The Art of Magic Review

What should be the game's centerpiece, the campaign, is a bit of a disappointment.  The missions are very uneven - some are cakewalks and others very hard to complete, even on the lower difficulty settings.  For example, most players will breeze through the campaign's first four missions only to hit the difficult fourth mission with a thud.  Also, in missions in which the player must face off against an enemy wizard, the enemy wizard tends to enjoy running around the map and avoiding confrontation.  These missions often play far longer than need be, as the player will spend too much time running around the map trying to track down his/her adversary.  This is especially strange since the enemy wizard AI does not seem to exhibit this behavior in skirmish mode.

Speaking of skirmish mode, it is a lot more fun to play than the campaign.  By limiting spell selection before even entering battle, the game adds an additional strategic layer to skirmish battles.  The variety of maps, degree of customization of game parameters, and the AI of the computer controlled wizards makes the skirmish both challenging and fun.

The game's graphics are fully 3D, but characters appear to be blockish and cartoonish. The camera is zoomable, but as you change the zoom level, the camera angle changes too.  When pulled back all the way, you get a top-down view of the action.  Because of this, it is difficult to manage things at either end of the zoom spectrum, so you'll most likely leave the zoom level and camera at the default setting.  The spell effects look good, especially those of the fireball variety.  Unfortunately when compared to the game's cartoony characters, the presentation comes off as uneven.

The game's interface is very frustrating and difficult to use in the heat of combat.  There is no way to set hot keys for items or spells, so to cast a spell on something you must move the mouse to the bottom of the screen to select a spell and then try to click on your target as it is running around.  Casting a succession of different spells can be darn near impossible at times, as can even trying to click your intended target.  This is even more difficult in the middle of melees of several creatures, where trying to sort friend from foe is a Herculean task.  

Finally, the game comes with an all-too-thin, excuse for a manual.  The game boasts over fifty available spells, but you won't find a single one of them in the manual.  You also won't find anything detailing the various objects and magical items that can be found in the game.  The manual tries to chalk this up to the "fun" of discovering spells and their effects and points out that more information can be found on the Bethesda Softworks website, but this is a cop out.  Players pay good money for a game and should be given a thorough manual that helps them to get the most out of it.  Let the players decide for themselves if they want to read about the spells or discover their effects on their own.

In The End, This Game Hath Been Rated: 66%. The unevenness of the campaign and awkward interface may prove to be too frustrating for some players.  The skirmish mode can be enjoyable, though, and provides strategy gamers with an experience different from most other games in the genre.

System Requirements:  300 MHz Pentium II CPU; 64 MB RAM; 8 MB Video RAM; 4x CD-ROM; 1 GB Hard Drive Space; Mouse.

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