaves my own ranged units vulnerable to the teleporting cavalry. Should I use my melees to protect my archers instead, then I’m just going to get pinged to death by bows and acid arrows. No matter what, I’m losing units in this, and I’ll probably end up losing the city.
Now, it has been said that WoM’s combat is basic. The battleboard is a flat square with only a few trivial obstacles. Essentially, you just line two armies up and smash them into each other. This sentiment comes from a fundamental misunderstanding of what this game is all about.
MoM had some truly great units. Dark Elf Warlocks, Halfling Slingers, and War Trolls are still well-remembered and well-loved units that wreaked havoc on the battlefield. But the true power in the game lay in the unit enchantments and artifacts your wizard could create. WoM intentionally followed this formula. Sure, there are plenty of good units, but the tactics are not so much in how you use your units and their abilities – although there are 104 different unit abilities in the game. The true tactical challenge is in how you use your spells. Even low level spells like Walking Bomb, Spit of Bile, and Phantom Warriors are powerhouses on the battleboard. As one plays the game, it becomes more and more apparent that getting to know your spellbook is far more important than getting to know your armies.
When it comes to constructing those armies, each faction has its own idiosyncrasies that makes combat fun and challenging to learn. For some races, you’ll never need the top tier units. For instance, I have discovered that I don’t really need the Grey Elf Pegasus Rider or the Dwarven Golem to have an effective Elvish or Dwarvish force in combat. Conversely, the High Men Paladins and Draconian Doom Drakes are almost required for those factions to have a decent fighting force. For the Unhallowed, I mainly stuck to the three lowest tier units. Meanwhile the Orcish mid-tier units are so cheap and so good that it is most efficient to field multiple armies of them to attack the same target and just combine the leftovers after the battles are over. I find it gratifying to know that the game doesn’t require me to speed to the top of the unit tree.
When you have successfully attacked an enemy city, you have a choice. You can either “take” the city and add it to your empire, or you can “raze” the city and plunder it for gold. The amount of gold you get is based on the number of buildings destroyed. Taking a city allows you to gain access to that faction’s build tree. This means, with enough patience and hard work, you could make an army composed of units from seven of the eight factions (the Undead are prohibited from doing so for flavor reasons).
As mentioned at the beginning of this review, winning conditions are simple. Kill all your enemies by capturing or destroying each of their cities or hold them off long enough to research and cast the Spell of Domination. There’s a certain elegance in that simplicity in that it helps you to focus on what the game is really all about: old school conflict in the style of Master of Magic.
eXperience: Here, in the last X, is where the game begins to break down. Honestly, all the other aspects are great, but the overall eXperience is lacking. The game seems to have launched before it was really ready and was full of bugs and various other problems. For instance, some tooltips were missing and a number of spells had overlapping text in their descriptions, rendering them unreadable. When there were descriptions, the font size was too small to be easily read. However, to the credit of the developers, all of those issues have since been fixed with some quick post-release patches. While there are still a few glaring problems, such as missing sound effects, limited camera zoom options, and absent naval units, these should all be cleared up in the coming weeks.
Despite all the changes from MoM, there’s still precious little help for new players. Often, you’ll end up with negative gold, food, or mana production without really knowing why. Unfortunately, the game gives you little to no information about what you can do to fix the problem. Clicking on the resources at the top of the screen doesn’t do anything or provide any information. The city UI, while visually pleasing, is not actually informative in any practical way. You can’t organize buildings according to what they produce, so you don’t know which ones make gold, food, mana, etc. unless you mouse over them and squint to read a tooltip. Even though Wastelands Interactive has provided a wiki and in-game manual, issues like these make the learning curve pretty steep for a new player.
While the game experienced some massive problems at launch, there is still good news. The title is very addictive and certainly captures the feel and ambiance of Master of Magic in many ways, including replayability. If you are wondering if WoM has that one-more-turn draw, rest assured that it absolutely does.
The even better news is that the issues I mentioned above are easy to fix. They’re small, and certainly not fundamental problems. While they can certainly present a nuisance for players, they don’t detract in a major way from the game’s playability.
And the best news? The development team for WoM is incredibly hard-working. Within the first 12 hours after the game was officially released, there were four updates. Two more followed within the next three days. When site founder Rob, aka Devildog, reported a problem with launching the game, one developer even reached out to him personally to resolve the issue, even though Steam was ultimately at fault. The development team clearly cares a great deal about both the game and the community so, while WoM is still a work in progress, I have full confidence that the developers will eventually get all the wrinkles ironed out.
If you’re reading this review a couple months or more after it was initially published, chances are that most (or all) of these problems are gone. If the developers give the game the polish and attention it deserves, it could become an all-time classic of the genre.
Ben’s (Warmacblu) additional perspective:
Instead of focusing on all of the bugs and negative aspects of Worlds of Magic, which there are plenty of, I am going to reflect on the positive experiences I have had with the game thus far.
First, I want to mention that I really appreciate how Worlds of Magic does not hold your hand. Some people are going to hate this and some people are just going to say that it is due to poor design. I do not think it is due to poor design, but rather an attempt to bring back a feeling that many recent 4X games could never hope to emulate. Worlds of Magic does not tell you what to do, what to build, how many to build, where to build, or even why. It begs for you to eXperiment for yourself and fail over and over again. Troy described this game best as being a strategy sandbox game and he is absolutely right.
Second, I am impressed with the art assets and I believe this has been overlooked in most reviews I have read. Each playable race has a completely different set of buildings and units. Dwarven buildings look nothing like Grey Elf buildings and their units are even more unique. This really goes a long way towards making each race feel different, which is something 4X games have often struggled with in the past.
Lastly, I seem to be in disagreement with lots of people when it comes to the city UI. I think that Wastelands Interactive and Lucid Dreamers Development have done a great job with the city UI. Every unit is animated in the build queue and you can actually see what each individual building looks like which really adds to the immersion.
All in all, I mostly agree with what Troy has said about the game. It is a little rough around the edges but, with some more additions and fixes, Worlds of Magic could become a classic.
TL;DR: Worlds of Magic is an unpolished game that still manages to capture the old-school, hardcore feel and fun of Master of Magic. It is almost a pure war game in that diplomacy, quests, and storylines are largely eschewed in favor of combat and exploitation. It’s hard to imagine a game with more area to see, however, with seven different planes and giant maps. Be warned: the game is NOT finished and has a number of bugs left in it. These will hopefully be fixed in time, and if they are, WoM could take its place as the first and only true spiritual successor to the 1994 classic.
You might like this game:
- If you were a fan of Master of Magic back in the 1990s.
- If you want a highly customizable fantasy 4x sandbox game.
- If you enjoy making and maintaining large and diverse empires.
You might NOT like this game:
- If you are in need of a polished game right now. Or even a finished game.
- If you love diplomacy in 4X games.
- If Storylines, quests, and heroic journeys are your thing.
Troy played 265 hours on his Windows 8.1 Dell Inspiron 7000 Series 7537 BTX 17” laptop with Intel(R) Core(TM) i7-4500U CPU @ 1.80 GHz, 16GB Ram, 64 bit Operating system, x64 processor, and 2GB NVIDIA GeForce GT 750M graphics card.