Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic Review

If you're into turn-based strategy games, especially strategy games set in a high fantasy setting, then you've probably heard of Age of Wonders or at least its sequel, Age of Wonders II: The Wizard's Throne (AOW2).  Rich fantasy worlds, large spell books, a variety of units, and some great strategic and tactical gameplay made these games a hit with strategy gaming fans.  Now we have Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic, but is it a sequel or an expansion game?  The game does not have a digit in the name so it may be confusing as to just where in the Age of Wonders lineage Shadow Magic falls.  The answer is that Shadow Magic is a complete standalone game that is similar to AOW2, but features a new campaign and some gameplay tweaks and additions that make it more of an evolutionary step forward in the series than a full-blown sequel.

The new Shadow World.

Gameplay in Shadow Magic follows the same model as its predecessors.  Central to your cause is a wizard who is your leader and primary spell caster.  Wizards are magically powerful but physically weak, and are best left in a city with a wizard's tower - a special structure that allows the wizard to cast spells over a wide area of the world.  In addition to your wizard, you can recruit heroes to your cause.  Heroes are powerful units that can advance in levels, learn new spells and abilities, and wield magical artifacts.

Play proceeds on the world map in a simultaneous, turn-based mode, with all factions moving their army groups around the map at the same time.  There's a lot to do in addition to exploring when moving around a map - there are neutral cities to conquer or convince to join your cause, wandering monsters, triggered events, resource sites that produce gold or mana, and dungeons and the like that hide powerful artifacts or the secret of a new spell guarded by a powerful monster group.  It's a lot of fun to just explore the maps to see what surprises are in store, but the game is not just about exploration and battles with wandering monsters.  Rival wizards in league with the Shadow Demons (more on them shortly) also inhabit the lands and are looking to put an end to your efforts ... permanently.  Not only will they cast spells from their towers to harass your parties and defile your lands, they will also send their minions to destroy you.

Combat in Shadow Magic takes place on a tactical map whish matches the terrain and features of the space on the strategic map where the battle occurs.  The battles are turn-based, and you can instruct each unit in your army to move, attack, cast a spell, etc. on each turn.  If the battle takes place within your wizard's radius of power, then you can cast powerful spells from his or her spell book during the battle.  Sieges play out a little differently in that the defender begins behind city walls.  Flying units can cross the city walls, but other units will need to smash through the city gates first.  In both sieges and open field battles, the last side standing wins.  The AI is a competent opponent, but in most cases the make-up of your army is the deciding factor in battles.