by Sergio Brinkhuis
reviewed on PC
ROSE COLOURED GLASSES
It is easy to fall in love with The Sorcerer King. I did, and married it without thinking and with no prenup. The marriage started off well enough. The game provides a warm and inviting world to dabble in. The graphics may not wow in quality but they certainly help create that dreamy, fantasy-filled mood that absorbs players for hours on end. The game's premise is equally enticing. You're an underdog king, one of the last remaining survivors of a catastrophic war that all but ended life itself. The victor, a villainous sorcerer hoping to harvest the life energy of the planet's remaining inhabitants, spins a lofty story about saving humanity from certain extinction by the hand of some unknown and all powerful creature at an equally unknown future date. He'll regularly check in to offer baubles that, when taken, cause doomsday to creep just that little bit closer.
The war has left the world in chaos, giving free reign to roving bandits and rogue sorcerers. Battlefields can be scavenged for loot, unattended mines and quarries can be claimed, inn keepers are looking for your help and over-achiever librarians are waiting to be rescued from their gone-awry projects. There is a continuous sense that there are opportunities to grow and expand just begging to be seized. You want to explore, you want to see what wonders lie beyond that fog of war.
It's a wonderful way to start a relationship with a new game. Yet, rose coloured glasses can be misleading. They make you miss the hints that suggest that the marriage might not last as long as you thought you had signed up for, or at least not be as happy as you hoped. You see, it takes a while for The Sorcerer King to reveal its shortcomings.
Before we get to those, however, let's have a look at what's good. There's a lot of it. The game is brimming with mini quests, most of which will last under a minute but are so well written that it's worth reading every line. The tongue-in-cheek humour jibes brilliantly with the underdog position of the player and I simply could not get enough of it. Equally fun is the crafting system. Recipes and ingredients for armour, potions, jewellery and weapons are obtained by exploration and conquest. Equipping them takes a little time but it's rewarding to see how much better your units will perform in combat afterwards. I especially loved how I was able to craft rings that put my slow but powerful hero all the way at the front of the initiative queue, allowing him to cast his damaging spells before the enemy could make his first move. Super!
The game features a doomsday counter that rises when you lose a battle of significance, accept bribes from the omnipresent Sorcerer King, or make the wrong choice during a quest. There are ways to bring it down too, and as long as the counter is not full, you stand a fighting chance to win. Maps, whether generated or premade, can have a profound impact on how your early game progresses. I've had maps where I had so little access to mana-generating shards that I really had to work on buffing my army with gear. On others, mana was so easy to come by that I did most of my dirty work by casting spells. Actions have consequences. Though not well explained, the intriguing +1 honour and +1 courage 'rewards' that kept popping up proved to be of use. In a game where I gathered lots of honour and courage, merchants and soldiers unexpectedly showed up for my final battle with the Sorcerer King. In a game, unexpected equals fun!
The map can be zoomed in and out smoothly to an illustrated map view that makes it really easy to take in what is happening in your realm and just outside its borders. This isn't something new, but rarely has a map been this useful. Also not new, but done a little better than in most games, is how city buffs are linked to essence slots that correspond to terrain features on the campaign map and become available as your city grows. You can cast spells to increase production, growth or the capabilities of its defenders.
Combat is surprisingly fast paced and far more strategic than you'd initially give the game credit for. The various heroes that you can employ are fun to level up and even more to unleash on your foes. Most units have at least one special ability that is worth using in battle and putting these to optimum use is a fun little challenge on its own. Units that surround a target will attack in unison, meaning that each new unit you position near an enemy increases your attack by itself and all of its peers. This way, with some clever maneuvering you can defeat even the biggest, hardiest enemies on the map. Roses are red, they truly have bloomed, my horses are fast, your archers are doomed
Wonderfully crafted gameworld, well written mini-quests
horrendously bad AI, only one playable race.