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Disciples: Sacred Lands combines strategy, fantasy

October 11, 1999
Web posted at: 4:40 p.m. EDT (2040 GMT)

by Barry Brenesal


(IDG) -- Disciples: Sacred Lands substitutes long-term strategizing for knee-jerk RTS reactions, and combines map exploration, spells, combat, visuals, and good enemy AI in a heady, obsessive mix.

In this turn-based strategy game, you select one of four races -- each with its own goals and personal enemies. Mortis and her Undead Hordes, for instance, seek to avenge the death of Mortis' husband at the hands of the Dwarven Mountain Clans' god.

Each of the campaigns (one for each race) supplies four linked scenarios that let you keep your best heroes and artifacts from mission to mission. [Also included are 10 stand-alone scenarios for one-to-four players, playable by modem, serial port or Internet (including HEAT), and a scenario builder/editor.]
Homeworld brings epic feel to real

Campaigns in turn-based strategy games like Heroes of Might and Magic III and Warlords III are typically linear, with a single, screechingly narrow path to victory by the time you reach the later scenarios. Disciples, by contrast, makes a virtue of variety, with numerous ways to play and win each campaign.

The customization starts with the choice of an overlord profession that never actually appears in the game, but influences your armies. If you choose to play as a Warrior, your armies begin with more hit points and heal injuries a bit each day. Become a Mage, and your spells can be cast more often.

The Guildmaster role allows the Thief leaders you subsequently hire to perform an enhanced range of actions. While Thief leaders can spy, only a Guildmaster's Thief leaders can attempt assassination of the weakest unit in an enemy group without fear of retribution.

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Each race in Disciples has a selection of leader and army units with different attributes, such as strength, spell scroll reading, and speed. Most units are unique to a race, so while Human spellcasters cast Heal on friendly armies, the spellcasters for the Damned incinerate their foes with Fire Rain instead.

Although most units gradually gain experience and levels, their subsequent development in any game depends upon the buildings you add inside your main town. For example, Cultists of the Undead have mediocre fire attacks that double in strength when they advance after you build the Dark Ritual--but if you build the Haunted Woods instead, they grow into Witches, who can paralyze enemies.

Your forces reveal more of any given map as they explore -- and, again, more choices. While many neutral armies can be found standing about, their destruction isn't as essential to success as in HOMM III, since the gold and magical items they frequently guard are correspondingly lower in value. As a result, you can pick and choose among many lesser conflicts.

Combat is the weak link. Your units cannot move once battle is joined, and each possesses a single attack. Injured units that enter battle do so with full initiative and striking power, though their hit points are reduced. Battle animations are poor, with few frames; though in general, the game's 8-bit color graphics are surprisingly creditable.

But, overall, the game is diverse and extremely well-balanced. Strategy First's previous credits include developing (for Interactive Magic, as Micomeq) two very traditional, sci-fi turn-based strategy games, Fallen Haven and Liberation Day. Both were competent but stodgy.

In Disciples the company's finally gotten the mix right, adding depth, visual flare and variety to their previous strengths of ease-of-use and good enemy AI. Maybe it took the fantasy theme to fire their imaginations, but whatever the cause, this time they've got a winner on their hands.


  • If you choose to play the Guildmaster, buy groups of Thief leaders. Throw them in waves at tough enemy parties, assassinating weak units until the entire party is destroyed. Use them to steal healing and resurrection potions from stores.

  • Don't squander precious mana on magic spells to overcome minor obstacles. Keep some mana in reserve in case your enemies suddenly appear out of unexplored territory. A few spells could turn the tide of subsequent battles.

  • Upgrade your buildings before your units are ready to advance a level. Otherwise, your units will stop gaining experience points exactly one point below the next level, until that building shows up.

  • Since the success of Thief actions is determined based on percentages, save before you attempt to use one.

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Review: Heroes of Might and Magic III
Strategy guide: Heroes of Might and Magic III
Warlords III review (10/97)
Conquer the world with Imperialism II
Liberation Day review (8/98)
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