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The basic units of the game are the Basal Golems, which are created at the Bloodforge. They provide mana for the production of new units and can be turned into buildings or monsters. When four are placed on a foundation, they may transform into a mystical site dedicated to the kind of magic the player’s choosing. Placing a Basal Golem adjacent to a friendly mystical site will allow them to change into a different creature, based on the type of mystical site. The player automatically is only able to use the weakest transformation, and can unlock more by researching. Researching costs experience, which is gained by creating or transforming Basal Golems, creating or destroying structures, casting spells and slaying enemies.
While this approach is original compared to the usual Dune-like system where the player had to harvest or mine resources, it brings its own set of problems. There are no limits on Basal Golem and almost no limits mana production (the only one being that a player can not have more than 300 mana at one time) and the stationary Golems are much easier to protect than moving harvesting units meaning that unhindered exponential growth can easily occur. Also, not having to protect supply routes means less opportunities for strategic thinking, as does the lack of any defensive structures (with the exception of passive walls).
The most egregious deviation from normal RTS gameplay is the extreme micromanagement required for the collection of the game's resources. The golems charge mana individually, and collecting the mana requires a continuous cycle of selecting individual golems and clicking a "transfer" button (or, alternatively, the right mouse button). Golems will eventually transfer mana on their own if they reach their maximum capacity and are left unattended for a long period of time, but this severely impacts their efficiency.
In order to transform your Basal Golems into higher order units you will need to create bases. A base can be created when by moving four Basal Golems onto a foundation point and selecting the transform option, this will open up a menu with various base types; the type of base you create will affect the units available.
Base options are: Barracks, Temple, Arbor Lodge, Runestone and Crypt.
Typically strong and virtuous, the units main traits include power and stamina.
Units: Warrior, Ranger, Paladin (Goblin available in specific levels).
Combining healing with damage, the temple supplies a range of tools from the healing hand of the Cleric to the might of the Fury.
Units: Cleric, Fury, Paladin (Enchanter available in specific levels).
Although many of their units are not particularly strong, the Arbour Lodge units are nimble and agile. They perform best in woodland terrain, being immune to the damaging effects of poor ground.
Units: Druid, Ranger, Griffin, Nymph.
Providing a complete solution of power, range and restoration. Whilst the Wizard and Wyrm units provide the ranged attacks, the power Stone Golem is a suitable 'tank-like' unit, suitable for taking on several opponents at once, with the Gnome repairing the Golem's stone-skin to maintain HP.
Units: Wizard, Gnome, Stone Golem, Wyrm.
The more sinister selection of units to choose from in the game, units are typically evil and as such the counterpoint to all other units in the game. Whilst they have many advantages, including the health restoration of the Ghouls and the 'fear' of the Wraith, Crypt units (with the exception of the Gargoyle) can not be healed, making them less likely to survive large battles.
Units: Zombie, Gargoyle, Ghoul, Wraith (Harpy available in specific levels).
Units & Research
Each base allows neighbouring Basal Golems to transform into special units. On completion each base allows the primary unit to be created, but more powerful units must be unlocked through the research menu. Each unit requires a set number of experience to unlock, and once gained experience and units will carry across an entire campaign. Experience points can be earned by creation of a unit, destruction of a base or building, or through completing scenarios.
Below is a breakdown of the units that may be researched along with research points required.
975 - Gargoyle.
1125 - Ranger.
1125 - Fury.
1275 - Gnome.
1800 - Griffin.
1800 - Stone Golem.
2250 - Ghoul.
3150 - Paladin.
4200 - Wyrm.
4650 - Nymph.
4650 - Wraith.
Additional units available for research on some levels are: 'Enchanter' & 'Harpy'
The AI is on similar level as in most other RTS games from 1990s. It can assemble and send small strike forces quite well, can cast spells, find and use magic items, making it a dangerous opponent in the early game. However, it does not coordinate its defences very well, making the endgame an easy cleanup exercise once the player has managed to gain a foothold. Fortunately, the AI does not abuse the possibilities of exponential growth.
The game single player game consists of five regular campaigns of increasing difficulty followed by a world conquest (a long campaign during which the player conquers all 15 maps and then challenges the gods themselves). In all regular campaigns the player can choose one of two sides of conflict. To unlock the next campaign, the player has to finish the current campaign at least once. The storylines of all campaigns are typical fantasy tales (without any explicit AD&D references), although each campaign has its own take on the genre. The stories are told between battles by a narrator voice (often in verse) and illustrated by gradually uncovered pictures.
A brief summary of the campaigns:
Howl of Vengeance
The story begins with a barbarian leader Rathgar the Raider conquering the kingdom of Doegan. With his last breath, the realm's rightful king curses the barbarian. The king's daughter flees and seeks the help of a young necromancer, Aelric the Avenger. Playing as either the usurper defending his new kingdom or as the avenger, the player seeks to either lift or fulfill the king's curse.
When Roxana, princess of the kingdom of Edenvale, had come of age, she proclaimed a challenge: Any man that wants to take her hand in marriage must first defeat her. The player can choose whether to help Roxana flee from the hordes of suitors or take the lead of Bryan the Bold's armies and win the princess' heart.
A classic struggle between law and chaos, with similarities to many stories of fallen angels and balance. Tartyron, the Lord of Chaos, broke free from his underground prison and wants to spread chaos in the surface world. His opponents are the two lords and a lady from the Circle of Order who have exiled Tartyron once and hope to do so again.
Nuts and Bolts
A campaign with strong elements of comedy. Two brothers, Garrulos the Occasionally Good and Wormskull the Artificier have found a pearl of great magical powers. Unfortunately, the pearl is also cursed and causes strife between the brothers. Wormskull wants to use the pearl's magic to create inventions, while Garrulos seeks to stop his brother's insane plans and win the king's favors.
- The most powerful unit in the game albeit not usable by the player is the 'Juggernaut'. The large (2x2 squares) construct with a skull shaped head is encountered in the final scenario of the 'Nuts and Bolts' campaign.
- Juggernaut has the most powerful melee attack in the game, spits flame as a ranged attack and can roll over all ground units. Combined with extremely good defense, 500 hit points (twenty times more than an average unit) and a spell immunity (e.g. it cannot be turned to stone by a Medusa) makes him a match for an entire army.
Harvest of Horrors
The villagers living in the shadow the forbidden plateau fear the harvest time, as it is then that creatures hungering for human stew descend from the plateau, hunting the villagers. This year the tradition might end, however, as the mage Heradan the Hermit stands up to oppose the dark hordes of the Kingdom of Nix (led by Redfang the Reaper). This campaign introduces new units on Nix's side (Goblin, Harpy and Enchanter) as well as magical cauldron that boils creatures back to mana. The new units are of above-average quality and present a great threat for Heradan. Arguably, the creatures' side of this campaign is much easier to play.