Reviews

Worlds of Magic Review: Otherworldly

By: Jason Siu

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9 min read

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If you’ve ever heard or played Master of Magic, then it’s likely that you’ve had your eyes set on its spiritual successor, Worlds of Magic. Developed by Wastelands Interactive, Worlds of Magic was originally Kickstarted in April 2013 to the tune of  £45,593 and recently exited Steam Early Access. As a 4X game set in the fantasy genre, Worlds of Magic not only has to compete against 4X juggernauts such as entries from the Civilization series, but other recent 4X fantasy games including Endless Legend. Arguably the focus for Wastelands Interactive wasn’t to compete with either of those games, or other games in the genre, but to build a spiritual successor worthy of living up to Master of Magic.

FullCleared.com decided to review Worlds of Magic with two editors – one that never played Master of Magic (Jason Siu) and one that did (Alfred Custodio). Of course, Master of Magic is over two decades old, but for passionate fans of the original game, they’ll want to know how it relates.

From the moment you enter Worlds of Magic, you’ll know that this game wasn’t designed for a beginner to the 4X genre. There’s no tutorial and the tooltips are very light with details. In other words, if you’re a newcomer to the genre, Worlds of Magic has a very steep learning curve. Those that have dabbled with games from the Civilization franchise will be comfortable with the basic idea of how any 4X game should work, that is: eXplore, eXpand, eXploit and eXterminate. In Worlds of Magic, you’ll start off with a city consisting of people, income, food and production. From there, it’s up to you to decide the fate of the game, whether you focus on building up an army or exploring and expanding your kingdom, or doing both. Like other 4X games, there’s plenty of management involved in keeping your citizens happy and fed, otherwise workers can become rebels, where they consume food but don’t add to production. Appeasing those citizens involves building structures that reduce unrest or casting spells that has the same effect.

On the surface, there’s plenty of things that are familiar in Worlds of Magic, if you’ve ever played any other 4X game. What the game does bring to the table is a battle system reminiscent of Heroes of Might and Magic and Fallen Enchantress, where it takes you to a turn-based, grid-style map where each move, spell cast and attack must be calculated and thought through. The game does have an auto resolve system for those that aren’t interested in performing the battle themselves, but it’s not great in our experience. The game calculates risk when entering a battle, ranging from low to high, and if you choose to auto resolve you’ll likely lose any high-risk battle. Planning out the fight yourself however, and you’ll be surprised how some of the battles could actually be won.

We’ll talk more about the battle system further down, but admittedly we had some contrasting opinions on the game from the get-go.

Cities will grow with an abundance of buildings to choose from.

Jason: I had some major issues getting Worlds of Magic to even run on Steam. I had to Google a fix, which involved downloading a couple of .dll files and tossing them into the game’s folder, before it could even run. From there, I encountered several game crashes and bugs, including a display bug (2560 x 1600 resolution) that wouldn’t allow me to read the tooltips in their entirety. It appears that Wastelands Interactive has released a couple of patches since then, but it’s worth mentioning since it seems to have been a common problem on launch day.

Alfred: On the other hand, I had zero issues getting the game to run and didn’t encounter any of those problems. In fact, I was diving well into turn 50 and familiarizing myself with the system before my cohort got up and running.

Jason: Well enough of that, when I did get going with the game, I was able to recognize the familiar aspects that can be seen in numerous 4X games. I have to admit though, the tooltips didn’t help much – and the wording was pretty confusing. I guess it’s somewhat acceptable considering it wasn’t developed in the U.S., but it’s a concern since Wastelands Interactive plans on bringing Worlds of Magic to both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

Alfred: It is going to be interesting to see how the game translates onto a console, without the ability to navigate with a mouse and keyboard. Hotkeys enhance the gameplay experience in a way that a controller with a limited number of buttons can’t. Speaking of hotkeys, the game booted up with none of them binded, but hitting reset binded them all – it was pretty strange.

Jason: Yeah, at least that was the only strange thing that happened to you. Moving on though, I was pretty confused getting into the game beyond the basic idea of building structures and balancing food production, as well as exploring. Even on the easiest difficulty I found myself dying – a lot.

Alfred: It is really hard to say if having played Master of Magic helps ease you into the game. The overall UI is clean, but it does feel a bit clunky and awkward – almost as if it’s a throwback to the 90s. The weird thing is, once you get used to it, it’s perfectly acceptable.

Jason: Perfectly acceptable are pretty strong words, but I agree. Once you familiarize yourself with the UI, it’s not all that confusing. The process of getting familiar with it though is awfully confusing. The game really would benefit from a hold-my-hands tutorial, and while I understand that part of the intrigue with the 4X genre is learning as you go, the lack of initial help really makes the early experience frustrating.

Alfred: That’s true, but honestly, the game rewards you for your patience. Get through the first couple of hours, lose a couple of games while learning and you’ll be surprised what it has in store for you once you can sustain an army while raiding other cities.

Worlds of Magic features over 400 spells divided across 13 spell circles.

Starting a game involves choosing from seven planes, each with its own set of pros and cons, such as Production and Power being boosted or throwing a negative towards Food. You can also choose the the number of opponents, difficulty level, world size, features density, resources density and neutral cities density. The game is billed to be procedurally generated to an infinite number of possibilities and its diverse set of options allows that to happen. From there, players will choose from eight races: High Men, Unhallowed, Grey Elves, Draconians, Orcs, Dwarves, Dark Elves and Myrodants. Each race has its own variety of advantages and disadvantages, ranging from low unrest in cities to no ranged units. After that, you get to select a Sorcerer Lord or create your own before you go on filling up your spell book. With over 400 spells to choose from across 13 spell circles, it’s a scary task – luckily there’s a Randomize button if you’re really that lazy.

Progression in Worlds of Magic involves exploring, building an army, researching spells, acquiring heroes and of course, conquering kingdoms. But like it says in its name, there’s a lot invested into the mechanic of Magic in the game, including the ability to balance your magic research progression. In the Magic panel, you get to choose between investing Power points into Mana, Research or Spellcraft, while Alchemy gives you the ability to transmute unused Mana to Gold with a 2:1 ratio. Spells can be cast in the open world and in battles, which can really turn the tide when used strategically.

There’s quite a variety of units, monsters and such that you’ll run into in Worlds of Magic.

Whether you decide to participate in the turn-based combat is entirely up to you, but it’s arguably one of the biggest components in Worlds of Magic. On the surface it looks simple: move your unit, cast a spell or attack and win. But there’s much more to it, especially once you’re introduced to flying monsters and get into more advanced units including siege. You and your opponent can even build up walls to help defend a city and then there’s heroes, which can be upgraded with crafted gear or items found from event tiles scattered throughout the map. Heroes can be acquired by visiting the Inn and hiring one, or they randomly appear at the start of your turn with an offering to be hired. Lastly, you get to take on the role of the Sorcerer Lord, casting a single spell per turn to help swing the battle your way.

Is it a fulfilling combat system? It’s a debate really, depending on your play style. It feels like it has just the right level of complexity to make every battle feel meaningful, but it is cumbersome at times and could be especially lengthy once you get into the late game and have to tear down walls. The biggest knock we have with Worlds of Magic is that high-tier, late-game units completely overwhelm early units. Rather than having to build a balanced army, one of our High Men playthroughs consisted of mostly Paladins and we were able to just destroy everything in our sights.

The core of every 4X game: eXplore, eXpand, eXploit and eXterminate.

But here’s the thing with Worlds of Magic, as Alfred said earlier, the game does reward you for your patience and once you understand all the systems and plan your strategy to win, it’s only a matter of time before you’re on turn 350 something. It’s a divisive game and we might go as far as to say you’ll love it or hate it, and it’s really not meant for everybody. Fans of the 4X genre may find a lot to like with Worlds of Magic but it might not offer the same level of depth and complexity as other entrants, especially if you’re a veteran.

It’s worth noting that the team at Wastelands Interactive has been very proactive during the Early Access period and has been steadfast on releasing patches to help address numerous issues as well as improving the UI. The team seems devoted to making its product a successful one, especially to live up to its name as a spiritual successor to Master of Magic.

This is the victory screen… or something. Yeah, we don’t know either.

Jason: So would you say that Worlds of Magic is only for people that enjoyed Master of Magic?

Alfred: Not really. I mean some might say it doesn’t even hold up to the original given that it’s now 2015 and Master of Magic was first released in 1994. But I’d argued they’re looking through nostalgia goggles more than anything. Some might not like the fact that it uses a D20 combat system rather than the Master of Magic combat system and there are balance issues when it comes to combat. The graphics aren’t eye-candy by any means but they do the job and if you can get past all that, the game is worth a shot.

Jason: Yeah, I’m inclined to agree. On a strategic level having played numerous 4X games in my life, it’s pretty much everything you’d expect but it does feel a lot more slow paced. I mean, getting unrest as soon as your city grows is a bit annoying and the fact that you can’t easily expand the influence of your city is a bummer. You see all these natural resources around you and there’s just no easy way to grab it other than casting a spell that’s Tier 6. At which point you’re better off just conquering and establishing a ton of new cities.

Alfred: Some would argue that’s the point though. The quicker you start establishing more cities, the quicker the game becomes more complex and things add up that you have to start managing. The best part really is when you start going to war and you just don’t want to go to sleep until Merlin is dead… and dead again.

Jason: I think it really boils down to how well Wastelands Interactive updates the game and listens to the community. The game admittedly had a rocky launch but the developers have been staying on top of it and hopefully it goes from good to great.

Late game battles can be lengthy with siege and walls at your disposal.

Worlds of Magic Review – What We Liked

  • Core 4X mechanics are solid
  • Huge variety of options to choose from, making no two games alike
  • Diverse selection of spells
  • It does justice as a spiritual successor to Master of Magic

Worlds of Magic Review – What Would Make it Better

  • An in-depth tutorial for those that aren’t experienced with Master of Magic or the 4X genre
  • Online multiplayer
  • Battles that revolve a more well-rounded composition of units
  • Better graphics, animation and tooltips

Worlds of Magic Gallery

Jason Siu spends most of his time writing about cars and his work can be seen on EV Pulse, FlatSixes, Tire Authority, AutoGuide, and more. He's the former co-founder of Tunerzine.com and started FullCleared.com as a hobby. He's a variety gamer, but generally prefers RPGs.