Genre: Turn-Based Strategy
Publisher: Shrapnel Games
Developer: Illwinter Game Design
Release Date: Summer 2006
When we think of turn-based strategy, it's kind of difficult to think of anything else but titles like Civilization, Master of Orion, or Europa Universalis. Certainly, these titles have set the standards that turn-based games have lived and died by for years. It's also hard not to notice that the amount of turn-based strategy titles being released into the market these days has sharply declined. Aside from great games like Galactic Civilizations II or Heroes of Might and Magic, there's been quite a drought in the genre. Thankfully, we have developers and publishers like Illwinter Game Design and Shrapnel Games to fill the void.
Illwinter Game Design is following up on their successful Dominions II: The Ascension Wars with the equally ambitious Dominions 3: The Awakening. Believe me when I say that this is possibly the largest, most detailed, and feature-packed strategy game to be developed in the past 10 years. The amount of options is astounding, and there is certainly so much to see and do that you'll have to play through several times before you discover it all. Without a doubt, this is a strategy title that should have anyone who is interested in the genre drooling on themselves.
The concept behind Dominions 3 is pretty cool, as well. You play as a nation who is led by a "pretender god," a being that aspires to godhood and real power. In order to achieve your goal, you must take your nation from obscurity to infamy, crushing everyone in your path and utilizing every means at your disposal. This is where things get really fun. There are tons of options for creating your pretender god and tweaking it to be the dominating force that you want it to be. At the outset, you can choose how your god will manifest itself in physical form, and then you are granted a certain number of points to put into different skills, magic powers, or dominions.
Your god is powerful, but its power is limited to the skills that you choose for it. If you want it to be powerful with blood magic, you can make it so, but it will have to work hard to become proficient in fire magic if you don't put any points toward that. In a cool twist, you can gain extra points by having your pretender god be dormant or imprisoned for a certain length of time, which prevents you from using him to improve your nation at the outset, but gives you a powerful god when it finally comes into your control. You'll also be able to tweak a number of other game options, customizing each setting to the way you want it. There are a large number of options to make the game easier or harder, depending upon your skill level and the challenge you want.
Once the game starts, you are placed in your starting province or provinces with your pretender god (if he's not imprisoned or dormant) and a few other units. From here, it's up to you to gain control of territory and challenge your opponents. To do so, you'll have to recruit armies, research new spells and abilities, forge magical items, perform rituals, and manage many other aspects of a magical realm. There are over 1,500 units to recruit or create, 600 magical spells, and 300 magic items. Your empire can make use of these to wage war on your enemies and conquer the land. Depending on the map size, your campaign might even take you to 400 different provinces! You can also turn any image into a map, so if you wanted to play a campaign based on Earth, you could do so.
Most of the battle planning takes place before you actually move your units into combat. You'll have to decide the formation of your armies and what each unit should do when it enters battle. Once it enters combat, you can't do anything to change it. In fact, the battles take place outside of the turn, and at the beginning of your next turn, you can view the results and the battle itself but cannot influence the outcome. It's really important to take care of your units before the end of each turn, since you can't do anything during the actual battles. Some limited control would have been nice, but this system still works pretty well.
While the gameplay is certainly nothing to scoff at, the graphics in Dominions 3 are a bit dated. The 3D battlefield looks excellent, but the units on the battlefield are 2D sprites. The maps are static and pretty basic, but they look good and get the job done. I'm sure after the game is released, fans will create some really cool customized maps. The user interface is simple and allows you to navigate quickly to where you want to go and immediately do whatever it is you want to do. There's no confusion, and all necessary information is displayed at the top of the map screen so you don't have to go searching for it. There are detailed statistics screens if you should want a deeper look inside your performance. Another area that takes a back seat to the actual gameplay is sound effects and music. The music is perfectly atmospheric, if simple, and sound effects are basic grunts from the units, with the occasional whack of the sword or whoosh of a spell or arrow. It doesn't detract from the overall experience, however.
Probably one of the most exciting elements of Dominions 3 is the multiplayer. You can get together with a group of your friends at a LAN party or over the internet and take part in a gigantic game of strategy with up to 21 players in a single game. This is certainly a really exciting element, and I can just picture 21 players fighting it out on a map with over 400 provinces. There is certainly an excellent opportunity for a lot of fun and excitement when it comes to multiplayer, and you can even play by email if you wanted to.
Illwinter Game Design is certainly headed in the right direction with Dominions 3, and fans of the previous titles should be extremely happy with the way that Dominions 3 is looking. I have only briefly touched on the many options that players will have in their quests for world domination. Dominions 3 is looking like a turn-based strategy game that will enter into the pantheon of the greatest titles to ever be released into the genre.
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