Reviewed: April 14, 2004
Released: November 20, 2003
Disciples II Rise of the Elves is the third expansion pack in the Disciples II series. It introduces a new race, the elves, a new form of mana only used by the elves, and a variety of new units, items, and spells. Although Rise of the Elves is an expansion pack, it is stand-alone and includes the original full game.
For those not familiar with the series, Disciples 2 is a turn based strategy game with fantasy units. In it, you control one of three types of heroes, each of which commands up to 5 combat units. Each stack of units roams the map, picking up treasures, raiding tombs, fighting neutral monsters, fighting opponents, and capturing cities. All captured cities only produce units of your own race so act as a staging point to heal and summon new units. A captured city gradually controls the land around it and any resources on that land then give you gold or mana per turn.
Most of the gameplay of Disciples II revolves around combat and stat-building your hero and associated units. You can place up to three units in the front rank and three units in the back rank. Units can block or attack each round, where blocking causes that unit to only take half damage. At the end of combat, the experience for the defeated units is split among the survivors. Your hero can gain multiple levels and as he does so he gains abilities such as higher movement rates, the ability to use new kinds of artifacts, and the ability to lead more units in combat at a time. Your units also gain levels as long as you first purchase the required upgrade in your capital city.
In most games of this type you create multiple stacks of units roaming the map and fighting back and forth over cities. However, in practice Rise of the Elves is like the original in that past the first mission or two you rely on one high level hero and never create any other units. Low-level units, including heroes, are worthless against a high level unit. So once you get a high level hero you just reload in the event that hero dies because it takes so long to build up a new hero to be useful. Even if you wanted to you can't afford to create and lose one stack after another the way the computer does because creating a new stack costs 4 or 5 turns of gold. Since you can only transfer one hero anyway, it's not worth the effort to maintain more than one hero.
Disciples II starts out fairly difficult but gets far easier once you get a high level hero. Later missions in the campaign can be repetitive because there's little serious chance of you losing most battles and so you just win one battle after another until you get to the boss.
The elves seem to be quite powerful in relation to the other races. They get a wide variety of units - healer, archer, mage, and fighter. All these units are very good, especially the fighter, which can do 150 damage per, hit at the 3rd level. The healer and healing spell are also a tremendous boon. Races without a healer you are always broke and always have units running back to town to pay for healing. With the ability to heal, you can just defend against one weak unit until your entire stack is healed. With the scout hero and the haste spell, you can often fight 3 combats a round and be fully healed between each one. Compare this to the undead, where you usually fight one or two combats a round and then spend another round traveling back to town.
Rise of the Elves looks dated compared to newer games. This is no surprise considering it is based on an engine two years old now. However, a great deal of the art is hand-drawn 2D and while it isn't the best I've seen it still conveys a sense of style you don't get with 3D games.
Some of the graphical effects and spells take rather long to animate. This is especially true of the healing spell, which can be annoying when I am simply defending until my entire stack is healed.
Sound stays in the back of your mind, meaning that you don't think about it. It's not good enough to catch your attention nor is it bad enough to catch your attention.
While the music has a vague style to it, the style is closer to a cacophony than anything else I can think of. It is ultimately forgettable. So forgettable I had to load the game again just to make sure the game had music.
Rise of the Elves has a LOT of content. Each of the 5 races has about 10 missions, each of which can take several hours to beat. On top of that there are 27 stand alone missions. You can also load custom missions. There is also a multiplayer mode, although with no matchmaking support it would be hard to find opponents. Not that this sort of game with hugely long turns and missions is that well suited for multiplayer.
I estimate Rise of the Elves provides about 200 hours of gameplay. Contrast that to Max Payne 2 - $50 for 10 hours. For $20, Rise of the Elves is one hell of a bargain if you haven't played the series before or haven't played in a long time.
Rise of the Elves is like Disciples II with two more years of work put into it. It has all the strengths and weaknesses of the original and is overall quite a fun game that will stay on your hard drive for a while. For $20 it's hard to go wrong.