The Disciples games have proved popular over the years, carving out a strategy niche which seemingly guaranteed strong sales figures with every release. The simplistic nature seemed to appeal to many gamers who wanted a welcome diversion from complex titles such as Age of Wonders and Master Of Magic.
Strangely however with the latest release the developers seem to be drawing elements from other titles such as Heroes of Might and Magic. This would be fine if the Artifical Intelligence system was in fact capable of holding its own in battle. Sadly this proves to be far from the truth as the AI stutters through the game seemingly unaware of simple tactical options, such as utilising special blocks on the map which give units bonuses. This inadequate strategic coding unfortunately extends into other key areas, such as effectively using spells, ranged fire or even the unit abilities.
Making a strategy game with an inherently flawed AI system is never going to prove positive for the demanding gamer. I was stunned to see the AI controlled units acting like lemmings on the strategic map. It would be fair to say that I played the single player game, with my jaw constantly in an open state as I watched the broken AI system make a mess of everything. Playing devils advocate however, I guess when the difficulty ramps later, that the unit strength somewhat compensates for AI shortcomings.
Single player revolves around the player pushing into enemy territory, killing as many units as possible, while claiming the guardian nodes as well as gold and stone to pay for new team mates and to build city structure streams into your storehouses. After a while, your units are so powerful that it is easy to wipe out the hordes of enemy monsters that get in your way. In an attempt to balance this out the game introduces new enemies on a semi regular basis – trolls, inquisitors and later, massive demons, which prove a challenge. Playing on normal difficulty settings doesn’t prove much of a challenge until later in the game when the game ramps up the curve.
It isn’t all bad, I found some of the battles exciting, as you move your forces to reach maximum efficiency, hoping to land a few critical hits and healing wounded team mates when possible.
As I mentioned earlier, the game has changed in design and the combat system has underwent a significant reworking. The 12 square chessboard element has been binned and replaced with a 117 cell hexagonal grid system – meaning your characters can move around at will. This obviously lends itself to a more complex strategic structuring, but I can’t help but feel that fans of the older titles might not like such a dramatic change.
There are some issues which I feel could have been resolved during the development phase. For instance, when units are heavily wounded, they are capable of delivering fatal blows in much the same fashion as a fully fit unit. This doesn’t seem very realistic to me, and I would liked to have seen more ‘behind the scenes’ depth, when the algorithms are making important combat calls.
The environments are also a little bland and repetitive and after many hours I would have hoped to experience a little more diversity from the coding team. On a more positive note, the character detail and animations are excellent and everything flows well on that front.
There are three campaign choices to make; human, elf and demon and in the human campaign you are given the task of guarding a celestial agent from the hostile Inquisition. It starts off in a compelling manner as you swear to protect this woman to the end, only to be forced by the scripting team to ditch her to the hostile forces shortly afterward. I found this immensely predictable and very unsatisfying. This is an issue throughout, you are often forced into decisions, without the game giving you ethical or moral options to do as you wish, which would be a truer RPG game style.
Every campaign you play has 19 levels with you tied to a home city. You can construct buildings in your city to enhance and improve your defenses and production rates. You can control up to three hero commanded parties who are able to move around the map. When the leaders of these parties level up you are allocated points which can be directed into new attributes and skills. The developers have complicated matters yet again by not offering a simple ‘tech tree’ mechanic, and instead have tied these choices into a maze like system which confuses.
On the map, while you are trying to take the guardian nodes for victory, the enemy forces are doing the same. Much like the rest of the AI, the way they do it, isn’t always very intelligent, but it does add a little tension into the mix. Many games have enemy units which stand stationary at a given location until you initiate their movement by close proximity.
The scripting is unbalanced, sometimes a story element comes through which made me smile and then at other instances you just want to slap your forehead in embarassment. There is plenty of combat throughout which should sate the appetitite of many gamers and there is a lot of action over many weeks if you find the structure of the title compelling.
I found some of the game elements very predictable and stereotypical, for instance there is a demonic infection spreading through the land which sounds almost so overused that it would be instantly dismissed by the writers.
I would recommend this title, but with reservation. I enjoyed playing it over the course of a few weeks, but it left me equally vexed and pleasured. Some of the decisions seem so silly that I find it hard to believe they ever passed the development teams approval. If you like King’s Bounty and Heroes of Might and Magic V then I think this will surely appeal. Check it out.