90s Nostalgia for Bad Games: Lords of Magic

A lot of times I find that when people think back to the games they played they get these deep nostalgic feelings where they honestly believe these are the greatest games on the planet. Of course we know that these gems were dated and actually horrible games with poor vision.

This series looks at very old games I’ve played that are lesser known. There was a time before Internet popularity and before there were gaming web sites or a gaming community to tell you what was good. You just got games and hoped to god they were good based on the cover.

In this series I’ll be looking through some old games I’ve played, what was so great about them and why people don’t play them anymore.

The first game I’ll be looking over is Lords of Magic.

Personal Experience

Lords of Magic is a game I talk about quite a bit whenever I discuss turn based games or fantasy games. That’s because this game was both.

The game had a pretty unique format that hasn’t been re-done, largely because nobody wants to play an 8-player game anymore.

So basically there is this sort of Indian wheel of life in the game with eight different elements. Each element comes with a religion. In the game you select one of the eight religions and act as an agent of it. On the wheel the opposite side of the wheel represents your long time enemy. So generally your best bet is to choose Life because their enemy is Death… and death slowly ends up being an enemy to all.

The game has a basic strategy to it. You walk around conquering the other faiths trying to build up a big enough army to conquer your archnemesis and to kill Bailroth the leader of death. The prize for winning is unlocking the Death religion.

I literally spent hours playing this game. I had to share my first computer with two brothers and this was a pretty big favorite with everyone. Too often we’d just spend over our computer time to finish off some small objectives. Much like Civilization the game had the “one more turn” feeling to it.

Each religion had its own unit types that had insanely complicated rules structures that governed how the units work. On top of having an archenemy you also have two faiths which you are pretty weak against. This means investing massive armies in order to take out certain religions.

The game for me focused around moving around conquering resource hubs and taking on weaker enemies. It was a pretty exhausting game. For its time the AI was pretty good. They were a little more nieve than modern AI… but still pretty good.

A couple of years later a special edition came out with some added campaigns. Basically after you win with each religion you would unlock a story about that faith. These were RPG designed and featured epic stories from our history. As an example Earth was the story of Beowulf. Death was the story of how the leader of Death was born. The story of Order was two Arthurian stories. We bought them and conquered them after hours of studying patterns and plans.

So Why Is This Game Bad?

Gamespot gave this game a 6.2/10…. Others were not so generous to this game. This game is actually, quite terrible. Maybe I played it due to a lack of options.

There are quite a few reasons why this game is in fact pretty terrible. The first and foremost is the linear element of the game. The game has a single map. There is only one road. Some of it is yellow brick, but most of it is red and fiery. It loops around in a circle in a very predictable pattern. Literally after a point you’re just traveling in a circle and killing off the religions. Unlike basic Texas Holdem AI there was never an enemy that was getting stronger against you.

The strategy to this game can be likened to Megaman. Megaman is a game where if you’ve played through it a whole bunch of times you know what order to kill the Boss Robots in in order to finish off the levels efficiently. This is also true of Lords of Magic. If you know that Earth is weak to Water well you conquer Water first so that you can build Water units to destroy Earth. Then you know Earth is strong against Life so you use Earth to take out Life. And it continues on like that. In a modern world this would be seen as a hippie game. I know for a fact there’s a board game out like this.

Really having all of these awkward rules makes it so you have to put in 200+ hours before you will ‘get’ the game. By this point you should have beat it multiple times and will be dying to move on.

The replay value REALLY dies when you can start off as the Death Religion. Death is the ultimate face roll. You gain units that are strong against pretty much everything. You start off with a strong army, a strong leader, and a strong defense. Once you start playing as Death you just don’t feel like doing the grind you were doing before.

By making the ‘end game’ of a game to be immortality you never feel like actually playing the game more than the one play through. It’s like when people typed in “it is a good day to die” in Warcraft 2 to finish the game. You know damn well that these people were never going to do well when the Battle.net version of Warcraft 2 came out.

There was nothing really dynamic about the strategy in this game. The actual combat was semi-turn based meaning that your units would continue moving forward slowly creeping to battle. I almost prefer the Heroes of Might and Magic style better than this.

The biggest reason why people stopped playing this game was…. no one picked it up. A lot of classic games got picked up because they were well received b reviewers (who reviewed things in retrospect) but this one really didn’t have a following. Older games obviously were DOS based and Windows 97 killed the DOS operating system.

Sierra Entertainment is pretty well known for making TONES of games in the 90s. However Sierra went through problems of getting sold to so many studios who had constant direction changes for the studio. By the time it got to Vivendi games it was stripped down and used as a studio specifically to make SEGA titles. When Activision bought out Vivendi it eventually just didn’t do anything but touch up other people’s designs.

Lords of Magic feels like to me a game that could have been made great but wasn’t because it never developed. But that’s nostalgia speaking to me. In truth if I played this game again I’d probably delete it after getting to the title screen.

It was a great game for a 14-year old to play, but just will not compare to anything of the time.

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4 thoughts on “90s Nostalgia for Bad Games: Lords of Magic

  1. But people can’t deny that older games like the ones in the 90s had a strong story that made you fill immersed by it, regardless of the crappy graphics.
    Most games these days the only they they are good at is shiny, almost real life graphics, while leaving the rest lacking…

  2. Well, i tried this game several times trough my life. It was always very buggy. Now i got SE version and latest unofficial patch. The game is still buggy, AI is extremely poor and stupid (it almost does not do anything on medium diff). I played several days and still did not level any of my champions to maximum level (they still suck, even on 9-10th). I can’t be sure if i do not loose any of my soldiers even in 3-4 level caves with full 5th+ level army. There are many artifacts in game, but most of them are near to useless.

    It is not a game to play as i thought in my youth… At least i don’t think i will replay it anytime in my life. I’ll better start a new game in MoM (AI there is also very stupid, but at least challening on max diff).

  3. If it sucked so badly, why did you play the crap out of it?

    At a certain point, you’ve had enough of a game and have played it enough times. This column’s viewpoint is that after having played the game a million times it sucks. Could it be that it was quite a good game until the author burned out on it? Maybe fun was had getting to that destination. What’s the opposite of false nostalgia?

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