One of the best games I've played in the 1990s, Magic & Mayhem is a severely underrated real-time fantasy strategy game designed by Julian Gollop, of X-COM fame. The game is in many ways an improved version of Julian's early Commodore 64 classic Lord of Chaos, but gameplay is much more fine-tuned and addictive. |
One of the strengths of Magic & Mayhem is the fun storyline that is a bit hackneyed, but very well integrated into the campaign, and develops into a full-blown fantasy intrigue after a few scenarios. You are a novice wizard, who start off looking for your uncle Lucan who mysteriously disappeared. The game, similar to X-COM and Fantasy General, is mission-based: you must win a scenario before advancing to the next. There are hordes of fantasy monsters to fight, spell ingredients to collect (more on that later), and allies to recruit in hectic battles. In M&M, though, even this gameplay feature is part of the plot: in the first scenario, you learn of an evil wizard who you suspect has something to do with your uncle's disappearance. After you weaken the wizard enough in a magical duel, the culprit teleports out of the map, leaving behind a blue teleport portal. You, of course, follow him... into another map/scenario. In this way, your goal in each scenario is basically to find the wizard and defeat him to open up his teleport to a new scenario. Within each scenario, the plot unfolds through speech bubbles which are shown when you talk to a friendly character. Some of the scenarios are clever, and there is a few RPG-style traps and puzzles to figure out, most of which are of the simple "find the button to press" type. And the missions themselves are quite varied; although there's invariably a wizard to defeat, you must accomplish sub-goals to trigger his appearance. For example, in Thebes you have to play off two enemy tribes, redcaps and centaurs, against each other. These sub-goals keep the missions from being boring or repetitive.
Combat, as in most real-time games, is fast and furious. But fortunately you can hit SPACE to pause the action to give orders to your minions. Talking about minions-- this is where M&M really shines. In a very original concept (at least for anyone who's never played Lords of Chaos, a very crucial factor of success is the different monsters you can summon to aid in your battle. Think of it as several "monster summoning" spell in classic RPG, except here we have numerous such spells, each summoning a unique creature. In order to cast any spell, you'll need mana, which can only be collected from magical "places of power" which must be found on each map. In order to ensure a full supply of mana, you must control these places of power by ordering one of your summoned minions to guard it. Needless to say, if THAT minion is killed by the evil wizard's monsters and HE gains control, you're as good as dead if that was the only place of power you controlled. Needless to say, this feature makes for a very interesting strategy facet of the game, as you must carefully find a balance between summoning new creatures, casting defensive spells and at the same time targeting enemy wizards. The terrain is "alive" in that squares can burn, rooves can burn and collapse on creatures causing them damage -- and creatures can also burn. As if that's not enough, M&M also boasts another unique feature: spell ingredients and alignment. By mixing and matching the various ingredients and magical items, dozens of different spells/monsters can be created depending on your lawful, neutral or chaotic use of the ingredients. Unlike RPG games, you don't run out of ingredients once you collect them, and the fact that more powerful ingredients are found only in later scenarios ensures that you won't have access to all the spells/monsters too quickly. Not only that, but the combination of spells and monsters you can create makes for almost unlimited tactical options-- you can cast protective spells on a weak minion to make him stronger, for instance, or increase his speed. The RTS element of the game is therefore very different to anything you're likely to have played before (unless you remember the original Lords of Chaos game). The game also features a "grimoire," a spellbook of sorts that contain a wealth of information about every new spell/monster you gain, characters you have met, and places you have visited.
With respectable AI, very addictive gameplay, and a unique blend of strategy and action, Magic & Mayhem is a must have for anyone with even a slight interest in real-time strategy games. It's unlike any game you've played before, and the sheer depth and scope must be experienced first-hand to be appreciated. Definitely another Julian Gollop masterpiec-- highly recommended!
Reviewed by: Underdogs