Neither good nor inherently bad, Worlds of Magic: Planar Conquest occupies a comfortable place as an average game among the 4x strategy genre. There are some things to like about the title, but there is a noticeable lack of polish that holds the game back in the end.
Planar Conquest is a successor to the PC game that I previewed a couple of years ago - a game that had all kinds of potential but also had its share of issues. To its credit, there are a lot of really cool ideas here that blend strategy gameplay with RPG elements with lots of different types of buildings, military units and spells to cast. At its best combat is strategic and interesting, but at its worst the micromanagement required for success can become tedious and repetitive in a hurry.
I started the game off using the tutorial mode, a nice option that will grant you a handful of minor trophies as you are stepped through the basics of building, military training, learning magic and a shallow overview of the combat. All in all the tutorial does a nice job of informing the player of how to play, teaching the basics without ever getting so nuanced that you get lost in the weeds. I've played strategy tutorials that struggle to find this balance and take entirely too long to complete or teach you almost nothing outside of a few menu basics, so to its credit Worlds of Magic: Planar Conquest does a nice job.
Because cities don't really expand over time like they do in some strategy games, there is a fundamental need to continue to strike out and build plenty more. On the surface, this is not a terrible thing, but it does make cities begin to feel somewhat shallow and unimportant. It also means that with some solid early-game planning on your part, you can generally dominate the AI which is often too busy building cities that it neglects the military side of things. Then tends to slant the experience towards a combat-heavy one, meaning that Worlds of Magic: Planar Conquest lacks some of the balance that other successful 4x strategy games manage to find.
Early on you want to build your military, figure out where the other kingdoms are located and pick your battles carefully as you try to spread your empire like a wildfire that burns down everything around it. In theory this is all well and good, especially since combat is one of the bright spots as it is both strategic, but not so endlessly deep that it takes forever to learn. I liked the turn-based approach that has a combination of ranged, melee and magic to account for. There are a good number of spells that can be researched and used both on the general map and in combat, giving magic a nice versatile vibe that I could appreciate.
Unfortunately there are so many other areas where Worlds of Magic: Planar Conquest starts to fall down, such as its occasionally frustration interface choices such as unit movement or not getting enough contextual information about your cities unless you actually click on them as opposed to simply hovering over them in hopes of a quick glance at the important numbers. I also touched on how the AI is simply not up to the task, both in developing their civilization but also during combat.
Visually Worlds of Magic: Planar Conquest is not going to win any awards for technical achievement, but I actually like the use of bright colors and the appearance of the interface. There are lots of different races and armies and visually they are all pretty well represented. The music and sound effects are not particularly memorable, but they are not offensive either. Honestly when I am playing the game I don't mind having the sound up, but when I turn it off it's not as though I am humming any of the tunes to myself either.
There is a lot of potential here in Worlds of Magic: Planar Conquest, but the individual pieces do not add up to be a great game. I like a lot of the ideas as well as the setting - I am always willing to sink some serious hours into a fantasy strategy game. I never came away unhappy with the time I spent playing Planar Conquest, but if I am being honest with myself, a weak AI and a few curious design choices along the way make it a average example of the genre overall.
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Article by Nick