Master of Magic | Review – A welcome return to magic and warfare

Who I am
Judit Llordés
Author and references

Magic in fantasy has always played a fundamental role. There was in The Lord of the Rings and in Harry Potter, in video games such as Dragon Age and in just as many works from various media. For sure, though, Master of Magic needs no introduction to anyone who has played his original version, published way back in 1994 in an absolutely unmissable vintage for the entire panorama. Just to make you feel older, I was born a year later, and unfortunately I missed certain things, recovering them however in the last twenty-seven years.

Speaking of fantasy, in fact, it was not difficult to get lost in Middle-earth and in the other proposals of the genre, deepening it through its many branches and declinations. A genre that, at the time, was very strong, thanks to writers of the caliber of Ed Grenwood, author of the vast universe of the Forgotten Realms, as well as other authors such as Brandon Sanderson and Terry Goodkindwell-known names in fantastic literature. It was therefore hard to be able to live without video games that recalled such experiences, made up of great heroes, witches and fire-breathing dragons, set in distant worlds, some of which have remained in the memory of fans.

Master of Magic had, at the time, the great merit of being able to offer that kind of experience that is not forgotten so soon, aimed at being talked about in the years to come. In fact, many reviews of the time praised its depth of gameplay and the entire writing of the game world, so much so that books were even published, useful for better understanding the various schools of magic that could be chosen and the vast world gameplay, between unique protagonists and characters with dubious moral qualities. Fantasy remained, and it was a classic fantasy that was still fresh and full of possibilities, capable of enhancing unique qualities. At the time, as today, si giocava a Dungeons and Dragons, and when the dice came to life, there was little to do: they came true.

Master of Magic, speaking with those who played it at the time, aroused the same sensations, thanks to the various possibilities that could be configured during the journey. So long since then, however, Slitherine Software, acquiring the rights to the production originally developed by MicroProse, returns to re-propose together with the MuHa Games team a completely revised and modernized version of the 1994 work. A tempting opportunity that the British team did not miss, imagining magic again as it was then in a new guise to be worn by players of the time and by those young players, like myself, who had only heard of Master of Magic. A wizard to tame them, then, and a wizard to bring them all: will he too be able to chain them?

The context of Master of Magic

As I mentioned a little above, there is an absolutely fascinating fantasy world to be discovered. Indeed, no, in reality there are two: I'm talking about the astral planes, two alternative universes but linked in the same way by easily accessible magical portals. The first, real and certainly more familiar, is Arcanus, the place from which the adventures of the budding wizard in search of success start, while the other is Myrror, or Underworld, a place with other races, ruthless creatures and enemies. Before advancing in the experience, in fact, the player can choose who to play in a list of fourteen unique characters with different specialties and magical affinities through the schools of magic, and even this, however, is better seen later.

If you think you have a pre-established plot and a yearning story ahead of you, you have made your calculations wrong, because Master of Magic is actually a production that gives the player a world to shape through his choices. In this sense, MuHa Games has succeeded in making the experience in its entirety even more fluid and accessible, through random events and new implementations designed to offer interesting and impactful situations, which allowed me to meet new characters and to interface differently with the various races within the game world.

Once the character has been chosen, which can also be created from scratch from a simple and intuitive menu, the school of magic is decided, the books to add for the knowledge of the arcane arts and then we leave for the adventure, opting for one of the many breeds available. In Arcanus, for example, there are elves, dwarves and Halfings, creatures similar to Hobbits that could remind you of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, while in Myrror, however, dark elves or dwarves are playable, as well as trolls and many others creatures. Arcanus is a certainly easier starting world, which can be approached in any way you want, while Myrror is more complex and needs a more powerful wizard and army. I opted for the character of Freya, who has an aptitude for nature and magic dedicated to spells, and I chose the noble bloodline of the Elves. The map that happened to me, however, was actually a sort of large archipelago that I happened upon. I was in the south, in a place away from rivals who, it seems, they waited for my every move to make theirs.

In the world of Myrror, having reached a fairly high level of play, I then continued my adventure, trying another breed among those availablei.e. the dwarfs. I let you imagine, of course, what I called that match too. And no, it was neither Moria nor the Iron Hills, but Erebor, the Lonely Mountain. Yes, because Master of Magic, projecting me into this vast universe, tickled my fantasies and my still vivid memories, making me want not only to become the most powerful Lord of Magic around, but to grasp the scepter of power and become the definitively king of all. Sure, it was complex initially, but I absolutely couldn't give it up. First, as I progressed through this vast game universe, I drained the shiny landmarks around the map, unlocking enough gold to afford more powerful and better trained troops. I assure you, even in such a fantasy world, unfortunately war never changes, and it is equally brutal and low as in any other similar universe.

The context of the game, then, it is masterfully done. Nothing has changed compared to the past, and this is probably the best point of the production, because it pushes the player to imagine scenarios and fantasize about what he is facing as if he were writing a book, driven by the insatiable desire to tell a story of his own such as Goodkind, Sanderson or Greenwood. Master of Magic, at the time, kept this kind of approach, naturally enthralling and involving, and giving the player all the stimuli necessary to imagine himself in a fantasy world among those much esteemed heroes.

One thing that the remake manages to do in a detailed and unique way, therefore taking up the same uniqueness of the original version, is to give the production an RPG approach that very few productions can boast. Master of Magic enhances this component with intelligence and passion, entertaining and thrilling, leaving dismayed by the quality with which each story and its many branches are set. The procedural maps, which were already the spearhead of the production in the previous version, make this world unpredictable and constantly changing. That's how it works, after all: a story is born in the world where everyone imagines it, and then it grows in an unexpected way, changing and mutating at will. Master of Magic, years later, is still this type of video game: fun, enveloping and enthralling. Thanks to its game mechanics, it might be hard for you not to think about it often, leading you to wait for nothing but to go back to the PC to play it and stay up late. Because this is the effect that the production of MuHa Games has left me in the last week and a half, and it is not a trivial thing, considering the many productions that I have had the opportunity to try and see lately.

A simple but effective approach to strategy

Master of Magic has an isometric view that allows you to have everything under control, and allows you to decide how to move and interface with the entire game map. The generation of the latter, in fact, is procedural and is not already pre-set as happens with other productions. Each action takes place through shifts that are not particularly long-lived, however requiring many actions before reaching the much desired stage. Thinking of already dedicating himself to war, killing everyone and not caring about the rest, could in fact be the worst choice that someone could undertake. You need a calm, thoughtful and, above all, intelligent initiative. Before dedicating yourself to beating your hands, the important thing is to fix your economy, balancing it and taking into consideration every aspect, from the economic income of money to food and supplies. Raising taxes could be a solution, but the risk, considerable in the early hours of the game, it is finding the commoners ready to rebel, undermining the foundations of the economy.

The best way to settle accounts, therefore, is to build intelligently, organizing the army in such a way that everyone, almost, are obviously satisfied with the continuation of the experience. Allying is very complex, however, because it requires a series of requirements that the interlocutor and his diplomats must satisfy, who are forced to work hard to be able to snatch a convenient agreement, removing the shadow of war. Compared to the past, in fact, the diplomatic dynamics are certainly more simplified, resulting in the least refined and uninspiring point of the production. However, the changes made in the game map through the implementation of the hexes are appreciable, because they give a better and more orderly way to observe your own troops arranged on the game map.

Another remarkable addition, intuitive and accessible to anyone, it is the interface dedicated to the construction of the various buildings. Simplified and made more fluid than in the past, now it becomes easier to build, because you simply line up what you really want to build. You can then wait for the turns, or pay for the buildings to be erected quickly, thus allowing the player to recruit more troops. The improvement of the army, in fact, is directly connected to the useful constructions within the town, including towers of wizards that allow you to create a dedicated army, to a stable capable of supplying mounted elves in the full style of Imladris, allowing the player to have fun in a completely carefree way.

The play structure, held up in an excellent way especially by these aspects, entertains when it then moves on to the real action on the battlefieldduring times of war. If the diplomatic parts are actually extremely classic and not treated like in other productions, the strategy and the approach to the fights are different and fun. I am referring, above all, to the movement of troops on the game map, and to the various ways to fight the enemy and have fun in brutal wars. There are other factions, of course, and there are independent cities that aren't always easy to conquer, useful for having different bases capable of supporting armies and allowing them to reach their opponents without too many complications.

Battles, like the rest of the game, are turn-based. They take place on a battlefield where enemy troops are deployed on one side, and on the other hand those led by generals who can be recruited during random events, buying them at prices that are not always cheap and that can improve, just like the units of the army, battle after battle. You can also choose, before each fight, whether to participate or delegate the battle to your leader. These mechanics, in addition to being effective, are more orderly and clearer, proposed in such a way as to make every choice always well thought out. Acting without thinking first, either for haste or for bloodlust, could be inadvisable, especially in the initial stages of the experience, when you are still struggling with the discovery of the main game mechanics. To be further simplified, also for logical reasons, is the general game interface, which takes inspiration from the original version. Returning however to the commanders and troops, as well as the fights, it will be possible to enchant them with magic, giving unique powers and bonuses, especially during the combat phases when you take command during the actual fight.

MuHa Games, during these months, has always underlined how much this operation was a total reimagining of the work published in 1994. The game structure, therefore made more fluid, improved and refined, as well as becoming a real drug, is been treated intelligently. The restoration work, in fact, has not affected the quality of the work and its peculiarities, nor has an approximate work been done. Such a profound, simple and effective work is difficult to find nowadays, net of deficiencies relating to the system dedicated to diplomacy, less cared for than the other compartments of the work.

Going back to the past but staying in the present

Master of Magic, the work of MuHa Games, is a work that brings back a great classic of strategic and 4X video games. Before each battle, for the uninitiated, it will be possible to choose the type of difficulty, the number of rival mages and the size of the map. The modernized and improved graphics are similar in aesthetics to Civilization, but its cartoon style, in addition to being pleasant, it is also well represented in the cards dedicated to the various characters.

  • Freya and Merlin, for example, have wonderful and well-kept illustrations, which convey both a great passion on the part of the team for the genre, and many expectations for the future that could open up after this remake. Master of Magic, therefore, returns appearing out of nowhere, with a snap of his fingers, through a magical portal that leads to another dimension. The magic is in and around us. And it's as strong as ever.

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