In the movie business, it's known as "redux," kids on the playground call it a "do over," and the game industry, when a title is merely a remake of the original with cosmetic differences, simply refers to it as "Part II." Disciples II: Dark Prophecy is no different, with action nearly a carbon copy of the original, but with a glossy sheen of fresh art. Luckily for Strategy First, the concept of Disciples: Sacred Lands holds up well and the new look is a welcome upgrade.
You assume the role of hero for one of four races, destined to lead your people through the aftermath of The Great Wars. This conflict, featured in the original title, pitted the good human Empire and Mountain Dwarves against the combined forces of the evil Undead Hordes and Legion of the Damned in an apocalyptic battle. Now, ten years later, the four races have new goals and new forces.
Fans of the first game will instantly recognize the established gameplay, styled after the thriving Heroes of Might and Magic franchise. You must successfully build castle facilities to raise an army, explore lands for treasure, and take over resources to improve conquered cities. Ultimately, each of the four sagas, one for each race, has a set of objectives that drives the story to its conclusion. It's a comfortable fit that is intuitive from the start.
Disciples II: Dark Prophecy continually draws on its predecessor in nearly every department. The spells a hero can cast are nearly identical in name and effects to the original. Capturing resources still requires planting a magical rod in the ground to claim the surrounding area. The hero archetypes (fighter, caster, ranger, rogue, and rod planter) are exactly the same as before, making the sequel, for all intents and purposes, no more than a remake of Disciples in mind and spirit.
Why, then, does Disciples II: Dark Prophecy deserve a second look? First and foremost are the stunningly attractive graphics. While the original game was a 2D hand-drawn affair, the lands and inhabitants of Neverender are newly rendered in 3D polygons with an unusually high attention to detail. Spell effects are celebrations of particle effects, and each minion is unique in artistic style and animation, urging you to play through to higher levels just to see the next higher level of units.
Sounds have been revamped to keep pace with the graphic improvements. Ambient sounds like majestically rolling thunder, wolves howling in the distance, and even the lazy croaking of unseen frogs are relaxing and unobtrusive. The music also matches the mood of the game nicely. Battle effects more than adequately replace the woefully unimpressive sounds of war in the original.
A few modest changes include heroes who can now carry five items on their person to assist in the quest at hand, rather than a paltry two; each race has a few new units for support, but not nearly enough. Another minor change, such as being able to block in battle to reduce damage, is an improvement that should have been included originally, rather than being touted as an exciting new feature.
Unfortunately, a sequel so similar to its forerunner is likely to incorporate the same faults. The frustrating defect of allowing only one hero to be carried across levels is still a factor. Having a single seasoned hero, especially toward the later levels, means using only one group to sweep through the mission for the experience points. Why spread the limited points to multiple leaders who can't graduate to the next area? Also, the Heroes of Might and Magic style becomes tiresome for all but the biggest fans of the genre, even more so with the larger maps. Finally, in an effort to show off its new face-lift, Disciples II: Dark Prophecy manages to clutter its maps with an overdose of beautifully animated objects. Too much of a good thing mildly muddles gameplay, making planning which area to explore or attack that much more confusing.
In addition to the four sagas, the game offers Internet and LAN multiplayer options. Single-player missions continue with several additional stand-alone campaigns and an editor, which gives you control of building extra levels from the ground up. One interesting aspect of the editor is the ability to script neutral events that can shape the course of the mission. Shelf life extends considerably with this welcome tool.
For gamers who have faithfully stuck by Disciples: Sacred Lands in spite of the rudimentary graphics and sound, the sequel is a bittersweet validation of that support. It's the same game as before, now dressed to impress, and more familiar style than original content, which isn't necessarily bad for those who like this type of gameplay. Newcomers should skip the original and reap the benefits of the improved graphics and sound of the sequel.
Graphics: Nearly perfect rendering of a whole slew of creatures, spell effects, and terrain. An overly busy map is the only flaw to this visual gem.
Sound: Background sounds and music set the stage for the epic battles. Voice acting is especially good.
Enjoyment: The lackluster number of new creatures and features may discourage fans of the game. Still, the same strong foundation will appeal to the Heroes of Might and Magic crowd.
Replay Value: Each of the four sagas is extremely long and the extra quests are decent. Editor will tack on more playing time and the multiplayer option should provide the seasoned player with suitable opponents.
People who downloaded Disciples 2: Dark Prophecy have also downloaded:
Disciples: Sacred Lands: Gold Edition, Cultures 2: The Gates of Asgard, Cossacks II: Battle for Europe, Empire Earth II, Dune 2000, Emperor: Battle for Dune, Corsairs: Conquest at Sea, Dark Reign 2
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