Developed by the same Illwinter Games studio that created the original Dominions: Priest, Prophets and Pretenders, this sequel is designed to retain the empire-building, turn-based fantasy structure while adding polish and depth. Players become a lone god among a pantheon of deities, each vying to become the supreme ruler of them all. The game is designed with multiplayer competition in mind, and supports as many as 16 human opponents in a session, but artificial intelligence is intended to provide a worthy challenge for solo gamers as well. Dominions 2: Ascension Wars runs on Windows-, Linux-, Solaris-, or Mac OS-based systems, and is the first cross-platform release from independent PC game publisher Shrapnel.
Dominions 2 the Ascension wars takes place in a fantasy realm bereft of its one supreme God. A number of "pretender Gods" are therefore fighting for the now abandoned worshipers of this imaginary world. Victory is attained when there is no faith in any God but yours. Ensuring this involves recruiting armies and researching spells to win battles against the other deity's believers as well as constructing temples and hiring priests and prophets in order to spread your "Dominion" as far and make it as strong as is possible.
All Gods start out with one province with a keep of some sort in it (what kind varies depending on what choices you make when you start a new game). From this one province you are to spread and if not conquer all the others at least make sure that the population of the rest of the provinces all believe in you and no other god. Lit white candles on the map signify that the province with the candle on it worships your God. Unlit ones signify that currently no God is being worshiped and a black candle signifies believers of another God. The length of the candles shows how strongly rooted the citizens of a certain province are in their belief of a God. This belief is referred to in the game as a God's "dominion."
Unlike the Gods of our world the Gods of Dominions 2 have a constantly present, physical manifestation. This means that they are able to aid their followers in battle and that they, with enough force, can be killed by enemy armies or assassins. Should this happen however they can be called back by their priests as they are gods and therefore not really mortal. The only way for a God to be eliminated is for him or her to lose all of his or her believers. Naturally the presence of a God in a province strengthens the belief of the inhabitants of this and the immediately surrounding provinces. Other ways to increase the dominion of a certain god is to hire priests and construct temples. Priests have to be instructed to spread faith in each individual province they are in, opposed to gods who just needs to be present for that to happen. One priest can also be appointed the prophet of his God which will allow him to spread dominion around him by being present, much like his God would.
When you first create your God you get points to spend on the power of his dominion (i.e. how devote a Gods the believer is and the speed at which it spreads), the type of castle or fortress your followers build, the God's physical manifestation (this can be anything from a stone obelisk or a powerful sage to a giant dragon or minotaur, the physical form of a God greatly affects his use in combat), the magic spells known to the God from the start and what special attributes this Gods dominion have (for instance does his followers prefer sloth or productivity, cold or heat, chaos or order, etc). You also chose what nationality your believers will have; there are 17 to chose from, all with their own attributes, strengths and weaknesses.
Battles in Dominions 2 are controlled indirectly; instead of controlling your units in real time on the battle field you give orders in advance. You can divide your troops into groups and then give these groups individual orders. For instance you might want your cavalry to outflank the enemy or your archers to target enemy spell casters. After giving the orders you end the turn and when the new turn starts there will be an option to watch the battle in the turn summary (which is something really useful as otherwise you'd not have a clue to why you won or lost, this helps you to see how your orders worked out in practice). All armies have to be lead by a commander. These can be hired in all provinces at high cost. Troops can of course also be lead by your pretender God.
Troops are recruited in the individual provinces and cost two things, resources and gold. The former is province specific and do not accumulate, which means that if you don't build a unit in that province a turn the resources won't be stored for the next turn. Gold on the other hand is contributed nationally by all provinces and is stored in your national treasury. Units also costs upkeep once recruited.
A fortress built in a province collects resources from its surrounding provinces and is therefore capable of producing quite a bit more units in one go. How much of the surrounding province's resources that are collected depend on the fortress type selected at the game start. Furthermore a fortress will also double the resource output of the province it is in and will greatly aid in the defense of a province (by how much is determined by the fortress type). This means that a lot of the strategy and planning in the game is where to put ones forts.
Commanders, scouts and priests are recruited in the same way as normal units, but differ in that once they are recruited they can lead troops, move between provinces of their own (armies require a commander in order to do this), construct fortresses or temples, research new magic spells, and use magic items. For all practical purposes your pretender god acts much like a commander, with the only difference being that he is much more powerful, he spreads his dominion by simply being present and should he be killed he can be brought back from the dead. Commanders acting as scouts can enter enemy provinces and report on how great their garrisons are, which commanders are present, etc (very useful when planning an attack).
The amount of items, spells and units in Dominions is simply incredible. There is a 103 pages list for all items and spells in the manual, and it seems highly unlikely that you'll be able to learn them all. Instead the idea is that all new games shall contain a different mix to allow for more replayability.
Unfortunately Dominions 2 has several drawbacks. First of all the interface is unintuitive and unfriendly. Useful information is not readily accessible and one often has to go look for things in sub-menus even though there is plenty of room in the province overview at the top of the screen to display things like terrain type or enemy forces present. In order to give the orders necessary to your troop you have to go to an army setup screen, you are not prompted to do this before a battle. Should you not have done it the units orders will simply be chosen by the AI. Something easily missed by new players. Also the designers have made the choice of having most popups accompanied by their own background screen. Thus hiding the main map from your view as soon as you want to adjust something, denying you the strategic overview you sometimes need...
Another drawback is the graphics. They are all somewhat dated, in some cases even to the point that it affects gameplay. Many of the smaller units are hard to distinguish from each other during the battle animations or battle planning screen which at times can be quite annoying. Combat sounds are as the graphics somewhat lacking, most attacks and spells use the same sound. The background music however consists of medieval music and is in general quite good.
In summary, Dominions 2 The Ascension Wars is a very diverse game. All new games will differ from the old ones due to the share amount of items, spells, races, units and initial choices available in the game. The game defiantly has a great potential, and it can be quite enjoying once you learn how to play and ignore the many strange interface eccentricities. Learning the game is not easy however due to the poor user interface and a rather lacking manual (there is a printed manual of 131 pages but only the initial 30 actually describe how the game is played and those 30 pages manage to leave a lot of things unsaid). The graphics are also quite below what one has come to expect from new games which might alienate several potential customers. The game offers a somewhat lacking single player experience as for instance there is no diplomacy but it can be rather fun in multiplayer. The great amount of choices available as well as a map editor should also ensure replayability.
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