Publisher: Buka Entertainment
Release Date: Q1 2005
Battle Mages: Sign of Darkness is the sequel to Battle Mages, a game released in Europe by Russian developer Targem that never found its way here to the US. Sign of Darkness is still in beta, but I was able to play an early build to find out what this title was all about.
You play a floaty spirit guy who takes up the lower portion of the screen at all times, and the game is an RPG in that your character learns spells and gains experience, but most of the combat takes place by purchasing units from towns and having them go out and fight for you. Sign of Darkness tries to be an RTS but comes up short on a few counts. Usually, when I’m given a minimap, I expect that I can click on it and move my view to wherever I clicked. However, in this game I have to manually fly my spirit character around, which gets more and more cumbersome as the game wears on.
According to the story, the player will uncover treacherous plans, lead vengeful races into battle, oppose violent creatures, and command the green hills of Daenmor with his dark ways. It all sounds quite promising, but unfortunately, the game never reaches its full potential because while the Big Idea was decent, the execution is severely lacking. The primary objective is to accomplish quests. Of course, you aren't really given much information or background on the quests, usually just a one-line description like, “Save the Warriors in the Cave.” So you do the quest, get some experience and some gold, and you hire more troops at the nearby town and perhaps purchase an item or two. Lather, rinse, repeat. Now if the quests were a bit more fleshed out, I can see the makings for a decent game here.
There is possibly a lot to do in this game, but that's hindered by sub-par game design. You have spells which can help your troops fight, but you typically don’t have enough mana to cast more than a handful, and the effect they have on the battle is slight. I couldn’t really find any sort of strategy either, as it seemed like winning fights was more about having more troops than there were critters to kill. Additionally, if you are ever far from your troops, you lose mana so it feels like you’re playing an RTS in which the camera controls are sub-par, your spirit character takes up a large amount of your view at all times, and moving the camera to look around actually decreases your mana.
Games from Eastern European companies generally don't have a very good track record regarding hiring English actors to do their voiceovers. While it may not be a high priority for the developers, it certainly takes away from the enjoyment of the game to hear the characters speak accented English. The background music is not much better and failed to create an engrossing experience so I simply turned it off.
The game will also have multiplayer capabilities with maps specifically designed for LAN and online play. Unfortunately, our build did not include this functionality so we are unable to put it to the test or report on any available mode(s).
With a targeted release date of Q1 2005, Buka and Targem will have to do some serious magic to get Battle Mages: Sign of Darkness into shape … magic that is currently lacking in the game itself.
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