Master Of The Dark Arts: Worlds Of Magic

I bought Master of Magic when I was thirteen and managed to sneak a look at the manual during the bus journey home. It was enormous, that manual, full of stats, charts, creatures…possibilities. Despite the wonky AI, Simtex’s epic is still one of my favourite strategy games.

Worlds of Magic [official site] could be the closest thing to a spiritual successor. We’re not starved for strong fantasy 4X games at the moment – Endless Legend was our pick of 2014’s releases and Age of Wonders III is no slouch. The former is pushing the genre in unusual directions, however, and the latter has its own traditions to follow. Worlds of Magic looks to be picking up exactly where the plane-hopping expansionism of Master of Magic left off.

The game has been in available in Early Access for a while and the response hasn’t been entirely enthusiastic, it’s fair to say. I took a look myself when it first became available and decided to leave well alone until interface improvements and bugfixes were in place. I’ll be jumping back in soon.

Nothing in the trailer convinces me that all will be sweetness and light come release on March 19th, but I live in hope. The kind of hope that seems me repeatedly dashed against rocks as I dream of lighthouses on the shore.

17 Comments

  1. leeder krenon says:

    Reading manuals on the bus home was the major reason I ever bought games, AFAIK.

  2. Laurentius says:

    Master of Magic is still the best. I mean with all due respect to Endless Legend and I like this game but MoM, come on. I can’t belive that this, over twenty year old games is still beating these modern games in so many aspects. Just look at MoM bestiary and units rooster, it just enromously huge and awsome. I am doubtful that World of Magic can pull it off, though I dream that it can.

    • ScrapCupcake says:

      I was just explaining this same thing to a fellow game designer who’d never played the game; The UI is very Dos era, with bad fonts, but the overall design of the game, both UX and system design, is still unparalleled. Wonder what something does? Right click on it, get a detailed popup of its stats and abilities, which you can, crucially, also right click. Even Endless Legend, which gets much of its UX very right misses this basic drill down for details behavior.

      And then there is the overall design being weighted toward the toughest stuff you will fight at any point in the game being neutral monsters; this is something NOBODY has gotten right or seemed to understand about the magic, ahem, of master of magic. The WORLD is threatening, but also the only source of rewards that’ll give you an edge. Being able to take the right risks and losses to take out neutral camps is both fun and critical to success, and the AI knows it too; they don’t bother fighting you until mid-game, after they’ve cleared out their own neutral stuff.

      Oh, and the power nodes, omg! Such a critical design feature that gets missed; non-city major power centers that require defending! Ones that can shift the power balance of a war, one way and the other over the course of a few turns as people throw their troops at acquiring them. Why has nobody realized how critical to the core gameplay appeal of MoM vs. other 4x games that was?!

      And the spell design was awesome, and the creature design was fantastic, and ok, it had a few exploits (*cough* enchanting at 1/4 the cost and recycling at 1/2 the cost *cough*), but they were entirely opt in, and while game altering and easing, they were not game breaking; you still had to keep your wizard busy casting enchant item all the time, leaving you little time to cast other big spells, even if you always had the mana to get it done.

      And the hero and battle mechanics! The tradeoff between leaving a wizard hero at home to help your own character, rather than having the hero BE your character; EL’s mechanics get closest, but their battle system is, frankly, crap. You can’t do proper maneuvers, such as flanking, without losing a turn to doing nothing most of the time. MoM’s was basic, but it understood the fundamentals that miniature gaming demonstrates well; direct control of movement and actions, and, critically, big flashy rock paper shotgun lizard spock counterplay, but with combat spells to help shore up the weaknesses of your army’s composition so you’re never completely locked out against a hard counter.

      I could go on and on for my love of MoM, but that could take days, weeks :D Its a seminal game in the 4x genre, and nobody has yet managed to make its equal. EL comes closest but lacks the big flashy spells; Warlock was the biggest hope but biggest disappointment for me; it got a lot of the aesthetic right, but removed your own wizard and being able to level them up, and had the absolute most disappointing magic system; at least EL barely bothers with magic and focuses on the 4x and setting.

      • Paul B says:

        Thanks for sharing Scrapcupcake – a good look at why us oldies love MoM so much.

      • Laurentius says:

        Spot on. About balance though and modern 4X, well modern game tend to be far more balanced but they are loosing “the awsome” points for me. Mulitplayer for sure but SP ? I will trade balance for something super cool and satisfying like in MoM.

        PS. And let us not forget about Dragon turtles. I mean seriously, Dragon turtles, enough said.

        • Artist says:

          Imo its the cruel imbalance that makes Civ4 – Fall from Heaven so damn epic!

        • orionite says:

          Multiplayer ruined these games by forcing BALANCE on everything! There! I said it! I’m sure I’m not the only one who has sunk 1000s of hours into turn-based strategy games like civ, mom, moo, etc. without ever going head to head with another human.

          So, I ask you: What the hell do I need balance for, in a single player game? Who cares if hobbit slingers have become the fantasy equivalent to a tactical nuke? If you want a challenge, play a different race, with a different playstyle.

          These days, factions are often so similar that the only meaningful difference is the artwork.

      • Noumenon says:

        Love this comment. Don’t forget about differentiating cities based on what buildings that race could build, the tradeoff between broad or deep spell lists or no-spells-at-all warlord approach, and just… everything.

      • Voqar says:

        The warlock games give you the right-click info and a great UI, have a ton of different units, intteresting take on city building and build up, and the world is usually more threatening than the AI enemies and takes them out regularly, with extremely difficult mobs in the alternate plains. The AI is iffy. Not expensive either for what you get – pretty amazing games that would be incredible if the enemy AI was a little less ridiculous (worst thing to me is how they will demand your resources or war when you’re clearly superior or it’s the 3rd turn of the game kind of thing).

        I enjoyed the hell out of MoM back in the day and there are several older titles where you wonder why nobody can really nail copying them worth a crap, but games like Warlock II and AoW III have represented well recently (I’m less a fan of Endless Legend than some but it’s a nice entry as well).

      • Crabtipus says:

        Just the tooltips in MoM make it more fun for me than most modern 4x, practically everything is explained. The nodes were awesome, as was being able to capture other race’s cities to expand what you can produce (except those Klackon bastards, those always got razed)

        Combat was my favorite and pretty much no 4x has had as enjoyable of combat for me. AoW is close but it lacks the magic MoM had (I also feel like combat magic in AoE was not quite as fun to use). The way multi-figure units worked was pretty nifty too

        I really wish we could get a modern source port, I know there have been quite a few start up projects but none of them ever went very far.

  3. raiders5000 says:

    Potential.

    Now, wasn’t that much easier?

  4. MythArcana says:

    AoM: Shadow Magic runs great on my laptop and still looks amazing. I don’t see going with something new when that works so well. As far as a MoM clone goes, we’ve all heard it before. ;)

    • RanDomino says:

      AoMSW with BNW is almost perfect, but I really dislike how wide open the maps are. No natural chokepoints, no monster chokepoints, lots of map movespeed. And I don’t really get how the magic node system works.

  5. Infinitron says:

    What trailer?

  6. airmikee says:

    Wow.. just.. wow.

    I’ve been trying to remember the name of ‘Master of Magic’ for quite a few years now, even drunkenly bought Might & Magic Heroes VI thinking it was a sequel of MoM. A friend lent a boxed copy on 3.5″ floppy and it scratched the Civilization itch famously, but a decade later I couldn’t remember the name of it and I’ve struggled ever since, largely because of confusion with the M&M series.

    Thank you, Adam.

  7. BathroomCitizen says:

    I always forget to have a try at Masters Of Magic, but I’ve really enjoyed Dominions 4, which sounds a bit like it – enormous manual, a full zoo of bestiary and so, SO many spells that you can hardly learn in a lifetime. I know that Dominions 4 is made for multiplayer-shenanigans though, while MoM is not,

    Are they any similar regarding the main gameplay?

    • Voqar says:

      Dominions is more like Distant Worlds or EU IV – grand/huge/epic/monstrous versions of the more typical, approachable, and complete a game in a few days instead of a few weeks biggies like MoM, MOO2, Civ.