There were so many great new titles to see at E3, that it is hard to figure out where to begin. So what I wanted to do was take a look at an interesting game that was still pretty far out in terms of release date. Thankfully, we will see many great titles in just a few weeks. And since Ken and Hargosh wrote about console games endlessly at E3, I thought I would take a quick glance at a PC title.
Disciples II: Dark Prophecy follows another game I reviewed called Disciples: Sacred Lands. Both titles stand out in this increasingly real-time strategy world in that they are completely turn based. Not a mix. No 50 percent this and 50 percent that. It is a pure turn-based game.
If you read the tag line after my reviews (though I want to be the first to say that I did not write it) you will see that I am a bit of a throwback in terms of gaming. I do love the latest and greatest, but I have a fondness for the old school as well. Turn-based is definitely old school. However it is the only way to truly play a strategy game. After all, giving yourself time to think and plan the best move is the way to optimize your skills when squaring off against another mastermind. If it weren’t, there would be real-time chess tournaments. Anyway, RTS games sometimes come down to who can react the quickest, which I suppose is a form of strategy, but lets just call it low strategy.
Disciples II is high strategy. Like its predecessor, you have a limited number of actions each of your army groups can do in a turn, and a limited number of things your home cities can produce. Like the great strategy board games, every piece on the map has to be working toward victory every turn if you are going to stand a chance. Leave a unit in the backfield and you may sorely miss it later. Gamble on a light defense in a city and if the enemy launches a surprise attack, you may find your forward advance faltering from within.
It’s easy in Disciples II to tell who is in control of an area, and hence the game. Each of the four races has a terrain associated with them. When humans are in control, lush green grass grows in all directions and trees blossom. When demons are the landlords, the ground is blackened and pocketed with lava pools. If the ground under a resource area, like a gold mine, is your color then you own that area and get some of that resource each turn.
Power comes from cities. When you control a city, a little bit of ground around the city turns to your favor each turn, until it hits another influence like a city controlled by a rival race. There are also special units like archangels that can plant banners that will turn a small area of ground to your side. The influence of the banner is very small, especially near enemy cities. However, you can plant the banner beside local resource generator to gain control of it. You can use this technique to deprive an enemy of needed resources during long sieges. The banners can be destroyed by rivals, so they often need guarded in some way.
But all that was available in the original game. So what is new with Disciples II?
Well, the pre-alpha I was given at the show has only one mission for one race of people, in this case the humans, so I am only going to talk about what I know. The main thing that I noticed was that the entire game has been given a facelift. Smartly, the Japanese anime-like look has been maintained. However, the combat interface is beautiful. Now rendered in full 3D, each of your units is amazingly detailed when fighting. The backgrounds have also changed so it looks like your troops are fighting on whatever terrain the combat on the main map is occurring on.
Units are also now realistically sized. A unit that is so big that it takes up two slots in your six-slot army group is going to look huge when you go into combat. Also knights riding on horses are going to look larger and more impressive than archers, even though they both take up one space in the army. You are going to fight like crazy to get your units promoted to higher ranks, if nothing else so you can see what they look like. The graphics all-around are stunning. Fans of anime are going to particularly love the art that decorates this fine strategy game.
One of the main strengths of the original title was the different look it offered gamers, and it is wonderful to see that look improved without making so much change that you won’t recognize your old favorite characters.
I was disappointed with the intro to the game, but I am hoping that the pre-alpha intro is just a placeholder until a really nice one can be created. The intro as it stands is ok, but is a bit boring and involves a woman wandering through the snow and falling every so often in a very unnatural-looking way, with flashes of not very detailed combat. Lets see some of the in-game creatures bashing on each other!
It is nice to see that the good parts of the original game remain, and the main features have also been improved. If the game continues on this track, we are going to be looking at one heck of a strategy experience. I guess they don’t call it Disciples for nothing; this game is going to net a lot of dedicated fans.
Events: E3 2001