Preview - Hammer of the Gods (DOS, 1994)
The ancient Norse World wasn't the most pleasant place to live – the storms of the North Sea provided a grim and icy barrier, locking the nordic people into their glacial valleys and barren coastlands. Or so it WOULD have been, if not for the courage and curiosity of the Viking explorers and raiders, who looked out upon their world with a determination to explore it . . . In the times before Christianity absorbed the men of the North, empires were forged of flame and steel amidst the ice and stone, and the test of any man was his courage in battle . . .
At least, that's how the romantics would see it, and it's closer to the truth than a modern cynic might care to admit. Enter Hammer of the Gods, the new game borne of a marriage as fruitful as any binding the Viking princes – New World and Holistic Designs have combined their talents to present a new strategy game that combines flavors and elements from nearly every other game-form.
The premise of Hammer of the Gods is simple – during a time of chaos in Midgard (the Viking name for the mortal plane – literally "Middle Earth"), four of the mightiest warriors of the Norse people have ambition to win the favor of Odin, the All-Father and chief of the gods. Appearing before the All-Father in a dream, they are told that to win his special favor they must first appease the lesser gods through a series of quests, and develop their empires according to their natures. The troll-friend Vikings must amass military might, the Elf-friends must develop their population, the Dwarf-Friends seek gold, and the lone humans seek to collect the world's magic items. But ALL must complete the quests offered by the gods . . .
The quest-tree is the path to victory, and resembles on the most basic levels the "technology tree" and related concepts that have been so popular in "god games" as of late . . . but while Hammer of the Gods is technically a "God Game," it never lets you forget that you are merely mortal, and humble before your superiors in Asgard.
The Quest Tree goes a bit beyond the tech-tree concept, though – completion of each quest will result in gifts – magic weapons, faithful warriors and heroes, and so on – all of which can move you closer to your own version of victory. Naturally, multi-player and network play will be supported.
Hammer of the Gods might rival any lesser game in terms of replay value. By giving each of the four factions a different victory condition, the designers have essentially given us four major "scenarios," each broken down by the many quests (each in themselves scenario "set-pieces"), each of which may be completed in DOZENS of ways! Truly, Hammer of the Gods is an environment in which a bold king might carve his OWN empire his OWN way . . .
The major game area is a map of ancient Scandinavia – although there is also an excellent random map generator that will add even more replay value. Like other games of this type, Hammer of the Gods requires exploration. You begin by recruiting and moving out parties of warriors to attack nearby coastal hamlets and eventually town. When you get rich enough, you can field larger parties – and ships.
When you attack and successfully take a settlement, you are given the option to raid, plunder, or raze it . . . some sites may also be suitable for taking as your OWN city by planting colonists from the raiding party. Each option gives you varying degrees of wealth, and does varying degrees of damage to the settlement. By making only light raids and plunder against the cities around you, you can keep a steady income without actually cutting off the hand that feeds you. But eventually – conquest calls.
The game supports an impressive engine for diplomacy with the other factions – you can offer trades of anything for anything else. For instance, you might offer knowledge of a corner of the map unknown to your foe in exchange for a peace treaty, or offer up one of your sons as a hostage. You can likewise trade peace for gold, or increased trade for knowledge . . . any combination can be offered, and will be considered by the AI (or live opponents, if you have some handy!).
You can direct battles individually on the battlefield. The tactical-level game is beautiful; every motion is displayed and the thunk of every arrow is heard. Towns and monasteries often have walls which will appear on the map, but an impressive enough invader might inspire them to sally forth beyond them . . .
The eventual goal is to make your way up the many branches of the quest-tree, moving toward your victory condition and keeping peace and trade running as smoothly as possible. Depending on your personal goal, "conquest" might not be your best course of action – although military might of some sort never hurts. . . The variety is astonishing, and the interface (familiar to those who are fond of Merchant Prince) is very friendly. On EVERY score, Hammer of the Gods looks to be . . . divine.