Disciples II offers stimulating challenge

Peter Lau

Disciples II is a turn-based strategy game that is perfect for gamers who no longer have the reflexes of a 12-year-old.

You start the game at your home castle and send out parties to explore the darkened map. The leader of each party is particularly strong and parties are usually limited to the leader plus a handful of other units. A typical Mountain Clan party might consist of a Dwarf Champion leader plus a Hill Giant and a Dwarf Crossbowman.

As you explore the map, you can take over neutral or enemy towns and claim their resources to get your economy going. Unexplored ruins and unexploited gold mines litter the landscape awaiting claimants.

As units gain experience, they gain power both offensively and defensively. Successful leaders can obtain new powers - for example, wield magical artefacts. The experience curve is quite high so you will tend to focus on developing a single main 'killer' party.

The problem is that all your troops are in the same basket. Lose the party and you lose the game.

Multiplayer degenerates into a search-and-destroy mission for the main enemy party.

Once your party is spotted, the enemy will cast any magic spells they have researched and then close in for combat.

Combat is quite tense as it is often hard to judge the power of an enemy party. Should I stand tall or run scared? A tough combat might need you to expend significant amounts of power to soften up the enemy party - which you might need for later.

A key part of the game is choosing upgrades for your castle. These upgrades can train your units. Each race has multiple upgrade paths so replayability is good race-wise.

Each of the four fantasy-themed races have their own campaign stories that continue the story from the original Disciples game. The campaign is tough and, as usual, your resources are limited as the game paces you and unveils more and more powerful units.

Some of the new features in this edition of Disciples is the addition of neutral units, something that players of Warlords will be familiar with.

Spell research is quite detailed and adds a lot of flavour to the game. There are five levels of spells and each race gets its own spell tree. You can summon creatures such as a Roc to harass the enemy before the 'killer' stack arrives.

The artwork is painstakingly rendered and you can see a lot of love went into it. The colour schemes needed more care though as red leader units on a lava red background are a little too stealthy.

Replayability is fair but could do with some improvement. A random map generator, which allows you to choose opponents and numbers of opponents, would be the ultimate feature.

As it stands you are forced to play scenarios with pre-determined sides and maps once the campaign is finished. Fan-created scenarios can be downloaded from the Web if you are desperate for more of a Disciples II fix.

Disciples II is similar to two other turn-based strategy games, Warlords and Heroes of Might & Magic. Of the three I found Disciples II a little simpler but more enjoyable, and if there was a crown to hand out, I'd give it to Disciples II.