the writings of a mind

Title: Battle Mages
Genre: RPG/RTS
Strap: "Could be a sleeper hit," the box proudly boasts. Catatonic, maybe.

Imagine if there was a way that you could take the very best elements of RPG, and then combine them with the very best elements of RTS. Imagine that you fused these parts together to create some manner of uber-game. Wouldn’t it be great? We’d sure like to play it. And with the bits left over, you could make Battle Mages.

It may just be the ridiculously high standards that we at PC Format set for games, but when choosing from the four different classes of Mage at the start, we want /slightly/ more information about them than, for example, "Turning the destructive fury of Fire against imperial enemies: what could be nicer for an ambitious young mage?" With the entirely unexplained choice of Red, Blue or Green magic made, you are then thrown in to the magical worlds of warring wizard mayhem… No, no you aren’t. That was a lie. We’re sorry. You’re actually thrown into the least tutoring tutorial since Atomic Kitten’s singing lessons. Actually failing to tell you what to do at any point, you stumble about until you discover that you’re in a fight. Fighting in this game has very little to do with you, and a great deal to do with your little squads of men running in un-commanded, like men in a post-pub brawl. Later on you’ll realise your role is to cast spells upon the scene, but the /tutorial/ won’t worry you with this information now.

Then you’re away. With nothing explained, including why it is that your mana starts vanishing the moment you move your camera (and hence your ethereal self) away from the troops. Again, maybe it’s just us, but isn’t being able to look around the map a key point of RTS? It seems a little cruel to punish this act so severely.

And so it goes on. Quests are given, subquests are discovered, the meta-narrative about some underground gem thing is occasionally alluded to. But still, when the game tells you to hire some Paladins, but then won’t let you hire Paladins because you don’t have enough experience, but then won’t tell you how to get experience, and then won’t let you hire Paladins when you have more experience… you don’t really want to play any more.

The controls are remarkably simple, exactly as you’d expect from an RTS system – select and click, and give them their orders. But there really aren’t any orders to give beyond ‘Go’ or ‘Attack’. And they do the latter without asking, anyway. All the sorts of quests you’d expect are present – protect the dudes from the monster dude, fight the beastie, find the treasure, rescue the town. But the complete lack of instruction and careful concealing of any point to anything it asks you to do, makes this all hard work and no play.


Birnam Wood

"Ooh, look over there! Behind that tree is a place that will contain some sort of life-improving magics, I’ll wager. Let’s pop over there, as there are no signs of enemies for whom the game has attempted to justify an existence."

"I say, a moving grove. The tree, it’s attacking us."

"Let me endure your wrath, if't be not so."

"We’re all going to hack at it with our swords, ignoring any instructions you might have wanted to give, now… The tree is dead! Hurrah! The tree is dead!"

"It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

 Clumsy construction courts considerably cruddy creative consultancy.


Tech Specs:

Publisher: GMX Media
Developer: Targem
Price: £30
Minimum System: 733Mhz, 128Mb RAM, 32Mb 3D card
Recommended: 1.8Ghz, 384Mb RAM, 64Mb 3D card
Multi-player: 2-4 player networked game
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