The Age of Wonders series is a great example of how a gaming franchise should evolve. The original Age of Wonders was a solid entry into the turn-based strategy genre, but it had a few problems that kept it from being great. Along came Age of Wonders 2, making the changes necessary to turn a good series into an excellent one. Not perfect yet, but a great deal closer. Age of Wonders Shadow Magic continues this trend, tweaking the Age of Wonders series just a bit more, continuing to refine the series into what is becoming the best turn-based strategy available.
Shadow Magic introduces several new aspects to the Age of Wonders world: three new races, several new units for the established races, and a handful of new buildings. All of the 15 races are quite well balanced, which is quite an achievement. In addition, Shadow Magic introduces a third terrain to the Age of Wonders overland map—the Shadow Realm. The Shadow Realm can be entered from the Surface or Underground terrains via special teleporters or spells. Things work a bit differently in the Shadow Realm…units have a much greater movement rate while venturing through this land, but many are susceptible to Shadow Sickness, leaving them significantly weakened. Steps can be taken to temporarily stave off the effects of Shadow Sickness, but these don’t last all that long.
Two of the new races, the Syrons and the Shadow Demons, are native to this Shadow Realm, and so are immune to the debilitating effects. The Syrons are a race enslaved by the Shadow Demons, powerful in magic, but unable to throw off the yoke of their captors. The Shadow Demons are a hive-like hoard of evil, working to engulf multiple worlds using an arsenal of some fairly nasty abilities. The third new race, the Nomads, are a very mobile people, with strong and fast units. Unlike the other races, Nomad cities don’t gain bonuses to production or research. Instead, for a small price, the cities can be packed up and moved, allowing for some very interesting tactical options.
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