Age Of Wonders Shadow Magic has the pattern of Rogue Spear and Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy. It's not quite a full-blown sequel but it's standalone and slightly more expansive than a mission pack. The edition reviewed ships with a strategy guide in the same slipcase.
You've got to go into the shadow world where Merlin is trapped and pull him out before the Land of Shadow takes over. The Phobian Empire's also lying in wait so the epic mission is two-pronged.
The main complaints from AoW II have been addressed- in spite of some graphical recycling, missions can be generated at random for the hardcore fans to play on indefinitely after finishing the content in Shadow Magic, where three new factions of wizards can be played as you fight through 5 episodes with 16 sub-chapters. The 12 races from the previous games have been given a new unit for you to try out and their magic/combat abilities have been adjusted in the name of balance.
Chuck in some demons as well as those new factions and there's a high level of action to be had, even when combat in multiplayer is turn based- as there are up to 15 factions at any one time, the simultaneous turns keep the pace at a fast level, even if it's a different game to the non-stop action of Diablo or Dungeon Siege. If you think a battle's going badly in single-player mode you've still got the option of letting the computer decide who wins, rather than taking more damage than you think you can cope with.
Like the C & C series the original game out of the box can have predictable AI at times even at the highest difficulty levels but as developers Triumph have listened to fan feedback in the making of this game, they have addressed some of these issues with the V1.10 patch and we hope the support is continuing to make the Single player game just as tough. Resolutions have been increased over the original games to 1,280 x 1,024 although it's become more and more of an irritation that RPG developers don't bother to scale their resolutions from the word go, believing it an “enhancement” to be done later. Still, it's here now.
If you're new to the series you can start right here, if you're a fan you've already got it but if you bought AoW II, then you're in the FIFA position- do you bother with this year's new refinement? For some the random mission generator makes it all worthwhile for accessing a constant stream of new content. Otherwise you can wait for the street price to drop or scour the net for the best price.