previews\ Aug 24, 2003 at 8:00 pm

Battle Mages: Sign of Darkness - PC - Preview 2

The world borders on the brink of chaos but for small armies, guided with the power and wisdom of a mage, surely it would slip over the brink and into the abyss.

Battle Mages, a PC release from Buka Entertainment, challenges players to take small units of soldiers and tackle fearsome adversaries to help keep order in the realm. was invited to take a look at an alpha build of the game, and while there were a few kinks here and there, the game itself was sound.

Battle Mages is a real-time strategy game, designed in a detailed three-dimensional world that looks wonderful. The game seems predicated on a mana timer. As troops move, the timer runs down and the game slows to a crawl. This may actually be part of the alpha build and have little to do with the actual final release of the game. That mana timer can be regenerated, but - in this build - decisions must be made quickly for when that timer hits zero, you will inch through the game, regardless of the speed of those within the realm.

The story behind Battle Mages is a simple one. The world was protected from Chaos by a Magical Crystal. An evil wizard gained the trust of an elven princess, and sought the crystal. When his attempt to turn the elves to his sinister purpose failed, the leader of the elves - a princess - was slain under mysterious circumstances and hordes of undead and other evil creatures appeared in the world.

Game players play the role of a graduate from the Imperial Battle Mage School. It if your task to repel the evil creatures while searching for the missing artifact which will restore peace to the lands. To that end, you will need to hire troops, and venture forth on a variety of missions.

The game holds 16 scenarios broken into three parts. In addition to the single-player/single mission option, you will also be able to take on a campaign. Multiplayer options are also available, and the game has four pre-built multiplayer maps.

There are four central character types players can choose from: a chaos mage, nature mage, energy mage and commander. The latter attended the Battle Mage school, failed in his lessons, but does have the ability to lead troops.

As each scenario begins with a mage and a small group of troops, some of the task which lay before you will require a larger host. You can pick up reinforcements in the towns scattered about the maps. The movement and grouping actions are standard for the RTS genre, and the majority of the hotkeys were configured on the stock elements. Left click, hold and drag to group units, the right click where you wish them to march to - it is that easy.

While each scenario’s map is somewhat limited, and you will have to weave your way through mountains and other impassable objects, the world of Battle Mages is quite well done and a joy to look at. This is a land that is lush and richly textured.

The game play itself is somewhat typical of the genre.

The sound elements will be refined by the game’s release (slated for the fourth quarter of this year), but the music is well done. The other sound elements, feature a mixture or Russian and grunted replies to orders, is also average.

While Battle Mages treads the same ground in terms of game play, graphically this game does succeed. It looks good and, with the exception of the mana timer and slowed game play, it plays well. In case of the latter, the loss of mana in slowing troop movement is fine, and tying mana to a wizard’s tower or town is also a solid idea (after all, centers of power are not a new concept in the magical fiction world), but to slow camera movement as well is counterproductive. But then, this is an alpha build, and not totally indicative of what the final product will look like.

While Battle Mages does not, at this glance, appear to break from the typical RTS model, it does manage to drive the genre with very good graphical elements. This is a game that will bear a good look upon release.

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