Game Review #467: Worlds of Magic: Planar Conquest (Nintendo Switch)
Reviewer: John B
Developer: Wastelands Interactive Publisher: Ultimate Games Category: Adventure, Role-Playing, Strategy Release Date: 1.24.2020
Buy Worlds of Magic: Planar Conquest from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.
I don’t often boot up my PC for gaming purposes; until recently it was the only place for me to visit Baldur’s Gate or Sigil, and that was half the reason I gamed on PC. The other half was a love of 4X strategy games like Civilization or Endless Space which, let’s face it, at first blush seem to just run better with a mouse and keyboard input. Well, that’s what I thought about Baldur’s Gate, too, until I actually tried it for the Switch; it turns out that with a little effort, you can adapt the controls fairly well for console. Civilization 6 has already made the leap to the Switch, but not many others have had the courage to find a way to make the genre work on console. Worlds of Magic: Planar Conquest is a fine attempt to further establish the genre on the Switch.
Build Your Fantasy Kingdom
Planar Conquest sees players assume the role of a sorcerer lord of one of 8 different races that exist within the game world. The goal of the game is to conquer the world by founding new cities, upgrading them, and conquering your enemies’ cities – or you can be a diplomat and bring everyone together under the banner of peace, but where’s the fun in that? Each species has unique units, while the structures you can build in your cities are split between a few common buildings and a few unique structures per race.
You can expand your kingdom by creating settlers and finding a new area rich with resources to exploit. Creating settlers reduces the population of the city that spawns them; managing your population is the main economic driver for supporting your kingdom. A city’s population controls how much resources the city generates, as well as the speed with which units and structures are produced. Gold, food, and production are the physical resources used to create buildings and units; production controls how fast they are built, while gold and/or food are paid every turn in upkeep. Finally, you can adjust your income by setting a new tax rate, but be careful; raising taxes increases unrest. If you have too much unrest, your citizens will revolt and refuse to work. You can lower unrest by decreasing taxes, garrisoning troops in the city, or by building certain buildings like temples and monuments.
I Did Say Sorcerer Lord
In addition to physical resources, your cities also generate magical ones. Research is gathered and spent every turn to learn new spells, whereas mana is generated to actually cast them. Spells can either be cast in battle to do direct damage to enemies or cause status effects, or they can be cast on the overworld map to have an effect on cities or units travelling the world. For instance, you can cast a spell to increase your unit’s range of sight, or to magically increase productivity in your city. Overworld spells have an upkeep cost that must be paid every turn as well, similar to the economic upkeep that must be paid to maintain units or structures.
I Need a Hero – Or, Wait, Do I?
Certain lords will start out with a hero, but every player will have the opportunity to hire a hero at some point in the game. Heroes are supposedly more powerful than regular units, with the added bonus being that they can cast their own special spells or equip powerful artifacts that you may find on your journeys. In practice, however, they don’t really feel as special as the hero units in similar games like Endless Legend. Once you get them outfitted they can wreak havoc in a fight, but until then they’re just like regular units, only super-expensive.
The Heat of Battle
Battles take place on a gridded battlefield. The first phase of battle is to set your units within a few tiles of your side of the battlefield – the attacker always goes first. Your units can move around the battlefield and attack, either melee or ranged. The good news is ranged units have unlimited range; the bad news is they have limited ammo. If you pick your fights properly, the ammo thing will never be a problem, though. Spellcasters can attack at range as well without fear of running out of ammo; but they’re fairly fragile and expensive, so they have their drawbacks. Battle can be auto-decided, but be careful with that; sometimes the game tags a battle as a “very low” threat but that’s not a definitive rating. The game seems to love sneaking some high level units into skirmishes – also, if you auto-battle, you don’t get to cast any of your lord’s magic.
Heroes and spellcasters also know some magic that they can cast during battle at the cost of mana; you can cause extra damage, buff your allies, debuff your enemies, or heal your soldiers. While you as the lord are never on the battlefield directly, you can still cast spells yourself, too. Your magic far outstrips anything your units can dish out – your damage is greater, your buffs are buffer, and your healing spells are more restorative. Additionally, you can summon magic units like slimes, ghosts, zombies, and elementals. Of course, your spells are more expensive, too, but for the extra performance it’s almost always worth it. Unfortunately, you can only cast one spell per round, but I guess that’s for the best. It would take a lot of the challenge out of the game if you could just decimate your foes before the fight actually started.
Walk the Planes
Planar Conquest’s biggest innovation is right there in the title: there are multiple planes to visit and conquer. At the start of each campaign, you can choose how many planes exist in the world map, adding to the area that needs to be explored and conquered. At first blush it’s a really cool mechanic; travelling between worlds and conquering each new one as it comes is a cool idea. If you limit your game to one or two additional planes, it’s even pretty fun in terms of gameplay. Sending armies through gates and establishing new cities in new areas adds a cool dynamic and makes the game feel very expansive. But if you generate a map with every plane available, that means you have SEVEN different maps to manage, which just gets incredibly overwhelming. Only the hardest-core of strategy aficionados are going to want that level of challenge.
Plain Art Conquest
Sadly, the graphics are a little sub-par for the system; the game is adapted from a PC/iOS game first released in 2015, and that age shows. The character models and world map just look a graphical generation old, or maybe even more than that. The graphics are presentable enough, I suppose, but they still don’t look as good as they could. I know the Switch isn’t as powerful as its competitors, but it’s certainly capable of looking better than this. The music is fine; it’s about what you’d expect from a fantasy game - lots of orchestral arrangements that fit whatever phase of the game you’re experiencing.
4X the Fun? Not Quite, But Not Bad
As a 4X game, Worlds of Magic: Planar Conquest is perfectly acceptable, especially for people new to the genre. Its systems are not overly complex, but still possess depth and challenge. Veterans of the genre may not find it deep or satisfying enough, especially when compared to the genre’s big franchises like Civilization or the Endless series. Personally, I had a good time playing it; it’s easy to pick up and generate a game quickly, and the relatively simple mechanics make for a generally good experience. If you’re curious about 4X strategy games and aren’t a stickler for cutting-edge graphics, this is a good entry-level example of the genre.
Buy Worlds of Magic: Planar Conquest from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.
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*A game code was provided for review purposes