Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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Digits & Dragons
  by Greg Allen
February 2006

Playing God: Black and White 2

How many games do you know that let you run a city, train a giant destructive cow, and have near godlike powers? With features like that, how can you go wrong? Black and White 2 will give you all of that and more in a unique strategy game that will push your tactics (and sometimes your patience) to the limit.

Our adventure begins when the noble Greeks are attacked by the savage Aztecs and they flee into exile through portals which just happen to spring up out of nowhere. (Now, already, you may be wondering why the folks at Lionhead decided to create an imaginary world but fill it with people from random times and places belonging to this one. Well, I don't know, but I think it may have something to do with the outrageous accents and pithy phrases you'll hear from the Japanese later in the game.)

These wayward Greeks are in a pretty bad state so they begin to call out for divine help. That's where you come in, bringing along your choice of a cow, wolf, monkey, or lion. Think carefully on this decision: you'll have to put up with this beast for the rest of the game. In my case, I chose the wolf, and although he tended to go off and do random things too much, he fared pretty well in battle and ripped up tons of enemy soldiers.

With your help, the Greeks will regain their former status and your creature will grow into a fearsome tool of war or peace. And through all of this, you will have a handy devil on one shoulder and angelish thing on the other. Cliché? Yeah, but pretty funny too.

This motley crew is out to conquer the world

Keepin' the City Slick

While Black and White is known mainly for its creature management and omnipotent powers, this is kind of deceiving. I quickly found that most of my time wasn't spent being the all-powerful one or training my cute little minion but instead on building roads, buildings, and walls.

Now, this isn't all bad. The pleasant graphics and busy people make putting up cities more fun than about any other strategy game I've played. Unlike traditional strategy games, however, there isn't really a whole lot the buildings actually do, besides looking cool and making the neighboring towns jealous. With just three military units and a small number of spells, the city building does get old towards the end of the campaign.

Cities look good and (usually) function without micromanagement

Your peasants do what they were born to do and mostly take care of the resource gathering for you. When you get bored watching them slowly move from mine to construction site and back again, you can always just rip up a tree or grab a chunk of ore and build the building yourself in a few seconds. I found myself employing this strategy a lot early on but eventually decided it was a lot more fun to keep the trees around to throw at people.

Speaking of throwing, I noticed pretty quickly how responsive the physics were. Rocks roll down hillsides, arrows don't damage stone, and people thoroughly die when you throw them for miles!

Being God ain't what it used to be

You would think being a god would make growth and battle pretty elementary, but there seems to be a lot of limits to the gods of this world. Your sphere of influence is limited to a region around your town, so as fun as it would be to go ripping up enemy buildings, you'll never really have the chance. Instead, you'll have to keep yourself content by helping your peasants build buildings and harvest resources.

This doesn't mean that your influence is only peaceful; on the contrary, when enemy soldiers get too near your base, then you can really have some fun. I think my favorite part of the game was picking up stones and trees with my godly might and chucking them at incoming armies. Chucking pieces of the landscape at your foes will take care of big chunks of the buggers, but you can't rely on your own powers alone; you'll still need walls, soldiers, and of course your creature.

Now, what would a god be without some miracle powers? As your people's love for you increases, it will open the way for new miracles that can either bless your people or cause ridiculous amounts of damage to your enemy. The volcano and earthquake miracles, for example, can literally take out half of a large enemy city. Yeah, sound a little overpowered? It is. I had to quit the game for a while after one of these disasters totaled my town. Pretty annoying. But, on the flip side, anything they can do, you can do better!

As you make war or peace, and cause love or fear, your disposition will generally grow more good or evil. One of the greatest parts of Black and White is that you can win levels by being warlike or peaceful or through a combination of strategies: it doesn't matter if you're black or white.

A Thirty Foot Tomagatchi

If you have heard of Black and White, you probably heard about the cool creatures and the AI behind them. Well, this is one portion of the game that clearly separates it from any other strategy game and with good reason. The destiny of your creature is totally in your hands, literally. Your gentle petting or sharp slaps teach the creature which actions you approve of, and he will usually respond accordingly.

I raised my wolf to be a generally good wolf; most of the time he spent gathering stones, erecting buildings, and playing with the peasantry. When war time came, however, wolf-man was always the first to the scene and when backed by archers he won just about every battle he saw.

Between my wrathful hand and Creature's wrathful feet, enemy plattons were thoroughly smitten.

Keeping him on track was another matter… I often had to grab his leash and drag him to an enemy invasion because he was too busy playing with his toy or sleeping in the forest. I suppose it's my own fault for not raising him right. Maybe next time I should adopt a cow.

The levels are long and repetitive and the AI sometimes fails to impress, but Black and White 2 gets my recommendation as a fun, original game. Raising a virtual pet has never been so rewarding and really expands the strategy genre. Add in godlike powers and you have a game built for the ages.

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