Reviewed: July 8, 2003
Released: June 14, 2003
Disciples II: Guardians of the Light is the new expansion pack for last year's strategy hit, Disciples II: Dark Prophecy. Unlike most expansion packs, this one actually comes with the core game making it a great value if you never played the first but a bit salty if you are simply wanting to play the new material. Granted, there are new campaigns, a new story and even some new features, but it's still a bit "light" in content if you'll pardon the pun.
Guardians of the Light picks up where the original game left off with the assumption that "Good" defeated "Evil". But as we all know there is always a bit of evil lurking in even the best of us and the Empire is being torn apart with internal strife, as three groups all have their eyes set on the available throne. You select which of the factions you wish to play based on the campaign. Side with the Empire or try to lead the Mountain Clan to victory. Each campaign has an original story that rivals the original game in quality.
Since this is an expansion the designers do rely on the fact that you have played the first game and have a relatively high level character (level 10) standing by to step into the role of leader. For those new to the game this won't be a problem as you will play the core game before ever reaching these expansion levels, but for veterans of last year's game who may not have kept their characters lying around their hard drive, you might not want to replay the original just to build up a prospective leaders and troops.
Thankfully, the designers have included a couple of pre-generated level 12 characters that you can use right out of the box and jump right into the expansion. The only problem with this is that your troops will still be low level in a world of high level monsters. There is still going to be a lot of "build time" if you don't have your units from the core game.
The gameplay within Guardians of the Light is just as good as always. There are a few new features but nothing that really set this apart from the original. The game is turn-based, so your units all have limited spaces of movement. Once you are finished with your movement and any other structure building or unit healing that you want to do, you must end your turn and wait for the next turn. One thing that you should be aware of is that once you have finished your turn and are “sleeping”, the opposition can attack your position and catch your troops off guard.
The game includes bonuses for certain actions taken during your turn, so if you use a protection potion or another potion or scroll, the benefits last the entire day, that is to say an entire 24 hours. With this benefit you still have some defensive capabilities and will, in some instances, defeat the enemy that is attacking.
The game can be played in campaign mode and quest mode. A quest is basically the same as a single mission. Each quest has its own objectives and is a shorter gaming experience then campaign mode.
The main feature of the game that really caught my eye is the attention to detail that has been designed into the game’s graphics. We are talking top-notch graphics, the kind that you don’t see in most of the RTS games today. The artwork is easily on the same level as the original game and even though we were promised a new high-res graphics engine the game still only runs at 800x600. Actually you "can" increase the resolution but the game simply runs in an 800x600 window so it's rather deceptive. Even so, it looks stunning.
Each of the character classes has their own animation and as you progress through the ranks with your characters they each get a new set of animations. The animations themselves are visually stunning and as you play you can’t wait to get your characters to the next level so that you can admire the new animations.
The menus are well designed, and the user interface is very intuitive. As I said before, the use of hotkeys will make your life much easier in getting from one menu to the next within the game.
One of my few complaints also happens to fall within this category. The graphics of the character icons themselves tend to get lost in the sea of color on the main overview screen. You are able to identify your units by turning on their banners, but this only shows you how many groups of units you have and not the one that you have selected. If you use the tab key to toggle through your parties, it will center on your units, but it doesn’t highlight them enough to show you exactly where they are. This feature could be cleaned up and would really help speed up the game.
Like the graphics, the sound presentation is right on par with the original complete with amazing environmental sounds like the wild animals, running water from the waterfalls, and many of the other ambient background effects. Each area of the map has its own specialized sound effects.
The new music is excellent with several inspiring pieces, but there is a distrubing lack of new voice work, at least in the expansion. The core game retains all of its original voice-overs.
Each campaign will take several hours to complete, and due to the nature of the game each time will be different. With two new campaigns (and the original four), you will be pulled into this game for many days and weeks to come. There is also a random map generator and an improved level editor to keep the creative gamer occupied even longer.
Strategy First continues with its fine support for GameSpy Arcade. This feature alone opens up the doors for you to find an opponent on the Internet any time of the day or night. The game supports modem, LAN, and Internet play, with the ability to have up to four people playing at the same time. With support for co-operative and deathmatch modes, the multiplayer features of this game are excellent. The only drawback of playing any turn-based game with other people is the fact that you have to wait for your turn! This could mean a wait of a few seconds up to several minutes for you to be able to counter your opponent’s movements.
Retailing for $19, you should be able to find this title for about half that in no time. It's a great bargain if you don't already own Dark Prophecy, otherwise you might want to wait and get the inevitable and all-inclusive "Gold" edition which will no doubt bundle everything together. While such a bundle hasn't been officially announced, it's only a matter of time.
In summary, Disciples 2: Guardians of the Light is one of the best turn-based strategy games you can play. With its beautiful looks and engaging gameplay, you will be hard-pressed to find another game with the depth and exciting gameplay that this one offers. If you enjoy playing turn-based strategy games, then this is one that you need to add to your collection. Once again, Strategy First has come through with an excellent blend of graphics, sound, and gameplay in a package that is easy to learn and play.