Dominions 3: The Awakening

By Scott Parrino 22 Sep 2006 0

Background

In the beginning, the small Swedish development team Illwinter Design self-published Dominions: Priests, Prophets & Pretenders, a semi-historically-based ancient/medieval fantasy conquest game with somewhat primitive 2D graphics and a less than friendly user interface. Despite its limitations and lack of advertising, the game's qualities won it many ardent fans (myself included). For my own tastes, I'd say even the first game still easily beats all competition for the most detailed and fascinating gameplay and content in a fantasy/medieval conquest game. Not only does it have many times more units, spells, and magic items compared to series like Heroes of Might and Magic, Disciples, or Age of Wonders, but where those series (and many even more forgettable others) have extremely generic and typical fantasy nations and simple unrealistic game mechanics, Dominions supplies an abundance of imagination, historically-inspired cultures, and detailed, logical, comprehensive and realistic game mechanics.

Then Illwinter developed Dominions II: The Ascension Wars, featuring 3D graphics, an improved user interface, and adding more content and features on top of those in the first edition. To use a crude measure, where the original game offered over 600 unit types, Dominions II offered over 1000 unit types. Shrapnel Games published the game with a nice printed manual and made the game more visible to new players. Patches added modding features and other improvements.

For those not familiar with the genre, this is a turn-based strategy game set in an ancient or medieval fantasy world (which in Dominions' case has many roots in the actual mythology and religions of various actual cultures in Earth's history, with heavy doses of original imagination). Players control a nation in conflict with other nations to dominate the region and eradicate each other. This involves building up an army, developing and using powerful magical abilities, dominating populations and so on. In the Dominions series, it also involves designing a "Pretender God", a religious leader who aspires to godhood, and to dominate the other players' Pretenders, not only by the above means, but also by religious dominance through preaching, temple-building, and other actions which spread and reinforce faith (called "Dominion") throughout the world. In Dominions, all players simultaneously give orders to all the forces under their control, every monthly turn. When all orders are complete, a month's action is resolved, which the players study as they contemplate orders for the next month. Battles that have occurred during the previous month can be watched repeatedly from a controllable camera position over the 3D battlefield, and units can be inspected during the combat to see exactly what occurred. The player controls his forces during battle only by having giving them orders in advance, dividing them into squads with orders and starting field positions, scripting specific orders and spells, and so on.

The strategic map screen showing figures in armies, and the main character list in the selected province shows.

Late Ages Ermorian undead glow from anti-banishment protection magic as they surround a force of living human forces including a group of mounted knights.

Preview

Shrapnel Games expects to release the next game in the series, Dominions 3: The Awakening, on October 2, 2006. This preview of the upcoming game is based on a final or near-final version of the game program.

Like Dominions II, Dominions 3 is a development of the original game system, keeping most of the original content, revamping and revising the user interface and game mechanics yet again, and heaping even more of the richly detailed content that is the glory of these games. The new edition also aims to improve upon some of the weaknesses of the previous edition, such as the less-than-spectacular graphics, difficulty to learn, and difficulty to manage the later stages of larger games.

The Nation Overview (F1) screen now shows more details about important characters, including display and access to their magic items.

This Shaman of Early Ages Ulm has many powerful magic items which have also affected his sanity and drawn him to the attention of Horrors.

New features that make Dominions 3 easier to learn and to play include:

  • The units in an army are drawn on the main map display instead of the plain squares of earlier editions, showing at a glance where what number and type of armies are present.
  • The character lists on the map and nation overview screens show more details for each character, particularly the magical equipment they carry, making it much easier to keep track of equipment.
  • The magic spell lists which show the hundreds and hundreds of spells in the game, can now be filtered to show only the spells requiring certain skills, making it much easier to digest and use.
  • Tax levels in each province can be left to the computer to set to a good level each turn, if the player doesn't want to manage them manually.
  • Spells which search provinces for magic resources default to targeting a logical province, instead of requiring the player to find and choose a good target for each spellcasting.

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