Disciples 2 is a flawed, imperfect game. It's not glitchy in the least, but it's cumbersome, the mechanics lack finesse, and gameplay-wise is inferior to certain other TBS games released at the turn of the century. But there's a little something that makes Disciples 2 special; it's striking atmosphere and style. But I'll get to that in a bit. First, let's look at the mechanics.
Disciples 2 is very functional, I'll give it that. Let's start with the units. You have hero units (which are generic, but considering that most cost 500 gold, you won't see too many) that can take other units equal to their leadership amount and explore the map. Each party has 6 slots (3 front rows and 3 back ones), which means you can have a maximum of 6 units moving around at once (there are some units that take up a front and back row slots). Units gain experience from battles and level up, upgrading to a more powerful or more versatile version of themselves (providing that you built the necessary structure in your capital first, that is). Most units have two upgrade paths, which makes for some nice variety. For example, the Empire's healer units can upgrade to become either Priests, who heal more damage, or Clerics, who heal all party members at the same time. I've always loved that kind of thing in games. Not so much for the RPG elements, mind you, but because of the different kinds of strategies it provides for. There's a catch, though. You have to spend obscene amounts of gold to buy the buildings that allow your units to upgrade, and you have to do it before they level up. Also, when you choose an upgrade path, you have to stick with it; if you want one Sorcerer, than all your Cultists will become Sorcerers. This highlights what is simultaneously the best and worst aspect of the strategy in Disciples 2, the planning.
Disciples 2 is centered entirely around the planning. This is a good thing because, you know, it's a turn-based strategy game. You have to plan on what kinds of parties you're going to have, what kinds of unit combinations to use (more back attackers, or more sturdy front line units, for example), which parties will go in which direction, how and with what speed your units will regain their health (only Warrior Lords and towns provide health regeneration), and so on. This is a game where, if you don't have a plan of some kind, you are going to die, slowly and frustratingly. This is a game that you really have to put some thought into, and that's good.
|A good example of poor planning.|
|Reviving and healing either of these armies would take well over a week (game time) on any map.|
|I was actually thinking of Asteroth, but you don't want to run into one of these guys unexpectedly, either.|
Something that alleviates the problem is the AI. In most games, a predictable computer player would be considered a bad thing, but in Disciples 2 it actually helps. Enemy parties and formation will usually act in one of only a few ways during combat and exploration. Once you figure those strategies out, you can plan for them accordingly which often eliminates the problems that arise from luck. And since the enemy won't always act the same, but will instead take one of several options, it doesn't totally take the fun out of it. All in all, the gameplay is actually pretty fun, despite being flawed. A traditional approach to strategy, with more streamlined mechanics and a difficulty that comes mostly from dynamic enemies, would probably have made for a better and more enjoyable game. But even so, Disciples 2 manages to remain addictive and, as I said, quite functional (as in, it works really well for what it is).
|Addictive enough that I still enjoyed playing after the 300th battle, let alone the 100th.|
|Dark, literally and figuratively.|
|The Undead. About as drab as it gets.|
What makes all this so cool is that Disciples 2 includes a little feature to stop you from killing yourself/quitting the game; a single ray of hope. Even though you're fighting a losing battle no matter which side you're on, it always feels like things will work out if you just beat your enemies. It's apparent in the artwork; you can see the possibility for (or a past indicative of) a more light-hearted fantasy world from the bright, healthy trees and the gorgeous locals. It's apparent in the music; though depressing and grim, you can still hear hints of the idyllic fantasy world included. It's certainly clear in the missions. It you just win, if you just achieve your goals, then it seems like your problems will be solved. It also makes its presence known in the story. If this one issue can be gotten around, then things will go back being normal. What's so cool is that Disciples 2 can do this even for the world-blighting demons or the evil undead. No, you don't feel like you're playing as "the good guys," but you do feel a certain level of vindication. It's like, "Okay. So all these other races are trying to kill me, and many of them are kind of evil too. I...don't feel too bad about this." Also, due to the way the story is set up, you're never really forced to question the "rightness" of your side. Basically, all I'm trying to say is that the game does a pretty good job of getting you on your races side. What all of these elements add up to is a dark, serious, medieval fantasy style, which is really cool and quite unique.
There's one last thing that I want to look at before I finish up. The campaigns in Disciples 2 are the real "hooks" of the game, though they are certainly not perfect. Part of the reason is that campaigns are really long. They're each <10 missions, but they feel like they're well over 20. Missions, whether they're part of a campaign or standalone, are always won by achieving specific objectives, as opposed to just "conquer the other player(s)." See, each race's capitol is guarded by a super unit that attacks everyone immediately and usually kills them in one hit. So basically, capturing an enemy's capitol is impossible. This is both good and bad since it makes the mission goals feel unique, but also makes them a little convoluted. With several missions, you have to go all over the map, or to the complete opposite side of it. In order to get everywhere, you pretty much need to have high level units, which means you have to "grind" (as the term goes) for experience. And since most of the missions end with a big fight, it makes you wonder why your objective couldn't just be to capture the enemy capitol. The overpowered guardians also have the unfortunate effect of making standalone missions very limited, since they need to have specific objectives instead of just free for all fights. Like I said, it's also got good parts, so it's a bit of a double edged sword. The main reason the campaigns are so good, however, is because of the story. Disciples 2 actually tells a pretty good story, all of the events centered around one person manipulating everyone. What's so cool in how it tells it is that each race's campaign shows more or less the same events, but from totally different perspectives. You need to see what was happening with the other races at the same time, which makes you want to play the other campaigns. It's actually one of the better stories, and certainly one of the more interestingly told stories that I've seen in a strategy game, so it made the campaigns (all ten thousand of them) stand out nicely.
Disciples 2 has a lot of problems that inhibit it. The mechanics and rules of the game could and should have been much more streamlined and less vague, and it should have been much less punishing (keep in mind that I was playing this on the "normal" difficulty). That said, the game is a marvelous stylistic success, and it's not like the game is devoid of fun; it just limits itself needlessly.
Plot/Narrative: The story in Disciples 2 is a little more unique than "bad guys are taking over the planet/country, go stop them," and is told in a really cool way from multiple perspectives. It lacks some grip in the individual campaigns, but once you play all the campaigns you can really appreciate it.
Gameplay: Flawed, but still fun. If rebounding from mistakes and/or bad luck was easier, the AI more dynamic, and the system a little less cumbersome and more understandable and easy to use, than this game could have easily rivaled the reigning emperor of TBS games, Heroes of Might and Magic 3. As it stands, though, Disciples 2 is still fun and addicting in its own way, and the game system is certainly competent. Good, solid gameplay.
Visuals: Even from a non-stylistic perspective, the graphics in Disciples 2 are quite excellent. The unit animations are fluid and look nice, and the art is gorgeous. I would have preferred it if there were fewer "flashy light" attack animations in combat and more realistic, "gritty/bloody" attacks (to fit with the atmosphere better), but overall they certainly don't provide anything to complain about. When one factors in the excellent style enhancement of the art, the visuals become some of the greatest you'll find in a game that's a decade old.
Sound: There's not too much more to the sound in Disciples 2 after the music, and that's usually not a good thing. Don't get me wrong; the sound effects and (very limited) voice acting aren't bad, they just aren't anything special. The music, however, makes up for this extremely well. The background music in this game perfectly matches the style, and really reinforces the depressing, grim setting and atmosphere of the game.
Game Content: Disciples 2 Gold has some very good campaigns, but more than that it has lots of them. Disregarding Rise of the Elves, there are 8 campaigns total, along with 17 standalone missions, plus custom game capability. Considering the length of the missions and their replay value (which isn't amazing, but is acceptable), this is pretty good. There are also two difficulty levels above "Normal" if
Overall: Disciples 2 is a good game. It's not perfect, but it manages to provide enjoyable TBS gameplay and is a wonder of a success stylistically. If you like games that "feel" really unique and tell a story well, this game is a good bet. If you're looking for super polished and refined gameplay, you'd probably be better off getting Heroes 3, but TBS and fantasy fans should still enjoy Disciples 2.
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