The remake of Master of Magic should come with rose-coloured glasses: While the original is still great even after almost 30 years, the remake plays surprisingly tough
How can you tell that a turn-based strategy game has really grabbed you? By the iconic resolution “Just one more round!” – which then turns into hours again. In the new edition of the 1994 classic Master of Magic, this often turns into an annoyed “Oh no, just one more round!
Because it takes tough hours for the fantasy strategy game to get going, and even then it plays with the handbrake on. While in comparable classics like Heroes of Might and Magic 3 you fight almost every round, expand cities, plunder treasures and conquer mines, the new Master of Magic is even slower than the original with its shuffling armies and city expansion, which is especially slow in the beginning.
The gameplay of the new Master of Magic remains almost unchanged – fortunately, because it”s great. You move through the upper and lower world (which now has hexes instead of squares) turn by turn with your heroes, recruit fantasy troops and summoned creatures. You conquer cities or found them yourself with settlers, and expand them with buildings exactly like in Civilization.
The goal of the game is once again to become the Master of Magic by wiping all other AI mages off the map. There are no other objectives. Instead, the 14 nations play wonderfully differently. Lizard troops, for example, can walk on water, Draconians can fly, nomads get more gold through trade but are not allowed to build shipyards.
Because you don”t just play with your starting nation in a game, but soon also command neutral cities of other nations, the variety of troops soon becomes enormous. Experimenting and combining the different strengths and special abilities is again a great attraction of the game.
In addition, there are around 200 spells from different schools, which alone are a science in themselves. Crafting magical artefacts, throwing fireballs or lightning bolts, buffing heroes and troops, global spells that, for example, protect cities, increase the fertility of the inhabitants or transform gold deposits into mithril. Those who like to experiment will find their Eldorado here. It”s no wonder that the exemplary English PDF manual that comes with the game is almost 250 pages long.
Much idling, little comfort
However, the manual is also necessary, because in addition to the in-game help, it explains, for example, the basics of the also turn-based battles, and how dealt damage, armour, resistances, initiative and counterattack have an effect. This is all nicely and clearly explained, but it would be much better if there were at least an optional battle forecast, as has been standard in the genre for ages. Here, however, it is only available before the battle, but not in the middle of the fight between individual units. Even for advanced strategists, this is often a vabanque game.
In addition, the randomly generated battlefields are terribly monotonous and repetitive: defenders on the top left, attackers on the bottom right, with again only very short ranges of movement. There are zero terrain advantages – for shooters, for example, it doesn”t matter if they stand on hills, only the distance to the target lowers the damage. No comparison to the hand-crafted, tactically challenging battlefields of a King”s Bounty 2.
The AI is also lousy, it likes to position its ranged fighters in front of the melee units and then has to rearrange them. And instead of staying behind a city wall, it moves out with individual troops, right into the middle of our arrows and sling stones. It almost seems as if developer MuHu Games has adopted the AI of the original, because it was already at Kelly Bundy level back then. At least we can also have a battle calculated automatically, but the outcome deviates from the forecast every now and then, so that we suffer unnecessary losses, even in a battle with strong superiority.
The biggest problem with Master of Magic, however, is the incredibly sluggish pace of play. Foot troops can only move two squares per turn, which is why exploration at the beginning of the game becomes an annoying drudgery. And pray that you don”t encounter enemies early on! Because then you are allowed to push all your units towards the front line by what feels like centimetres every turn. This has very little to do with tactical demands.
Yes, the original wasn”t a speed-buster by today”s standards either, but it allowed longer movement ranges and was therefore much quicker out of the blocks.
Still needs fine-tuning spells
Generally, Master of Magic still needs a lot of fine tuning and some improvements. For example, there is no strategic map overview of the game world, which would be sorely needed, since you slowly lose track of a dozen or more cities and the camera can hardly be zoomed out, which quickly degenerates into a lot of scrolling. The loading times and AI move times also take a long time, even the gigantic Immortal Empires campaign of Total War: Warhammer 3 runs much more quickly.
Also, there is no automatic exploration. Visibility on hills should be higher, because currently you can”t see a city until you”re almost standing in it. The AI mages almost always declare war immediately on first contact. Monster nests like crypts and ruins are usually far too strong, even at low settings, which makes progress even tougher. Even worse: The shrill sound effect when entering, because it reminds one of a mixture of dentist”s drill and scratching fingernails on school blackboard.
Our tip: Wait and see how the developers continue. The first patches have already been released, the further plans can be found in the team”s active (Discord-Channel). If the developers keep going like this, there will be a “Just one more round!” after all.
Turn strategy is my favourite genre, I spent months in the original in 1994 and I am a patient person. Master of Magic played tug of war with my patience thread though: Why the hell do foot troops have a range of a measly two hexes? Why does it take forever for a city to get going? The first 100 rounds of a game drag on unnecessarily, and even after that there”s always idle time because I have to drag my core armies through the pampas for what feels like ages.
Yet there is so much in the game: exploration, expansion and research are basically fun, the 14 nations play differently, I can specialise armies and cities. But I also miss long-established functions like a battle forecast in the battle, when I want to attack enemy B with unit A. Or a proper overview map. Or a proper overview map instead of the mini-map. Or an automatic exploration command. And oh, the battles, which almost always play the same for lack of varied terrain that can hardly be used tactically.
All this doesn”t make Master of Magic a bad game, because the basic principle is simply unbreakable. But so much more could have been done without diluting the charm of the original…. So until the developers improve in terms of comfort and pace, I”d rather stick with the much cheaper fan version of the original, Caster of Magic.