While we are busily anticipating such RPG heavies as Fallout 2, Return to Krondor, and Baldur's Gate, it's easy enough to overlook a Russian import called Allods, by Nival Entertainment. Fortunately, Monolith Productions has brought this RPG to our attention under the name Rage of Mages.
Rage of Mages takes place in a shattered world, the pieces of which are sustained through powerful magics. Each of these pieces is called an Allod, and some of the Allods are currently at odds with each other. The Emperor from your Allod has called upon you to aid in a conflict that has become little more than a bloody stalemate. Your ultimate quest is to travel via gateway to a neighboring Allod where it is rumored that powerful artifacts and magics exist, which might tip the balance of power in favor of your Allod. But beware - both empires have already sent several parties to this particular Allod, and none have returned.
Rage of Mages is a real-time RPG in which your small party of adventurers faces a multitude of difficult opponents on an isometric battlefield. You begin by choosing to play a Warrior or Mage of either gender, and then an area of specialization for your character (such as swords for the Warrior or Fire magic for the Mage.) You may also choose to adjust the primary statistics of your character, although I never got the impression that my adjustments were critical to the survival of my character.
Once you have chosen your representative on the Allods, the game begins. My first impression was that my character was extremely small. However, I soon discovered that Rage of Mages' scale is modeled on RTS games, not adventure games. In fact, its gameplay is very similar to Warcraft II , only without resource management or buildings. The interface is quite easy for a warrior - just point and click. Your character will move to the designated location or fight the targeted enemy to the death. Fortunately, even if you take some serious damage during your battle, you will regenerate extremely quickly. Don't worry though - despite your generous rate of regeneration, you will soon run into enemies that can demolish you easily!
After killing an enemy who has possessions, a bag of loot appears next to the deceased's decaying carcass. The loot bag is sized in direct proportion to the quantity or quality of the items found within, which I found to be a nice touch. However, in my case there was a certain feeling of loss associated with never seeing the glittering treasure that was my spoils. In addition, either the strength of my Warrior was on par with Atlas, or twenty suits of plate armor does not make a heavy load. My guess is that there is not a weight limit for carried objects.
Once you have defeated a particular quest and choose to retire from the map, you are brought back to the main town of Plagat. Here you may obtain mercenaries, quests, items, and training. The training is a quick but potentially expensive way to upgrade the skills of your character, as well as any characters that have permanently joined your party. The shop is also the place to go for all of your magic spells and items. The quality of items available appears to correlate with experience points gained, so don't expect to find that crystal longsword (+25 damage, +20 fire damage) after defeating only a few quests.
The inn is where you must go to hire mercenaries, and most of your quests are obtained there as well. You must also go to the inn if you wish to speak to any characters who have joined your party - assuming that they have anything that they wish to say to you! Mercenaries are very useful if you are having great difficulty with a particular quest. Until the very end of the game there were always mercenary parties available. Usually they consist of three or four Warriors that are typically more powerful than your strongest Warrior. This translates to a slaughter when you actually employ a powerful mercenary party; there was one quest that I was seemingly incapable of conquering with my existing party - but after hiring one mercenary group, victory came with ease.
Despite the relatively small size of my characters (and the annoyingly permanent orange and green ensembles that they all wear despite your equipment upgrades), I found that the game environments were very enjoyable. Large opponents were generally solitary and difficult early in the game, and I found that it lent a certain epic believability to the quests. Defeating such an opponent usually yielded a powerful magic item or a large sack of gold. However, the believability began to fade as I continually faced more difficult versions of the same monsters that were identical in appearance except that they were green instead of purple. A larger monster set would have been very welcome.
My greatest complaint with the game was that I never felt any real attachment to my character. Perhaps some of this stems from the lack of leveling - your character gains in experience and gains more HPs, MPs, and skill, but there isn't a distinct leveling system. The characters that join your party are never very clear regarding the permanency of their allegiance, so it is also difficult to be attached to them. In addition, it is possible to meteorically advance your characters in experience by merely employing a Mage with a staff of Stone Curse to attack a dragon or other powerful creature, while the remainder of the party attacks with bows. I used this method on one level, and my Warrior character advanced from 500,000 experience points to 12,500,000 experience points in about an hour (while I took a shower and ate breakfast), before the dragon was finally destroyed.
The game was also slightly buggy, which I found to be rather surprising for a game that had already been released in another country. For the most part, the bugs were gracefully handled - one moment you would be battling an Ogre, while the next moment you would be viewing your Windows desktop. My favorite bug occurred after defeating a particularly difficult quest. The FMV victory sequence that was displayed was merely a white screen, that then changed to a blue screen, and then to a green screen, for the entire duration of the FMV. Fortunately, from the main menu you can view the movies that have already been found, and it worked fine from there.
Rage of Mages kept me entertained for about four days. It can be frustratingly difficult at times, but I would have found it much more entertaining if I had really felt like I was role-playing. Its graphical interface is only moderately decent, but the gameplay is quite simple and the learning curve is negligible. If it had been longer, and if I had not been compelled to play through every inch of every map just to build up my characters, I would recommend it to just about anyone fond of fantasy or RTS games. Nevertheless, Rage of Mages is a fun and relatively inexpensive way to pass the time.
People who downloaded Rage of Mages have also downloaded:
Rage of Mages 2: Necromancer, Ravenloft: Stone Prophet, Prince of Qin, Revenant, Ravenloft: Strahd's Possession, Return to Krondor, Realms of Arkania 3: Shadows over Riva, Siege of Avalon
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