Dominions II: The Ascension Wars

Dominions 2: The Ascension Wars is missing a lot of stuff. There are no cities, no hexes, no discrete icons representing armies, no tech tree, and no diplomacy. It’s actually a bit odd to lump this game into the TBS genre. But in the end this is a smart, complex game that’s bold enough to be demanding, unique, and occasionally clunky, all in the service of being as epic as fantasy should be.

7At its most basic level, Dominions II is about competing demigods that conquer provinces on a map. The core gameplay is composed of three interwoven threads: armies, magic, and religion. Although armies are the most conventional element, this is where you can really see the developers’ creativity at work. This goes beyond simple elves. It is instead a rich crowd of mythological beings, including a Lovecraftian underwater race and an Ancient Chinese society of high priests, or knights riding giant spiders.

An “army†can consist of a single scout or hundreds of distinct soldiers and creatures. The details of each unit are tracked down to its equipment, morale, and lost limbs. Although combat is a meticulously tactical affair, it’s controlled by the computer. You arrange everyone, but the actual fighting is resolved between the turns and recorded for you to watch. This keeps the pace snappy and the gameplay focused on the strategic map.

8Magic in Dominions II depends mainly on your choice of race and demigod, which allows you access to certain types of magic—fire, water, air, death and so on. Each type provides you with certain combat and global spells, while also allowing you to create artifacts for your units and summon creatures to flesh out your armies. Magic is fueled by specific gems, which are produced in hidden sites that can only be found by magic users proficient in that type of enchantment. This ties magic use to controlling the map.

The most original thread of Dominions II’s gameplay, however, is religion. A demigod that you customize before the game leads each side. You spread your god’s dominion, which reflects how fervently he’s worshipped in a given province. The more he’s worshipped, the more a province develops toward the values you choose before the game begins, spending from a limited pool of points. Do you have a weak god with a wide range of beneficial effects? Do you have a powerful combat god whose dominion lays waste to the lands he controls? Or do you balance it, offsetting improved productivity and population growth with a freezing climate, a magical energy drain and endemic bad luck? Like the magic system, religion is tied into the control of territory and it creates a huge amount of variety.

But Dominions II isn’t an easy game to learn. The amount of detail is unsettling. Even if you can get a hold of the manual, all of the rules and settings are such that it reminds you of opening a very complex board game for the first time. But it does get several aspects right, even if it is hidden behind multiple layers of complexity.

System Requirements: Pentium II 233 MHz, 64 MB RAM, Win95

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