The world of Urak is one divided between eight faiths. The elemental faiths Earth, Wind, Water, and Fire and the derived faiths of Order, Chaos, Life, and Death. Golgoth, the god of Death– where were the other gods? Having lunch or something, I guess– , has enlisted his most vile minion, Balkoth, to conquer and kill all the other peoples– which sort of eliminates the need to conquer them. Pick a faith, manage your units, cities, and buildings to destroy Balkoth or play as Balkoth yourself and have a grand old time.
Lords of Magic was created by Sierra Entertainment, you might know them as the guys that made The Incredible Machine, Homeworld, and the King’s Quest series. When it was originally released there was only 1 map of Urak. The player could make more with a very diverse map editor, but the sheer amount of time required was daunting. An expansion pack of sorts was released called Lords of Magic Special Edition which included a few short campaigns called the Legends of Urak that took Modern myth and translated it to Urak and a new set of normal capaign maps. The game shipped with a manual the size of a small novel filled with an abridged history of the rise of Golgoth and other Urakian events.
Lords of Magic was released on November 30th 1997. It was up against Fallout (PC), Diddy Kong Racing (Nintendo 64), Quake 2 (PC, Playstation1, and Nintendo 64), and The Curse of Monkey Island (PC).
What happened to game demos? Demos were incomplete versions of games that someone could play to see if they wanted to buy the full version. In this day of preorder incentive and special editions it doesn’t behoove the gaming market to let players try something. Because if they try it and think it’s trash then they won’t buy it but if they don’t have a choice the player might go all in on a deluxe mega special edition preorder or something.
The story being that I played this game’s demo. The only faith available was Life and most of the upper tier structures and units were locked. But playing that demo showed me how much I would love the full version. I don’t care if it only got a 7/10 in gaming magazine, the demo showed me this was the game for me. My youth was spent playing a lot of PC game demos because my computer couldn’t run the full version or I couldn’t afford them. I would play them over and over again wondering if even though I didn’t have all the tools if I could beat the game– the short answer, no… no I can’t.
Having a demo means not having anything to hide. Sierra had faith that people that wanted to purchase the game would and I did– eight years after the fact long after Sierra had been purchased by Blizzard… but that’s beside the point.
As the game begins the player must choose a faith. Each faith begins with different diplomatic relations with other faiths, opposing faiths like Air and Earth don’t get along whereas Fire and Death get along pretty well to begin with. And each faith has different strengths and weaknesses that favor different playstyles. In addition to choosing a faith the player must choose whether their lord is a warrior, thief, or mage. Each faith favors different lord types so choosing a lord that matches the faith will lead to an easier game than playing a lord that doesn’t.
If your lord dies then the game is over. This leads to warrior lords being very effective because warriors are very skilled at not dying– seriously, it’s their job. That being said powerful spells can destroy entire enemy armies in single casts so a mage has a lot of late game benefit. It’s difficult to play a thief lord overall because they excel at being alone, and a lone lord tends to get dead.
The game starts you off with a small army to accompany your lord. The map is dotted with locations to explore– and by explore I mean kill all the locals and use, if there’s anything of use there. If there’s nothing of use there then hey, free XP and loot. Before the player can really do anything they need to liberate the great temple of your faith. I always found it bizarre that the game was so gated by this quest. Until the player liberates the temple they can’t hire more troops, research spells, acquire followers to allocate to buildings in town to get resources, anything really. After that it’s a giant game of exploration, politics, and war.
The standard map is the same every time so memorizing it can lead to finding sympathetic faiths quickly and avoiding your opposing faith– no need to waste good scouts.
There are so many cool things you can do in Lords of Magic. From spells that can create land where there was once water– allowing super sneaky land attacks via bridges that didn’t used to be there. To starting a custom game with a single Warrior with an immensely powerful artifact. The custom options allow a different way to play every game.
The game has some pretty good cinematics, especially for the time. Every time another faith gets knocked out Balkoth approaches Golgoth and informs him of the “untimely demise” of yet another pretender. The final scene and destruction of Balkoth is super triumphant!
I really like the voice acting in this game. Every unit has a voice and all of the lords have unique voices.
There’s only one combat track but it perfectly suits the feel of Lords of Magic’s combat. The overworld has a few different randomized and very atmospheric tracks.
The overworld map looks really good. Every faith’s terrain gives them stat bonuses in combat and affects the movement of other faiths out of combat.
The strengths and weaknesses of each faith is really intuitive. I know that Order is going to have some powerful knights in heavy armor– because of course they do.
The mythos of Urak is Tolkienian yet totally it’s own. The lore of each of the faiths is interesting to unfold and understand. Every spell, description, and voice over clip reveals more about the personality of the faiths. And that personality leads to an immersive experience.
The most powerful spells are usually really flashy and satisfying. It’s a great payoff for a big investment.
Kvetch: Important Things the Game Doesn’t Tell you Edition
Liberating the great temple of a faith that has good relations with you will cause their lord to swear fealty to you, giving you their territory and units based on how much they liked you. If your lord dies, this lord will take their place– it’s like having an extra life.
The Fame resource determines how many followers you get in your capital every week. These followers are the only way the player can have a sustainable army, acquire resources, or upgrade their capital.
Villages between each major city can be used to construct useful buildings but can also be destroyed to deny other faiths the advantages of these buildings.
Putting a Thief in the Thieves guild, or a warrior in the barracks, or Mage in the Mage tower will raise the amount of experience points new Thieves, warriors, and mages start with based on the level of the tutor.
Wandering monsters spawn from dungeons. The more dungeons that are around the more wandering monsters that will appear.
Wandering monsters won’t attack a structure with a unit in it. Might be a cat or an imp but it’ll stop them from retaking your rank 7 Gold mine.
Mages can research new spells in libraries, each spell requires a certain number of days to research which is researched at the rate of 1 day per level of mage. EG, if it takes 10 days to research a spell and there’s a level 2 mage in the tower it will only take 5 days for that mage to research it.
Higher level dungeons have artifacts that you NEED in order to stand a chance against Balkoth.
Balkoth cheats. He starts the game with an artifact that gives him free resources. He can cast spells, has the strength of a warrior, and a ranged attack like a thief. You can also never defeat him by autoresolving combat.
Actually, the whole game cheats. If my intelligence reports are anything to go on then other faiths can have negative resources and not lose their troops. But sometimes they start suffering desertions like crazy. I don’t understand the logic to it.
I have no idea what most of the stats do for units. There’s a luck stat, what does it do? Iunno. There’s a wisdom stat, what does it do? Iunno.
Never autoresolve combat unless you know you’re going to win. It almost always works out poorly for you.
If you destroy the lord of another faction all of his soldiers will track your lord down and do their best to try and kill him. They will gang up in giant armies along the way.
I am super blinded by nostalgia when it comes to this game. I recommend looking up a walkthrough if you want to play it just so you can understand all those things the game doesn’t tell you. If you ever wanted to play a Lord of the Rings like adventure and didn’t want to buy one of the Lord of the Rings games then I can suggest this game to you.
Next Week: Seven Kingdoms (PC)