For anyone who started their gaming career in the mid-1990s, Master of Magic might evoke more than a few memories. Published in 1994 by MicroProse and developed by Simtex, it immediately earned a place in the hearts of strategy lovers, essentially being a fantasy transposition of an absolute masterpiece: Master of Orion. Unlike the latter, it did not achieve the same success with the public, perhaps overshadowed by the progenitor of the XCOM franchise, released the same year.
The original title was not followed by other iterations, thanks to the economic difficulties of the software house first and then the publisher. Now, thanks to the publisher Slitherine, Master of Magic is back with a remake which, in addition to completely renovating the graphics, adds various updates related to the so-called community patches. Our Master of Magic test in October left us with good impressions, which fortunately confirmed themselves in the full version.
All unchanged, or almost
The remake by the Polish studio MuHa Games aims to be as faithful a re-proposition of a title that actually laid the foundations of the 4X genre. We feel we can say with absolute tranquility that the intent has been achieved, on several levels. Even those who have never had the chance to play it will be able to live an experience very similar to the one created almost 30 years ago by Steve Barcia.
The roster of mages and races selectable at the start of each game has remained the same. We will be able to choose to impersonate one of 14 sorcerers, needless to say specialized in one or more categories of spells, the so-called realms: life, nature, witchcraft, chaos and death. The more books of a realm the character has, the easier it will be for him to cast spells of that type. Fortunately, the customization of our avatar is also back, an option absent in the October Beta, and on which we had many hopes: if none of the default protagonists meet our preferences, we will be able to create one from scratch, choosing the name and above all building its specialization. Each spellcaster will be able to control one of the 14 available races, with the only constraint being the plane of the starting reality. A Myrror spellcaster cannot choose an Arcanus race, and vice versa. Even with these limitations, however, the level of replayability is very high: between the numerous game customization options and procedurally created maps, anyone who wants to try their hand at becoming the most powerful sorcerer has a long journey ahead of them. Longer than we remembered, actually.
A step at a time
If our test was limited to exactly 100 game rounds, now we had the opportunity to explore entire games, from start to finish. To become the true master of magic, the player has two options: research and cast the Spell of Mastery, which will instantly decree the victory of the sorcerer in question, or militarily defeat any other faction present on both planes of reality. The long spell research times are accompanied by rather low movement ranges of our troops, at least on standard difficulty. If we also count the initial disparity in levels between our armies and the enemies who inhabit the explorable dungeons, the matches will not struggle to reach several hundred rounds in any way.
Obviously it is possible to modify many of the factors that affect the mana available, or the initial levels of the units, to name a few. That said, the matches will have a rather high duration, and hours and hours will pass before having explored the map and met all the magicians present. If nothing else, this will give us the opportunity to have a solid foundation once the first inevitable clashes begin, making us completely immerse in a world full of history and mysteries.
In fact, the general storytelling also struck us positively, which will not fail to accompany almost every one of our interactions: characters, heroes and dungeons are accompanied by descriptions that are never verbose but effective. Unfortunately, the incredible diplomatic freedom present in the classic Master of Magic did not follow this interesting worldbuilding.
The pen and the sword
In the October preview we had expressed some criticisms regarding the diplomatic system of this remake. Unfortunately we have to confirm that the interaction with other magicians is too basic and certainly represents the least thorough part of this makeover. In fact, when we meet another sorcerer we will only have the possibility of establishing an alliance or a research and trade pact. This simplification perhaps represents the only drawback of an otherwise very valid product, which is deprived of that strategic depth present in the original instead.
It will also not be possible to leverage each character’s moral alignment, a lever often used to try to break existing alliances or cause proxy wars. Indeed, we have not understood the point of maintaining the character traits of the various magicians at this point: on the other hand they have been literally emptied of practical meaning or usefulness, not being real modifiers of the diplomatic balance. Overall, in short, the game system forces an aggressive style, in which to advance it will necessarily be necessary to fight numerous battles.
An aspect that seemed to us to be underlined by the addition of the automatic resolution of clashes: very useful for speeding up the game in its final stages, when we will be commanding well-equipped heroes and highly experienced troops. The fights in essence do not differ from the original ones. With the same action points we will be able to both move our troops and attack the enemy contingents, and it will therefore be necessary to carefully calculate our every move on the grid of hexagons that divides the terrain.
As in the original, it is the monsters that inhabit the map, together with the summonable ones and the recruitable heroes, that give diversity to the battles. Having said that, apart from the aesthetic front, there are no differences in terms of classes or statistics between the races. On the other hand, however, the heroes can be improved with a wide variety of weapons and armor and, while representing the most powerful units, they can be eliminated and therefore it will be necessary to take great care of them.
Manage the kingdom
A scaled-down diplomacy is accompanied by a management phase which, at the same time, takes up and improves an already excellent system. Like most 4X games, the goal is to gather resources, build and develop your military and trading might. Exploring the territory, we will decide where to found or conquer other villages to expand and exploit the goods on the map. We will also have to optimize the buildings in each city to increase our reserves of gold, food, and mana, essential elements for the sustenance of our armies.
One of the distinctive features of Master of Magic is the replacement of technological research with that of spells, to the benefit of city planning: since they don’t have to be unlocked, all the buildings available in the game are immediately visible, together with the requirements necessary to build them. In this way, right from its foundation, it will be very easy to plan the expansion of each settlement, immediately directing its construction queue towards structures dedicated to one or more resources.
Overall, the development team has done a great job in reorganizing an interface that clearly no longer reflects today’s standards: information, such as the list of cities, the equipment in our possession and the management panel of our power magical, through which to modify the resources allocated to research and casting ability, are easily accessible and at the same time complete with the insights necessary to expose the important concepts.
We liked the appeal to the city view, where you can switch from a classic list to an overview, with interactive illustrations for each building highlighting its bonuses. We also mention the addition of the construction queue for buildings and units, previously absent, or the “surveyor” mode, which allows you to scan the map and have a report of each hexagonal tile to discover any resources to exploit. It’s not about shocking features, mind you, but we’re certainly talking about pleasant details.
Reimagining Master of Magic on a visual level must not have been a simple task, especially considering how much of the classic it was decided to keep in the mechanics. Yet the graphic restoration carried out by the development team seemed to us sufficiently focused. This remake doesn’t try to wow the player with a great visual presentation, but focuses on staying true to the original experience even almost three decades later. Through a deliberately retro style, in the layout of the interfaces, and thanks to the richness of the numerous illustrations accompanying the cities, characters and units, we can say that the feeling of the ’94 game has been correctly captured and returned in a modern form.
While not making a miracle cry, Master of Magic among other things presents a fair variety of environments. Also thanks to the enveloping music, the real prize lies in exploring a map full of secrets, and in immersing yourself in a world that now, like almost 30 years ago, manages to completely kidnap the player. If we add to this the wide range of spells at our disposal, each characterized by unique graphic effects and animations, the reasons why we are talking about an experience capable of captivating are even more evident.