"A thousand years ago, war broke over the surface of Terra. No one quite remembers now what the cause of the war was. Some say t'were a feud of the gods, so great was the level of destruction wrought upon the land. Others point the blame at the technological advancements of what are now known as 'The Lost Civilizations.' Surely it is possible that in meddling with the powers of Science these civilizations worked their own demise. "
A thousand years ago, war broke over the surface of Terra. No one quite remembers now what the cause of the war was. Some say t'were a feud of the gods, so great was the level of destruction wrought upon the land. Others point the blame at the technological advancements of what are now known as 'The Lost Civilizations.' Surely it is possible that in meddling with the powers of Science these civilizations worked their own demise.
Most, however, blame the Archmages.
These powerful wizards walked Terra with the stature of Demi-gods dictating the course that more mundane lives would take, shaping the very face of Terra in their struggle to gain more territory and resources. Meeting frequently on crater lined battlefields, the Archmages' armies clashed in mighty displays of raw power. Dragons sailed the skies, volcanoes erupting below them as they passed. Wraiths and zombies fell like black tides over thousands of peasant militia, dragging screaming citizens back to their demonic masters. Hydras met with Leviathans, the great beasts turning the seas where they fought red with their blood. Amidst this chaos, rumour has it, a group of Archmages sought to unleash the ultimate destruction upon their enemies and thus pooled their magical energies to summon down Armageddon itself.
Some say they were successful.
Whatever the cause, Terra was destroyed in what is now known as the Seven Days of Death and Pain. The earth screamed its rage to the heavens, which answered by raining down blood and fire until nothing but dead rock was left. And yet life found a way to continue. After a thousand years, Terra was once again home to such fantastic beasts as the Chimera and Sylphs, while Dwarves, Elves, and Men built up their societies and engaged in the complicated systems of trade and politics that seems to keep them occupied on their road through life. To call life peaceful would be a misnomer. There were wars and suffering just like there always is. But there was a semblance of order and balance, and gradually Terra's wounds healed, until most considered the Seven Days and the Archmages to be mere legend.
Until they returned.
The Archmages had been powerful indeed. Powerful enough to thwart even death. After the destruction of Terra, their souls had survived and wandered through the dark abyss. Here they continued their endless feuds until the more powerful of them were able to breach the gap between the worlds and make their presence once again felt in the realm of the living. In rebirth, these Archmages found that much of their lore and power had been lost to them. Yet even so, they were more than powerful enough to take control of a few kingdoms and begin rebuilding their empires. The taverns began to fill with mercenaries and berserkers, always the first to sniff out the smell of war. Guilds were given unheard of amounts of funding by mysterious benefactors and told to research the arcane. Massive archaeological expeditions were undertaken in forbidden lands to uncover relics of the past. Dark omens filled the dreams of the sensitive, and again chaos began to creep over the land.
And meanwhile, more and more souls found their way through the unclosed gap that had been made between the worlds, and more and more Archmages found themselves reborn. Reincarnated through the portal to Terra.
And that's just one of the reasons why I haven't written a review in a while.
Once you get into the text-based online world of Archmage, it's hard to leave. A large part of this has to do with the rich setting, a bit of which I've just described. Though this setting graphically amounts to little more than some tan text-links over a black background, it's amazing how the imagination can run with the few descriptions that are given. For instance, naming the area where you go to check your PMs or status "The Throne Room" conjures up for me austere images of giant halls where I (draped in dark robes, of course) hold court for those few who dare to approach me. When I need to look something up in the exhaustive encyclopedia, which has descriptions of all the items, units, spells, etc. in the game, it is laid out like a series of ancient tomes and I can easily picture myself poring over them by the light of a black candle. Even more enticing to the creative mind is the black market, filled with shops wherein one can find everything from altars for the worship of the gods to wayward heroes looking for hire. The bidding wars that occur in the market are ripe for a fan fiction or two.
As for the actual gamplay, it is all about resource management. As an Archmage, you are constantly trying to balance the strength of your army with their drain on your geld, population, and mana. Which creatures you summon and in what quantities changes how you'll have to manage these resources, which are gained from your structures. This leads to a secondary management game in which you have to balance what structures your land is used for. Farms give you more maximum population, which leads to more geld. But if you don't balance it with a goodly amount of towns, your population won't increase, nor will your max output of geld. Of course, throw all your free land at farms and towns and all your money will come to naught, for you'll be able to summon only the most basic of creatures to protect your holdings. To learn more powerful summoning spells, you need guilds to research them and mana nodes to pay for your magics. And you can't forget fortresses and barriers, the lifeblood of your nation. Fortresses basically act like hit-points, while barriers protect against the other mages' devastating magics.
This all leads to yet another layer of management, in which you have to decide carefully what to do with your turns. Do you spend turns building and summoning? Do you spend them exploring the wilderness for an ever dwindling pool of unused land? Do you go on the offensive and try to steal land from weaker mages? Lest you think this all too easy, keep in mind that other mages are targeting you all the while. You'll no doubt have to devote some of your precious time to rebuilding your armies and defenses after a random siege or pillaging run.
It can be quite stressful, really. It's not unheard of to log in to your account to find your towns destroyed and your Red Dragons eating up 100,000 geld per turn. Now, with each turn you spend, your nation eats away at itself from the inside out. You begin the rebuilding, but before you can finish your project, you run out of turns. Now you have to sit and wait, hoping against hope that some stronger mage doesn't ransack your vulnerable nation before you can get back on your feet. Meanwhile, you can just barely taste the sweet wine of revenge. You know who attacked you and brought you to this level and if ever you gain back your resources, you have a meteor storm with their name on it just waiting to be unleashed.
Such is the way of Archmage. Redemption and revenge. Glory and glee. Devastation and destruction.
There's a further meta-game here, too. Once you've got everything squared away as far as structures go, and you're steadily stockpiling magic, spells, and geld, you need to start thinking about the layout of your armies, called "stacking." Archmage automatically orders your units into stacks based on how many of them there are and how innately strong their stats are. For instance, 10 Red Dragons are strong enough to find themselves on the front lines, while it might take a few thousand Efreeti to take up the same position. Some special stats help decide placement as well, like ranged attackers, which usually find themselves further back in the stacks. Stacks are important because they decide which units clash on the battlefield. You don't want to waste your powerful Red Dragons on a horde of zombies. But you also don't want a powerful Ice Elemental targeting your weak-to-cold Salamanders. There's a whole complicated method to matching up stacks, essentially summoning the right amount of creatures to place them where you want them, and the better mages have it down to a fine art, matching weaknesses and using fodder and trick stacks to foil nearly all enemy attacks.
I can hear alarm bells going off in your head. Whenever the words "complicated" and "fine art" find themselves in the same paragraph one has to start to worry about what I like to call the "Counter Strike Effect." This is that phenomenon where players get so fanatically involved in a game that, unless you are similarly devoted, you have no chance of winning against them. Usually it plagues games with simple mechanics that cover up a complicated system. Indeed Archmage falls into this category. It doesn't have a particularly steep learning curve, but the strategies can seem overwhelming, and even frustrating, for the newly initiated. Especially once you start trying to refine the delicate art of stacking.
But unlike Counter Strike, Archmage doesn't require untold hours of your time. Indeed, you only receive a couple hundred turns per day, and once you get the hang of things, you'll breeze through them in about fifteen minutes no matter how badly you need or want more. Also, Archmage's user base is eager and willing to help newcomers get situated. There's a wide choice of guilds to join, and most guild members are all too happy to have newbies around, giving them an excuse to slaughter anyone foolish enough to prey on their weaker fellows. Some guilds thrive on newbie mages, offering to shelter and train them in return for unquestionable loyalty and their aid in the many wars that inevitably occur during the course of a single reset.
Reset, you say? What do you mean, reset? Well, remember that Armageddon I mentioned? It's happening again. With the Archmages back up to their destructive tricks, it's just a matter of time before Terra implodes. In Archmage, you are part of the history of the end of a world. And that end isn't far off. Whether it's caused by fellow mages or by Terra crumbling in on itself or even by yourself, there's only so much time before the day of Armageddon comes. On that day, all bets are off. Any mage can attack any other mage, regardless of rank (which usually protects the weak). In one dizzying 24 hour blood bath, all of the Archmages meet their ends. The ten strongest mages are remembered forever in the annals of time. The others drift back into the abyss, awaiting the next rebuilding of Terra, and their chance to once again reign over the lives of its citizens.
And doesn't that sound like a fun way to spend fifteen minutes of your day?
(Archmage is free to play. Join the war here)
Featured community review by zippdementia (April 27, 2009)
Zipp has spent most of his life standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox there. Sometimes he writes reviews and puts them in the mailbox.
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