Lionhead are visionary developers and solely responsible for more sleepless nights and torn hair, than most developers on the face of the planet. Peter Molyneux has made quite a few innovations during his time and brought gaming forwards with such titles like Populous and Syndicate. He was responsible for depriving me of much sleep a while ago with Black and White and the addon Creature Isle.
So now here we are in 2005 and Black and White 2 has hit the shops a few weeks ago, the question however I am sure people are wondering is...does the game bring to the table any advances on Black and White?
Your people, the Greeks are in trouble and you are called from the vast depths of space and time to help them by a pure prayer. The Aztecs are laying waste to Eden with their warlike ways and as a newborn god you must follow the path of Good or Evil as you either win the people with mercy or frighten them with tyranny.
If you're familiar with the previous game then you'll be able to jump into B&W 2 without too much trouble, there are also a couple of tutorial islands that'll give you a decent grounding in the skills needed to guide your fledgling creature and people through each of Eden's various different islands.
I'm not going to tread over old ground with the review; if you want to learn about B&W then you're going to have to track down a copy of the game and the expansion. Nothing much has changed in the way that you do things in the sequel, you still have the 'hand' and it's capable of operating within your influence just like the first game. You can pick up trees, rocks, people and so forth just like before.
You're going to be doing one of two things or a mixture in this game: and that's winning people over with impressive building skills or waging bloody war and taking over towns/butchering armies.
What has changed is the way that you now have a town centre rather than a large temple, the town centre displays several things such as the people's desires and their next most wanted building. You can build as a god inside your influence by choosing the construction menu from the toolbar or directly dragging a building plan from the town centre. This little toolbar addition makes getting at all the pertinent information a joy, the interface has been suitably redesigned and everything you need can be accessed quickly with this bar or a hotkey.
You can also drag a building blueprint from another building as it is being constructed, allowing you to quickly create groups of structures with little or no problem. But you should pay attention to the villagers' happiness; if you put too many structures together you can create a slum-like area, or decrease the impressive look of your housing. Icons appear to indicate the current levels of such things, smiley faces in different colours for example: bright green for uber happy and deep red for seriously upset.
While we're dwelling on the subject of building in the game, there are walls now and also roads - these function on a very intelligent system and they will actively try to link up with houses and structures that are close by. Each time you make a new structure your town's impressiveness will raise, if you get a certain amount people from far and wide will want to come and join you in your settlement.
You can click-drag out roads or walls from existing roads or towers and this quick and easy system means you're able to construct some pretty impressive looking places, walls and roads can also be restricted to just straight lines for that Roman look.
Fields will fill to boundaries, the same with meadows and I have to admit that one of the joys of playing the game is town/city construction. It's a simple/clever/effective system that means you don't have to worry too much about details and can build quickly/cleanly on the map.
The more buildings you place, the more impressive your town/city becomes and adding certain buildings gives you more influence, spreading your godly power towards other areas of the map. Black and White 2 is full of new structures, there are also new miracles for you to cast and a new system of control has been implemented for your creature.
There are now more leashes, these are great ways of assigning a role to your creature (of which there is a small and very limited selection this time around) (Ape, Cow, Lion, Wolf with the Tiger being an unlockable available for those that buy the special edition of the game). There are leashes for building, fighting and gathering for example. However these will deplete your creature's free will and turn him from an engaging pet to a dumb as a post machine.
The creature education system has been improved; you can see now what the creature's thinking and what he's planning to do allowing you to quickly reward/punish him. There's also a section upon the toolbar where you can review all the things your creature's found out so far, fine-tuning them by clicking and administering the correct punishment or reward.
The people you have in your village will also go around doing their jobs, some will wander into fields and farm them, and some will go around and mine or gather various resources like wood. Of course as a god you can create dedicated followers to do those things, which means you're free to concentrate on other matters like using your powers to god-build structures, which consumes a little of the resource but builds it a lot faster than your disciple builders.
You can assign your people building roles, foresters, miners, farmers and a few others, need a few more people in your village - assign some breeders and make sure your folk are happy by providing various civic buildings for them, like the tavern and temple. Every action you do in Black and White 2 has something it affects, so if you build a tavern near a mill, expect the mill to suffer in production.
The Good/Evil choices in the new game are fairly well defined and you can see directly what kind of action you're performing, for example rip out a tree...that's evil, put it back and water it with a miracle and that's a bunch of good. You will also see your land/village/creature change depending on alignment.
Just as in the first game your creature will grow as time passes, his body/look changing depending on how much he eats and how much he works out (yep he can weightlift rocks, trees, villagers).
There's a lot more that I could cover but it seems that Peter M has indeed added a bunch of new 'Civilisation' style options/features to the game that allow you to concentrate on being a non-aggressive deity if you desire.
Of course if you're anything like me you'll want to wage war as well, so there's a simple RTS troop system built into the game where you can have soldiers, archers and siege machines to conquer your foes with. Build an Armoury, Ranged Armoury or a Siege engine building and then take a flag from it, drag out a circle and voila you'll recruit your armed forces.
Your armies level up when they're successful in combat and grow stronger; they can also be merged with other similar forces to make bigger/better armies. The RTS/combat element does feel a little tacked on however and will probably only appeal to those fans of such games like Rome: Total War but what you get does its job well enough and provides another option for winning the map.
You can use them to take over towns, select the town you want to assault and then they'll rush there and attempt to take it over. If you're successful you'll have another town to look after and keep happy, this will add to your impressiveness too.
So basically in B&W 2 you can either wage war, take over towns using impressive building skills and leave your armies for defence or mix it up a little. But remember that war is evil and you'll be heading down that road if you use military force.
There are silver scroll challenges and gold scrolls will offer missions that advance the story, when you complete the objectives you'll be awarded a bunch of tribute (currency of the gods) that allows you to buy/improve things from the tribute menu. Need a nice new temple, buy it, want that fire miracle, buy it...want to power up your creature into a lean mean fighting machine, buy it with tribute.
Some of the silver scroll challenges are simple, but some of them are extremely tricky to get to grips with, the rewards are usually worth it and it's wise to check your objectives from the toolbar since there are some hidden ones in each land worth a chunk of tribute.
Bronze scrolls hold tutorial information and are usually very useful to learn from, especially the one that teaches you about another new feature in the game, yep, since you have the power of a god you can change the time of day by clicking on the sky - allowing you to make your slaves...er people...work constantly, or give them a nice long rest.
You're going to need a pretty souped-up machine to get the best out of Black and White 2; we'll make no bones about this right here and now. I tested the game on an FX-5200 and even with that card it looked very good. When I put it on an ATI X800 however I was able to see the graphics at their very best.
The game features some jaw-dropping and impressive graphics using all the new eye candy special effects and twiddles you would expect from next-gen graphics. The islands themselves are gorgeously created and the water looks wonderful, reflecting the stars at night and the dance of the sun during the day. The buildings are nicely made and each tribe has its own distinctive style, with everything turned up full there are so many little touches you miss if you don't have a powerful card.
You get fields and grass, fur on your creature and even tiny ants when you zoom in with the camera, which now zooms in and out further than before. The fields fill with crops and the whole game comes to life with vibrant colours.
The shadows and lighting in the game are another nice point, they really do enhance the world and the system can be seen at work when you alter the day/night as a god, the sweep of long shadows as night falls or the blaze of the sun across the sea in the morning is truly superb.
The creature steals the show with its animations, capable of many facial expressions and motions it comes to life before your eyes. It's also a pretty good dancer and each creature has an individual way of doing things, which calls on the powerful animation engine. As for the rest of the world/units and other features, the animation is as we would expect from the developers - good stuff.
The maps are all well put together, fairly big and some of the islands will take you a while to conquer. If you want to earn all the tribute and find all the secrets you should be spending quite a time on each island, since there are numerous Easter eggs hidden around on the levels.
Overall the level design is cohesive and effective. I am more than pleased with the challenges each one offers and the overall look is individual enough not to seem like a repeat of the last level.
Villager AI is good enough for them to do the task they're assigned, creature AI is still a bit ropey but a solid improvement upon the first game. Your creature actually seems to learn a lot better now and doesn't have as many stupid moments, its also an engaging AI and capable of some nice little tricks, actions. Soldier AI is a little dumb and lets the game down in the wargame aspect to be honest, they could have spent some more time fine-tuning both the player's soldiers' AI and the enemy AI. I have seen enemy AI just sit there and leave a defenceless town alone while it let me build walls and fortifications.
When your creature learns about battle and the use of miracles, he will try his best to adapt to the current situation. He will cast offensive miracles and try to optimise his attacks onto the most dangerous units first, this behaviour is a vast improvement over the other game and while it still needs significant tweaking it certainly proves that Lionhead have been listening to their fans.
The sound in the game is great; the world comes alive with subtle ambient audio as well as the clash of steel in battles, the roar of flames from a fireball miracle and many other effects. Black and White 2 has no problems in the spot effects, ambient or the myriad of other audio effects in the game. It uses the latest in EAX technology and compliments the graphics completely.
A nice score accompanies the game and that's all I can really say, nothing truly stands out but its nice music to listen to.
Lionhead are more than willing to camp things up, if you ever saw the Boat Builders and their song in the first game, you'll know what I mean. B&W 2 is no different and their voice actors are excellent, they bring to the table quirky characters and a myriad of accents. My only gripe is that I wish I could shut the Norse guy up, since as a god all I have to do is concentrate and I can hear his thoughts.
After several repeats of: I hate these Greeks or, who do these Greeks think they are? I wanted to kill him and raze his lands to ashes.
Apart from that the voice acting in the game is top notch.
Perhaps in a patch, but for now all that B&W 2 offers is Singleplayer and no skirmish/sandbox mode.
Black and White 2 had several game disrupting bugs at release but Lionhead released a patch at launch, this patch was not compatible with previous save games but fixed a number of things that needed fixing. For a list of bugs and additions, find the patch on Lionhead's Website
But my gripes are firmly focussed on the lack of Skirmish and MP modes, not to mention the poor RTS style game element and AI for the troops. You can often trick them by getting them stuck in walls for instance and then raining fire down on their heads, not really a good challenge. The official forums are full of threads like this, so it's not just only me that thinks this way. Black and White 2 is still a good game and well worth getting if you liked the original or you want something a little different. I had a few problems with dodgy creature AI at one point but the AI in general is a lot better than the previous game so I am willing to let them off with that one.
Pros: Great graphics, comedy, expressive audio and excellent interface with good quality RTS style building. Better creature AI.
Cons: Singleplayer only, no Skirmish/Sandbox mode, poor RTS wargame element and ropey RTS AI. Opponent leader/god AI is poor. Limited creature choice.