It’s rare to get a second chance at a good first impression, but that’s what Worlds of Magic is getting with me right now. After logging more than 270 hours with the game, I took a long break. I had other reviews and articles to write for eXplorminate and a backlog of games I’ve been dying to try. So for the last two months, I had barely touched the game. When the time rolled around for me to write this ReeXamination, I once again took up the mantle of a Sorcerer-Lord. To say that I was pleasantly surprised at the progress the game had made during my stent away from it would be an understatement. The changes were significant enough that I had to change the playstyles I once relied upon. When I left the game, it was on version 1.0.14. Now, it’s on version 1.1.5 as of this writing. That’s a total of twelve patches! A lot has changed, though some has stayed the same, but what’s clear to me is that WoM is not the game it was when it first launched in March ‘15.
Among the biggest changes to the core game are the addition of tutorials. If any game ever needed some tutorials, it’s WoM. The game has a number of major subsystems: character creation, spell research, spell casting, power allotment, crafting, as well as the typical empire management and combat mechanics that many 4X titles contain. There is too much information to absorb for a person new to the game without some kind of helping hand. So, the tutorials have arrived and they are fantastic.
Other significant changes to the game include: a much improved zoom out feature, more detailed tooltips, improved font in all locations, a large number of new monsters, and icons above cities to show which Sorcerer-Lord owns them. The last item was a welcome addition since it was very difficult at times to tell who owned what in-game. The Unit animations have seen improvements too since they are faster and more fluid now.
Wastelands Interactive has also added two new DLC’s to the game. They are both free and meant as an apology to fans for the rough launch the game had. The first DLC was a Sorcerer-Lord expansion pack that contained five free portraits and little else. They’re sweet portraits, but as far as increasing the depth of choices, nothing is added since most people I know create custom lords anyway. What those extra lords do bring to the table, however, is five new AI’s to play against. Wastelands programs each Sorcerer-Lord to have its own personality based on the character’s species, disciplines, and spell circles. So while the DLC doesn’t add much mechanically during game set-up, it does extend the gameplay.
The second DLC introduces the Titans. Though similar in class to the Guardians from Endless Legend (EL), they are mainly a roaming menace that appears after a random event. These Titans are tough. They can wipe out an experienced army on their own. If you can get one to join your side through a world feature called “Altar of the Titans,” then you’ll have a massive advantage over your enemies, unlike the researched and summoned Guardians from EL However, it’s not easy to do that and most of the time the Titans go about the business of wrecking your cities and armies anyways.
The game truly needed these guys to create an external pressure. For the most part, when I played WoM in the past, I didn’t bother much with summoning and equipping heroes. There really wasn’t a need since the regular units are so powerful. Now, if I have a couple titans rampaging around the map, I’m going to need my heroes to take them down. They force you to explore parts of the game that perhaps were ignored in the past. Any DLC that necessitates the changing of your play style in that fashion is a worthwhile DLC indeed.
According to Aaron Etheridge (lead designer for WoM), there are two more free DLC’s planned for the near future. The first one will contain defensive buildings (structures that will change the battleboard during combat) and the second is a new but as of yet unnamed faction to play. Factions are easily the most expensive thing to add to a game like WoM, so the fact that Wastelands Interactive is giving one out at no cost to customers demonstrates their will to continue to support the game despite the rocky time it has had so far.
There have been additional AI improvements as well. The AI is getting better at building higher tier units and creating balanced armies, which was a major complaint players had even before it officially launched. A few more patches, and I think they’ll have this problem just about solved. The AI is also much improved when it comes to completing its building trees in its major cities. At launch, the AI would often just complete the lowest tier buildings in a city before switching to housing. Now, most AI’s know to build the entire tree.
What Hasn’t Changed
As much as the game has grown and matured since launch, there are still a number of things that the development team needs to address. For instance, the combat system’s auto-resolve still produces weird results. It seems to overvalue flying units and undervalue ranged units. There have been many instances where a manually-played victory was turned into an auto-resolved defeat. The AI seems to struggle with walled cities too. I had an army of eleven Grey Mages and two Unicorn Riders attack a city that had a Rune Wall and four Dwarven Defenders. When auto-resolved, my units retreated. Normally those units have no trouble attacking through walls. Auto-resolving combat in games that have tactical maps is meant to save the player time. It gets us past the trivial battle so we can focus on the more engaging ones. When auto-resolve doesn’t reflect a player’s experience in manual battles, it’s a problem.
Some other small things that I mentioned in my review have not yet been dealt with either. You still can’t open the appropriate window when right clicking on the resource in the top right of your screen. It would help players speed up their gameplay if right clicking on your mana would open the Magic panel or right clicking on food would open the City Management panel. Building and Unit menus in the city view are still not sortable by what those buildings and units do. RTS inputs aren’t carried over to the tactical battleboard from the world map. This can be terribly confusing for someone new to the game.
Let’s not forget the AI. It’s pretty decent in combat. The AI seems to know how to use its units well, enemy attacks seem to hit as often as they’re supposed to, and the AI will try to take out weakened units first. There doesn’t seem to be any cheating happening on the tactical battleboard. All that is great, but on the world map, the AI just bumbles around. It never stops exploring and only very rarely starts exterminating my cities. The AI relentlessly attacks goodie huts, but when it comes to cities, it’s like they are covered with some kind of AI repellent. Not to mention certain Sorcerer Lord AI’s do not garrison their cities properly. Many are only lightly defended. Other lords do just fine. I’m not sure why there’s a discrepancy. There’s a good bit of work left to do here.
On a positive note, the game still has that hardcore feeling to it. Adding the tutorials was nice, the UI improvements are helpful, and there are many more places you can right click to pull up an information window. However, there is still not a lot of hand-holding in this game. There are no quests leading you by the nose through the game mechanics and no real direction as to what you’re supposed to do. The game drops you in the middle of this simulated world and says, “Survive!” The AI will brutally punish you for leaving a city or settler lightly guarded. Many of the dungeons are guarded by high level monsters. Roaming creatures are everywhere. Wastelands added a lot of new features to make the game more playable but didn’t sacrifice WoM’s old school charm.
One of my biggest gripes from my review was the diplomacy. When the game launched, it was terrible. By the time we did the Audible eXtension, they had improved it to the point where I could call it “bad.” Now, I think they’ve gotten diplomacy to the point where it is almost tolerable. AI Lords make trades that are sensible and fair. Everything you could want to trade is now available to trade. AI lords don’t make treaties only to break them the next turn, and the treaties they do offer make sense given the state of the game when they’re made. So, it’s tolerable.
The problem is that diplomacy still lacks personality and the visual cues are nonexistent. You can’t tell how likely the opponent lord is to accept a deal you’re proposing. You have no idea why he or she (or it) rejected a particular deal. It’s impossible to divine how the other lords feel about you. There is hope, however! The development team is getting WoM ready for its console release at the end of the year and one of the issues they’re looking at is diplomacy. There’s a thread open on their boards requesting feedback on diplomacy. Hopefully, they’ll get enough community input to create a good diplomatic system in the near future.
Another major complaint lodged at WoM by numerous reviewers and players alike was city spam. City spam is the ability to build as many cities as you want wherever you want without any real negative consequences. I wanted to do some comparisons to find out if it really was as bad in WoM as folks have said.
I’ve been playing a lot of Endless Legend lately, so I thought it would make a good yardstick. EL prevents city spam by dividing the map up into regions that can contain only one city. Using the default settings for both games, I set out to see how many cities I could build in each. In my EL game, with a “normal” size map, I could build thirty six cities if I built one in each region. On a “medium” size map in WoM, I could probably build close to that same amount if I crammed them in there without any regard to optimal placement strategies. See the picture below:
It’s not a perfect comparison (the EL map is slightly larger), but it does illustrate the point. City spam is not the massive problem in WoM people have made it out to be. The number of cities you can build in a given area is comparable to industry standard; it’s just that the constraints on city building are more organic in WoM: bad terrain and water. There are too many barren tiles like deserts and tundras to build decent cities everywhere in WoM and there is FAR more water on WoM’s default map settings. Everything in the above image that’s not revealed is water. Compare that to amount of water in my EL game below:
EL’s maps create more land than WoM’s maps. I’m not saying one method is necessarily better than the other, just noting the differences and similarities between the two games. In fact, the two games’ default modes allow you to build approximately the same number of cities.
The true difference, and perhaps where the complaints about city spam have come from, is that WoM can create games that have maps many orders of magnitudes larger than any other fantasy 4X game on the market. The largest map in Endless Legend is has a total surface area of 9,600 hexes. For Worlds of Magic, total surface area on max settings is 229,376 tiles. That means the largest world in WoM is about twenty four times as big as the largest one in EL. And it’s almost ten times the size of the largest map in Age of Wonders III which clocks in at 23,490 hexes when you include the Underground layer. That’s just something that’s not done in fantasy 4X games. This sort of large scale mapping is more typically seen in space 4X games like Distant Worlds: Universe and Galactic Civilizations III. Having maps that large might be the real design flaw, not city spam.
Things Done Well
The development team has some great accomplishments under its belt. The game is very stable now. Few, if any fans, are reporting crashes. The Titans are well designed and well modeled. The new Sorcerer-Lords look great and have nice little backstories to them. In fact, the artwork in general is pretty good given their budget. You can now adjust the tree height on the world map to suit your tastes. Gates on walls open and close during combat now, adding a little realism and fun to city combat. The buildings and units are all animated in the menus which makes the city screen more engaging. The game also runs, loads, and saves much faster than it did at launch. You can tell they’ve done a lot of work on optimization.
There are plenty of other good examples of design. Take the “Holy Shrine” for instance. It’s a dungeon that once cleared provides Power (mana) to any lord who builds a city nearby. However, if you’re playing the zombie-inspired Unhallowed race and corrupt the Holy Shrine, it provides Negative Energy instead; which is just what the undead need. It’s a pretty brilliant idea. The shrine not only provides a bonus after being cleared, that bonus can be customized by the player according to need.
The random events have have not been neglected. They don’t fire off as much as they used to and are much more sensible now. They come in and give you a boost right when you need it or knock you on your butt when you are stretched too thin. A comet strike hit me at a critical moment in one of my games and set me back almost twenty turns. It added a nice challenge to the game that was almost at the tipping point.
Little Problems Everywhere
Despite all the good work that’s been done, there is a lot left untouched by the development crew. The sound effects still need work. There are persistent complaints about the engineers’ road building sound. It is annoyingly loud, almost like a magnetic crane dropping a derelict automobile into a crusher every turn. Cities aren’t labeled on the “cloth map,” and it doesn’t update a city’s zone of control when you cast the Tamed Frontiers on it (which expands the city’s borders). A number of tooltips still have the wrong information. Grammatical and spelling errors abound as you can see in the comet strike image above, it reads, “8d8 fire was killed in Standinavia.” None of these minor nuisances interrupt play or cause tangible problems, but they demonstrate a lack of attention to detail by the development team. It seems they are really great at nailing the big picture: the DLC’s were executed well, and no one can deny that Worlds of Magic is the closest anyone has ever come to a true Master of Magic successor. Yet the polish and professionalism needed to make this game truly great just aren’t there yet.
Worlds of Magic still suffers from a certain lack of refinement and the typical problems that plague most 4X games: weak AI, clunky UI, and unsatisfying endgame. However, the development team has made tremendous strides since launch to turn this thing around. WoM is indisputably a better game now than at launch… by a huge margin! The optimization and new content have vastly improved the game. If Wastelands Interactive had waited until June to launch instead of March, I feel confident their debut would have been a smashing success for such a small company. I have had a great amount of fun getting reacquainted with the game. It has definitely delivered on giving me the Master of Magic 2 experience I always wanted. For the type of player who’s like me, WoM is well on its way to becoming a classic. Yet, a plethora of niggling problems remain, and even if those problems are solved in the near future, the game will still mainly appeal to those that remember the halcyon days of 4X in the 1990’s and those looking for a truly hardcore 4X challenge. As a result, the game still remains a:
Troy played 300+ 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.
Disclosure:Troy received a copy of Worlds of Magic from backing it on Kickstarter in 2013 for 45 GBP.