Genre: Turn Based Strategy
Developer: Strategy First
Publisher: Strategy First
Release Date: June 10, 2003
Buy 'DISCIPLES II: Guardians of the Light': PC
I've always been a fan of turn-based strategy games, especially when you throw in a fantasy backdrop. There is just something about not knowing what the enemy is going to do and having to anticipate that before you make your move. That is what has made Disciples 2 such a sleeper hit with strategy fans who may not prefer the "real-time" battles of Starcraft or any number of its knock-offs. [that's a BIG number] I think the coolest thing about this stand-alone expansion is if you have never played through Disciples 2, it's included! This allows people who didn't take notice when Disciples 2 came out to play catch up, which you will have to do [unless you dig a little, I'll explain in a moment]. If you haven't played the original Disciples 2, its a dark fantasy turn-based strategy game. In this expansion you manage your kingdom and resources, build structures, train those at your command and try to save Nevendaar from the hordes of the Undead and the Legions of the Damned. You have a whole slew of typical fantasy fare at your command, some of which can cast huge spells out played out before you with some great special effects. You choose to play either as the Empire [human] or the Mountain Clan [dwarves], both have different qualities, spells and twists on the main plot.
The thing that has attracted me to Disciples 2 in the first place is its unbelievable art style. Everything about the expansion is equally gorgeous, except maybe the package design, which doesn't come close to the art and style contained within it. I've found some expansion packs in the past to be less than stellar when compared to the polish and elbow grease put into the original game. That is not the case here, and if anything it's improved. You can set the in-game resolution as high as 1280x1024 to see more of the map which is always helpful, and the addition of some new capitol and battle backgrounds and great music help improve upon an already polished game. You can even import MP3's to create your own custom soundtrack.
The style of the game is dark and unforgiving and takes itself very seriously, and it should. Everything is dark and looks exactly as things do in my imagination when reading a great TSR novel or something. The battles are played out in a psuedo 3D environment and while a little static can look cool. The equally epic soundtrack really helps accentuate the art and brings the whole package together nicely. No cheese here. In contrast to its dark visuals, the game has some refreshingly good dialogue and story, and even some comical moments which I found welcome. There are tons of conversations that break into game play keeping you up with the deep storyline, which I had a hard time keeping up with, but never found myself tired of reading. These can take a number of turns depending on whatever alliances you make through the game and who you helped or pissed off.
I had originally thought that including the original game with the expansion was a great bonus to give new players. However, it's there for a reason. If you haven't played through the last game and saved your characters/leaders, you are going to be eaten alive in this game. The difficulty is balanced for experienced players much the way the Brood War expansion was for Starcraft players. Thankfully, there is a folder on the disk entitled "Bonus" which contains a handful of level 12 characters to start off with if you've never played before. Its kind of hidden, which I don't think is a good idea, because I found the game to be unplayable if you started the new scenarios with new characters. This game is still difficult starting with level 12 characters. Another nice addition is the Auto Resolve feature which allows you to skip the whole battle sequence, and let the game determine who wins and who loses based on the staggering number of stats and attributes given to each character. If you aren't playing on easy mode, don't use this unless you KNOW you'd win the battle. I found myself saving frequently and trying the auto resolve first, but I wouldn't recommend it on a huge monster from the Legion of the Damned or something. If you are playing in easy mode and have some decent party members its a great feature as you can zip through a map much quicker. That is, if you are looking for some quick pick up and play appeal, and don't want to have to click too much to get through a skirmish. Unless I had some really cool spell or artifact to try out, I found myself auto resolving quite a bit, and I have to admit it takes a lot out of the game.
Another addition to the expansion is a portfolio of concept art and sketches. Why this isn't a standard on every game I'll never know. Kudos to Strategy First for including this, you other developers take notice, we want to see this stuff! Another really cool feature is the Hotseat mode, which allows up to four players to battle on the same computer. It will also be compatible with the Undead and Damned races if you pick of the Servants of the Dark expansion coming soon. You can also jump online via Gamespy and find other players, or just play a friend.
The music in the game is something worth mentioning. I found myself leaving my speakers turned up when I'd have to break for a sandwich as the music is movie caliber. Music is usually the first thing I notice about a game, and D2:GOL does not disappoint. The sound effects are the weakest aspect of the game. I'd like to have seen more signature sayings from characters when I click on them. I was almost tempted to turn the sound off when playing as the Mountain Clan and having to hear "Yeeeaaaaahhhhh!" one more time. Thankfully, the Undead and the Legions sound really cool and I never got sick of hearing them hiss threats at me.
Another addition to the game is a map editor, which will allow you to make your own quests or skirmishes. I was really excited to try this out, but it ultimately left me disappointed. While it lets you customize every aspect of the game as it already exists, you can't alter the art or any way. So, if you want to create your own strategy opus, look to Warcraft 3's editor which comes with the Frozen Throne expansion. If you just want to make some different maps to fight your friends on, then its a really cool addition to an already awesome game.
I've always believed "If it ain't broke don't fix it" and that's exactly what this game does, by adding more scenarios and some technical tweaks they've improved on an already great game. While it looks a little dated next to newer games such as Warcraft, it still holds it's own. I would like to see an entirely 3D sequel though, as this franchise deserves to go on. The abundance of bonuses, 3 new special characters, portfolio of art, and a whole new addition to the story warrant any fan of the series or of fantasy turn based combat in general to pick this game up. The difficulty level will make fighting through the 2 new campaigns a lengthy ordeal, trust me you'll be getting your money's worth. While it can't be recommended to newcomers short on patience, if you are interested in turn based strategy and superb art with a small dash of RPG elements you're sure to enjoy yourself with Guardians of Light.
Score : 8/10