Previewed By Andrew Orr
In Empire of Magic, you take on the role of Artemian, a minor mage from Zarog. Artemian is told that the great teacher Adu was last seen heading east, towards the vast Ibrashim desert. Artemian sets out on a pilgrimage in search of Adu. Artemian doesn't know exactly where Adu is, and has only his training to rely upon in his quest. After six hours of walking, Yano and a group of soldiers from Zarog meet up with Artemian. They don't reveal why they came, only that they are to help Artemian search for Adu. Yano proposes they head east to the desert town of Ishapur. What awaits them is more than they could have predicted...
The game play is a mix between strategy and RPG styles. Every unit has unique special abilities and various stats as well as interesting hand drawn graphics. They can all level up and gain new abilities and up their stats, but gaining experience does take time. The antagonistic units are often difficult to defeat because the AI is very clever. I tried just rushing the zombies the first time I saw them but I was swiftly cut down and sent back to the load game screen.
This is different than most strategic games in that every unit you have is a definite asset and losing even one is a big deal. You really have to analyze the enemy units and compare them against your own and develop your own strategic thinking in order to become victorious. Almost every turn that I was attacking in, I would read up on the spells and see if any were good for my current situation and recheck the enemy as well as my own units before finally committing to the attack. Units can be grouped in 3's so long as there is only one 'Hero' (unique) unit per group. The enemy will do just that and if you don't follow suit you're likely to get ganged up on in combat.
The battle system is a simply designed interface allowing you to use the same spells you can on the map, even on the units inside an enemy group itself. There is an auto fight button that I found myself instinctively going to more often than not as well as a system to give specific commands to specific units. You have the option to turn off spell casting in auto combat and I did just that after I saw how much MANA a single fireball used.
Aside from the regular HP and MANA there are also Action Points (AP) that are used up for basically any action. Walking takes up AP depending on the terrain. Casting different spells take up different amounts of AP as well as MANA. AP is also used when attacking. This allows for a challenging game play and more planning in your future actions.
It takes a long time to play and win. After about five minutes I went into the options and turned up the movement speed to the max because it was taking so long in between turns for them to move. This helps a bit but it still takes a very long time. The wild camels even have their own turns and waiting for the AI to move them randomly around their masters quickly gets boring after the 20th turn.
I spent about 6 hours playing it before I finished the desert area. It took me 180 turns to accomplish this. I did play through all the side quests though and I found it necessary because of the precious experience points you can gain through doing so. The storyline is a nice dungeons and dragons style adventure with side quests such like you would find in RPGs. Also side questing is the only way to get certain units (like Typek, an elite warrior soldier). There is no resource management in this game simply because there are no resources. You cannot create new units just by gathering resources. This is what makes the game unique. Almost all strategy games, and even most strategy/RPG hybrids are all about resource management, get a lot of gold/lumber/spice and you have the game beaten. Not Empire of Magic. It boots the resource management out of the strategy arena and replaces it with a popular role-playing twist.