Wot I Think: Worlds Of Magic

I do like the big beetles, though

Given how spoilt for choice we are for fantasy strategy/roleplaying games, opting for Worlds of Magic [official site] over an Age of Wonders III or Endless Legend feels a bit like choosing to take home the one-eyed, geriatric dog with bladder problems instead of one of the cute puppies at the pound.

The word which kept springing to mind as I played this homage to 1994 4X Master of Magic was ‘rickety.’ In the first hour of play, I was convinced I’d never make it to the end of a campaign. My mind cast around for excuses, desperate to find an escape from a few days in the company of its appalling user interface and antique presentation. Not much later, I’d come to terms with the clunky UI and had dug into the appealing Civ/Might and Magic meat below, but kept running headlong into bugs ranging from minor display errors to the out-and-out game-breaking. Making it to the finish line was going to be matter of endurance.

I made it! I’m a big boy now. It meant force-quitting a few times to escape bugs, it meant squandering spells and repeatedly sending units in completely the wrong direction, it meant giving up on any intention to read unit bios, and it meant swallowing some prideful instinct which kept telling me my time was too precious for this, but I made it and I don’t regret it. Worlds of Magic is clearly held together by string and prayers, but it is held together, just about.

Whether it’s bringing anything new to what’s an increasingly full-up table is less certain. By having its sights so clearly set on tribute rather than experimentation it limits itself severely. However, it exists because Master of Magic fans Kickstarted it, so it’s not entirely fair to expect anything more of it. It’s defined by familiar, comforting dynamics – build cities, expand your domain, raise armies, research spells, fight turn-based, grid-based battles, and either gradually batter the competition into extinction or research your way up to a climactic mega-spell.

It’s hard not to get involved, even despite the initial hurdles of an interface which is both cumbersome and ugly (not to mention whose text is rife with grammatical and display errors). That essential loop – build, grow, battle – is timelessly compelling, and WoM keeps a tight enough leash on what’s going on that there’s always something to be doing, something to be worrying about. There’s very little of the downtime which characterises, say, Civilization.

The landscape is peppered with goodie-laden structures containing often highly-dangerous monsters, there are portals to nip through and nodes to grab, plus cities which can construct entirely new unit types to seize. There’s also a spot of terraforming if you research the appropriate spells. It kept me busy. Calling a 4X brisk is like calling a cat kind-hearted, but as these things go, Worlds of Magic is certainly one of the less ponderous.

There’s plenty of replay value too, thanks to the Sorcerer Lords concept which sees you either constructing your unseen player character/civ leader from scratch or picking from ready-made archetypes. You get to pick their starting race (i.e. unit types), you get to pick which schools of magic they specialise in, and you get to pick which spells they begin the game with. Couple this with the planes system, which essentially splits the world into different terrain types (and attendant bonuses/handicaps) and you’re looking at something which conjures a decent amount of variety out of relatively straightforward components.

The well-populated spell research system is a particular treat, and leads to long, unpredictable chains of prospective battlefield magic rather than being bound to any particular path. You also get some agreeably massive beasties to play with once you’ve built enough military structures in a few cities. It was hard not to smirk when I took a half-dozen poison cannonball-lobbing, bus-sized beetles and a few hulking dragonmen to knock on the door of a poorly-guarded elf settlement.

Unfortunately, if you’re not a big Master of Magic fan or have simply played everything else to death, it’s tough to make a case for this over the likes of Endless Legend, Age of Wonders III or Fallen Enchantress. Worlds of Magic comes up particularly short against last year’s Endless Legend, a game which brought freshness and modernity to turn-based strategy’s usually staid interfaces; this is stranded back in the mid-90s dark ages on that front.

The UI looks woeful, feels clunky, presents information unclearly, has errors (see above) and then throws in weirdo choices such as dragging orbs up and down to assign where you’re spending your magical power. Worst of the lot is the need to right-click to deselect a unit before you can left-click on the next one you want to control. I kept forgetting to do this and ending up with a unit wandering back to where it came from or towards a pack of angry orcs instead of ending up with something else selected.

Part of me feels cruel for picking on Worlds of Magic for this stuff. It apparently exists because of a Kickstarter, but at £45k only a very small one. Clearly it had a fraction of the resources of the other games I’ve namechecked, but at the same time you can pick those massively glossier games up for the same as or less than this costs.

It’s not at all the case that Worlds of Magic is lousy, other than UI and bugs (particularly a recurrent one which prevented me from closing menus, requiring an Alt-F4 to escape), but it’s not at all the equal of its peers in presentation, and sadly isn’t bold enough in design to make that irrelevant. I don’t regret my time with Worlds of Magic as such – again, it gets the essentials of explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate right, and I appreciated its lack of flab – but I can’t say that it’s lodged any memories in my skull.

Worlds of Magic is out now, via Steam, Humble and direct from the publisher.

From this site

29 Comments

  1. jasta85 says:

    as a MoM fan I backed this on kickstarter, overall I consider it a decent remake although I’m going to wait a bit for them to story out the bugs before really diving in. Will be something good to keep to the side for sometime in the future when I’m traveling or something.

  2. doomtrader says:

    Interesting review.
    Ever heard the ugly duckling story?

    • ScubaMonster says:

      What it could be become is irrelevant to what it currently is. Especially when the key word is “could”. There have been plenty of games that with polish and fixes could be halfway decent but never manage to get there. It could eventually all be ironed out (though the UI is something less likely to be changed than bug fixes). Maybe it will get there, maybe it won’t. Either way though, irrelevant to its current state. Reviews shouldn’t be done on hypothetical future states.

      • AngoraFish says:

        Particually as this is officially a full release, not “early access”.

    • pepperfez says:

      Having watched a swan relocation crew at work, I think smuggling a gosling onto your users’ computers would be a cruel and terrible trick.

  3. blainestereo says:

    Broken almost to unusability?

    It’s an honest homage then!

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      My kneejerk reaction here was to jump to MoM’s defence – both because it’s brilliant, and because it isn’t broken almost to the point of being unplayable.

      But then I remembered it WAS pretty damned broken on release, so yeah. Fair enough.

      • blainestereo says:

        Yeah, all they have to do now is follow through with a bunch of awesome fix-it-all patches to make it perfect.

  4. Laurentius says:

    I don’t know, it doesn’t tell me much, I love Master of Magic and I played every incarnation of fantasy 4X and found no better game ( I just played a quick game of MoM only two weeks ago). Endless Legens is not on my top list, it is a good game but combat is so dragging and bland i try ti skip it all the time. It almost sound that Worlds of Magic might be the game for me, not surpassing orginall of course but maybe topling Fallen Enchantress:Legendary Heros from the second place ? Would like to know more ? Anyone has opinion and impression to share ?

    • Heavenfall says:

      Yes, it was released in a horrid state. Wait a good while for bugfix patches.

    • Sangrael says:

      I’m another huge fan of MoM, still have it installed to this day, and I backed WoM based solely on the hope for a decent successor. I’d definitely wait on additional patches, it wasn’t ready for release. I haven’t been able to play more than 20-30 minutes without a CTD since release, in spite of the three bug fix patches they’ve released since. The actual mechanics feel very close to MoM, but it still doesn’t really replace it for me. The early game is very slow right now, unlike in MoM where you could get one hero and a few summons and go on a structure rampage. In WoM the heroes tend to be slightly better than a similarly leveled unit, especially without gear. The food and gold isn’t well balanced and you’ll generally only be able to support a few guards per city without putting one city into permanent trade goods status. And you’ll need those guards, because neutrals will go for your cities to the exclusion of anything else. I’ve actually lost a game on turn 5 due to a neutral army, and that was since release when AI was “fixed”.

  5. Recurve says:

    Never played MoM but I still backed the Kickstarter as I do enjoy turn based games and those that have been namechecked in this review didn’t exist back then. Thing is though, with the bugs and poor presentation, I’m not sure when I’ll get round to playing it given that I now have a glut of TBS’s to play.

  6. Premium User Badge

    Qazinsky says:

    wbu_MoveSplit?

    • Rocketpilot says:

      Strings of text inside a game or app are usually represented by variable names that get swapped out for localised text (e.g. Russian or English) when the game is baked for release; looks like they missed a few, but I think the latest patch fixed most of those.

  7. Premium User Badge

    teije says:

    This is disappointing – was hoping this would be a strong addition to the recent good lineup of TBS fantasy games. I’ll check it out after 6 months or so to see if it’s improved significantly. Unfortunately, a clunky UI is not typically something that patches can fix, because its baked into the design.

    • Rocketpilot says:

      Well, there are a few easy fixes that could be made, like making the trigger zone for the horizontal scrollers in the victory screens a bigger target – right now it’s almost impossible to position the mouse tightly enough to move it around.

      Unit selection/deselection on the world map though is probably going to be a lot more work. Right now it just feels rotten.

  8. namad says:

    worlds of magic is very buggy, but it has very solid core gameplay. a functional ui.

    endless legends experiments a lot but most of those experiments are abject failures, the population slider micromanagement everyturn mini game in endless legends is actually much more time consuming than the simpler one in worlds of magic.

    worlds of magic also has more spells than endless legends by about 100times and about 10times as many as age of wonders.

    back to it again worlds of magic is very buggy, if the patches ever fix all the bugs though it might be a stand out title!

    • Gerblyn says:

      It actually only has twice as many spells as vanilla Age of Wonders 3 (396 vs 204), still quite an impressive number! But AoW3 has 190 units (ignoring duplicates like 6 different types of scoundrel) to WoM’s 125 (according to a wiki I found)

      Anyways, I was looking forwards to this, since I missed MoM when it came out. I hope they manage to get it playable soon.

      • Kaeoschassis says:

        Master of Magic is on GOG, of course, and regularly goes damned cheap. Unless you’re someone who finds it too ugly to play, there’s honestly no reason not to experience it just because you “missed” it at the time. It’s still fantastic. It’s still pretty much the greatest fantasy 4X there is. And that’s not nostalgia – I “missed” it on release myself.

        Definitely interested in WoM though, but I have more than enough buggy incomplete games already, so this one stays unbought for the time being.

    • bambusek says:

      The question is – how many spells in WoM are really useful and how many are there just to increase numbers. I played Endless Legend and more than once it was a hard choice what to research. A two – three years before WoM would probably be seen as great game, but now the competition is tough, no wonder they will try (and probably fail) they luck on consoles too.

  9. doomtrader says:

    We are working on those bugs and I’m pretty sure that all of them will be fixed pretty soon.

  10. Joote says:

    It would be a really top game if it wasn’t fer the world of bugs. They released far to early and the fan’s told them so.

  11. Haldurson says:

    First of all, it’s not fair to review a game by saying that it’s not a different game. You have to review the game as-is, as opposed to the game you want it to be. WoM is not trying to be another AoW, or another Endless Legend. Furthermore, I didn’t particularly care for either of those games. And if they got better later, well that’s even more unfair, because you are comparing a new game to ones that have had months of patches. It’s really a silly way to defend your review by saying that the game is not AoW3.

    But I will say that you have some good, and fair points. The UI needs work, and the game was buggy as hell at release. It’s gotten lots better, considering that there’s been a new patch every business day since it’s been released, and 2 on the release date itself. That’s not something that makes the release any better, or that makes it deserve a better review. But it is something that someone considering purchasing the game needs to know, so it does belong in your review. After all, reviews are supposed to serve people who are considering purchasing a game.

    Unlike other games that have claimed to be spiritual successors to MoM, WoM is the first game to have delivered. It certainly does need a better ui. It certainly does need some bugfixes (though I can say that the game is VERY stable right now). There are a couple of problems with the sound, and there are a couple of missing items from the game. It should not have been released when it was.

    But it’s the most fun I’ve had playing a 4X game since Civ 4.

    • bambusek says:

      No, unfair would be saying “AoW 3 has na 9 races while WoM has one less”. That would be unfair cause AoW 3 will get 8th and 9th race in around two weeks with expansion. However, At the same time: AoW 3 has a random map generator like WoM, but in addition has two campaigns and a plenty of scenarios with new ones coming thanks to map editor. WoM has only random maps…

      With time, WoM could become better, I believe that Wastelands will make this game better. But as it is now AoW 3 and Endless Legends simply delivered more at their release and are better games. Now it is up to developers to try and catch up, hopefully before using money and resources on consoles port.

      • Haldurson says:

        It IS unfair to compare them because they are two different games and their creators had completely different goals. Saying game X has more races than game Y is irrelevant to someone who likes game Y but doesn’t like Game X.

        There are 3 things that every review must do:
        1. Say what was done. What is this game, movie, book, or whatever it is that you are reviewing.
        2. Say how well it was done.
        3. Say whether you felt it’s worth while. Give an overall opinion.

        Once you start talking about elements that are not in the game, you are not saying what was done. You are not reviewing the game as presented. You are reviewing a completely different game.

        Imagine if I was reviewing the movie “Man of Steel”, and in my review, I constantly compared it to “Guardians of the Galaxy” and described all the things that “Guardians of the Galaxy” had in it that “Man of STeel” did not. If I criticised it because Guardians was funnier, and was more quotable, and had better cinematography, and better acting and son and on.

        Everything I might sya might be true. You may (or may not) even agree with it. But it would not be a review.

        The honest way of reviewing something is to say what the game did, how well did it succeed in doing it, and did I like it. That would be an honest review. Anything else is a straw man argument.

    • DrollRemark says:

      First of all, it’s not fair to review a game by saying that it’s not a different game.

      But it’s the most fun I’ve had playing a 4X game since Civ 4.

      Welp.

  12. javier-hndz says:

    Worlds of Magic is a strategy game. Players can explore and conquer a virtually unlimited number of universes, using military and magical forces to defeat their enemies. Found cities, raise armies, cast spells, recruit powerful heroes and create mythical magical artifacts. All this to become the Lord Sorcerer Supreme.I like this kind of game.