Review - Hammer of the Gods (DOS, 1994)

In late 1993, QQP released a game called Merchant Prince. It was a strategy game, designed by a crew from Georgia that called themselves Several Dudes Holistic Gaming. It was a terrific trading game with overtones of political intrigue. It got universally good reviews and sold very few copies.

Flash forward to 1994. Several Dudes, now having gone respectable and changed their name to Holistic Designs, Inc. (HDI), release a new game through New World Computing based on an updated Merchant Prince engine. Hammer of the Gods doesn't involve amassing great wealth OR conquering huge tracts of land. Rather, you control the ruler of one of the four races of Midgard (Earth): humans, elves, dwarves and trolls. Each of these worthies aspires to become the chosen of Odin the All-Father. To do so, you must complete a series of quests for the lesser Norse gods, progressing along a tree, until you can perform a quest for Odin himself. The first player to complete this task wins the game and is named the Hammer of the Gods.

To complete your quests, you must send troops out to explore, raid enemy cities, start new colonies, and defeat monsters. Each race has access to two basic unit types – Viking swordsmen and Viking archers – as well as a special unit type and a racial hero. All of these units are nicely summarized on a laminated card included with the game – a very welcome touch, and one which other software publishers would do well to emulate.

Each time you complete a quest, the god who gave it to you will reward you for your accomplishment. Rewards often include heroes and special troops, but will sometimes include map information, magic items, or spells.

If this sounds a bit strange, be forewarned: it is. If you're used to strategy games where you're forced to juggle the production of the 25 cities you control, it's easy to feel that there's not enough to do in Hammer of the Gods. In order to enjoy the game, you really need to take it at face value. You're not building an empire per se, but rather trying to prove that you are the most worthy servant of the gods. There aren't a ton of pieces to move around. Nor must you manage your cities in any great detail. However, the game IS entertaining; the order in which you choose to complete the quest tree has a great deal to do with whether you win before one of the other players

A word about the other players is in order. You can play against three computer foes of varying intelligence, three humans, or any combination thereof. When other humans are involved, you can play on one machine, play over a network using Netbios, play by e-mail, or play by modem. These are fast becoming the norm for strategy games, but it's worth mentioning that Hammer of the Gods does all of these things, and handles them well.

One final thing that should be pointed out is that Hammer of the Gods is relatively short. You can complete a game in a day or two with moderate playing (a few hours a day). Depending on how many quests you skip, it's possible to shoot up the quest tree directly to the final quest after only 10 lesser ones. This will make the last quest harder to complete, but will make the game very quick. This, combined with the low volume of items requiring your attention each turn, may make this a more appealing game to the entry-level strategy gamer than the hard-core enthusiast.

I only have one major complaint with Hammer of the Gods, and that is with its graphics. I don't mean the artwork itself – that's lovely, and the 640x400 resolution makes me wish other developers would smarten up and start using SVGA for all their strategy games. No, I'm talking about the graphics routines. On the main map screen, it takes FOREVER for ships to move, particularly when they travel diagonally. Also, pop-up dialog and message boxes are drawn in a very strange way: they are constructed right over the working screen. Unless you have a fast machine and a really fast video card, you can see the game blanking the background, dropping in dialog box objects, drawing the borders, etc. I would've liked to see these things constructed off-screen and then swapped onto the display – but seeing that a full screen in 256 colors takes up almost 2 MB, I can forgive this problem. What I DO find unforgivably annoying, however, are the "mouse turds" that crop up after a while. It seems like after a few combats, the mouse sprite starts to pick up bits of the screen and move them. These linger, cluttering up the screen and interfering with your ability to play the game. According to New World's tech support, they are aware of this problem, only occurs with mice that aren't 100% Microsoft compatible, it wasn't enough to delay shipping the game, and they are working on a fix. If so, I can't wait; I enjoy the game immensely, but the mouse glitches eventually get so bad, the game is unplayable. You have to save the game, drop to DOS, and restart about every ten turns. I am eagerly awaiting a patch to fix this problem, because I am looking forward to playing this game extensively in the near future.

Download the demo for Hammer of the Gods