War of the Jewel is my favorite part of The Dragon Trilogy. I’ve played War of the Jewel twice. The first time I played on easy difficulty a long time ago. The second time I started it on the hard difficulty, but due to a couple of bugs, I was forced to switch to the normal difficulty.
In this review I decided to include spoilers in order to have more freedom in reviewing.
NOTE: I feel kind bad for using the images, since I don’t who to credit for. I didn’t find the sufficient information from the campaign info, but at least should be under CC0 or GPL.
War of the Jewel
The gameplay is much improved over ASoF. There are many contributing factors. The most important factor is the custom AMLA implementation (After Max Level Advancement). What this means is that when your max level unit “levels up”, instead of getting a simple predetermined stat boost, you get to choose one improvement for your character from given alternatives. What advancement options you get depends on the unit, but some options include a new spell, improvements to an existing spell and auras. Only the main character and his friends have custom AMLA implementations; normal units advance as usual.
The custom AMLA is very good, because it gives more depth to the gameplay without increasing complexity. It also connects the story with the gameplay, because War of the Jewel’s story emphasizes protagonists’ growth and learning. In ASoF the supporting characters are closer to high-leveled loyal units with lines in dialogs. In War of the Jewel, each supporting character can become strong if leveled. None of them advance to the point where they become practically invincible like Myra in ASoF, where the AI often surrounds her without attacking.
The custom AMLA is not without its shortcomings. By favoring main and supporting characters over my recruits, I got all advancements before the second half of the game. Another shortcoming is that some of the advancements are far too situational to the point that they seem useless. It’s not always clear either what certain advancements do.
The second major gameplay improvement is the addition of Area of Effect (AoE) spells. AoE spells have really cool effects, and are more effective at eliminating multiple enemies at a time. Most AoE spells sacrifice some health, so they should not be overused. Learning an AoE spell requires lot of leveling, and they are considered impressive outside Netjer-Ta.
The third major gameplay improvement is having less Drakes! The problem with Drakes is that they are both fast and incredibly strong, which requires either a lot of cannon fodder or extremely meticulous planning of each move. Unfortunately though, the drake scenarios of War of the Jewel are / were preceded by few scenarios with game breaking bugs on hard difficulty, which can make it completely impossible to finish the Drake scenarios. This is why I first cheated and then switched to the normal difficulty.
WotJ shares some of its weak points with ASoF. For example, most of the non-elemental units are useless, and so are some of the elementals. There is barely any need for other units in addition to Djinns, Stone Titans, Lava Behemoths and Ethereal Orbs. ASoF on the other hand had many useful Aragwaithi units and dwarves.
Also, it is impossible to return to any previous move in the intro scenario, so I had to resort to manual saves.
Story & atmosphere
The most important part of WotJ for me is the story and the feelings. The very first time I played WotJ and saw Maat’Kare again, I thought in my head: “This is the civilization I built with Myra and her friends”. I was eager to see how its life continued since Myra’s apparent death. And I wasn’t disappointed.
The intro is interesting and exciting. It introduces Menon Hekare, one of the most important characters in the story. From the intro I gathered that he is very powerful and cunning. The intro also explains how Windsong were expelled from Netjer-Ta, and hints how the Maat’Karian society has changed: like many advanced civilizations of the real world, it has become highly politicized; past are the times when the nation was governed by those united by struggle and friendship. And too much time has passed for everyone to respect the dangers of Sky Soul.
The dragon Gidhonus seems almost meaningless in the end though. I wish it would have played a greater role in the story. Its creator tells that it is fueled by the power of Ruby of Fire, but Menon doesn’t hear that or decides to ignore that. While this has serious repercussions, the monster could have been replaced with a murdering thief, and it wouldn’t have changed a thing. An interesting magic-powered dragon is basically wasted.
The first part of WotJ (in the whole story line, it is IV) is very good. I really like how likable Menon is: in addition to being powerful and cunning, he’s caring and supportive – despite being a lich! It’s also very easy to dislike his political opponent, Tewarin Aracyne, who keeps smearing him with half-baked conspiracy theories.
The milieu in this part is very interesting. We see an academy, the political structure, reminders from the past, such as a love poem from Dvalin and Alenya, familiar places and more. And it’s worth reading the unit descriptions, which are very detailed and give information about the society of Maat’Kare.
The group is also much more interesting in WotJ than in ASoF. Each character has their own background, personality, strengths, and the group is much more dynamic. Contrast this to ASoF, where the main character, Myra, is the strongest, and everybody follows her. Other protagonists’ backgrounds don’t matter, except for Dvalin’s, who leads the dwarves.
In WotJ on the other hand characters have varying and detailed backgrounds. Nyx is reluctant at first. However, her combat abilities and knowledge of lands of the vampires are very useful. Though Mahyus seems cold and cynical, he is able to befriend others, and finds a woman, Branwyn. And of course his Umbra powers play a great role. Merwe is bookwormish, alway siding with Akhen, but ultimately respected for her abilities. Atenak leads Maat’Karian rebels. Despite being a commander, she shows her softer side often. One of the scenarios is dedicated to testing mostly her resolve. Sigdral is a dwarf female and a rune magic user, who likes to spend time outside the caves. Unfortunately for her, she loves Argatyr, the king of the Motsoghnir. Branwyn is the last addition to the core group. The story doesn’t imply that she has any significant powers, so it is kind of strange story-wise to give her a strong spell. While I like the character, apparently her most important function in the story is to become Mahyus’ girlfriend so that she can be saved in the next scenario. Nevertheless she demonstrates that she’s not exchanging solitude to servitude.
Finally, the main character himself, Akhen. He’s the kind of guy who at first seems to have nothing special about him. This seems especially upsetting since he’s Myra’s descendant. However, he is virtuous and determined to protect what he holds dear. One of my favorite features in the story is the relationship between Akhen and Nyx. First Akhen shows he cares about her life. Later in a short exchange he gives Nyx new hope and meaning in life. These emotions of being shown care and finding new hope and meaning are something I feel particularly strongly about.
The second part of WotJ (V) is somewhat boring. The worst problem is that it seems somewhat meaningless. It is not hard to guess that Drakes wouldn’t be staying around for long; if they really were even moderately numerous, they could easily wipe out most of the shipwrecked rebels and residents. Their appearance seems like a huge coincidence, and they don’t really bring anything new to the story. While it is interesting to hear how they lost Wesnoth, that could have been covered in the next episode.
The Washraha are generic barbarians, and are annoying to fight against. Most of those scenarios are pretty boring, but amidst them there is a cave scenario that is really exciting and foreboding. Until the very end I feared I would have to confront some extremely dangerous enemy. Though I didn’t have to, the ending is very effective at passing on the suspense. And it is hilarious how that one Chomi companion is always dead wrong. The Washraha scenarios introduce some other important lore related to Akashia, although it’s not yet clear in WotJ.
The most important mission in the second part is gathering allies. However, the way it goes seems very counterproductive. The Windsong refuse. On the way to the next island, rebels are shipwrecked . First they have to save their somewhat weak allies from Drakes. Then they travel deep into enemy territory to assassinate the leader of Washraha, enrage them and face the consequences. While Washraha lose the following battle, they are far from being defeated. So the rebels and their new allies leave the island, while knowing that the Chomi left behind are in a great danger. They find new allies, Folk of Woods, but have to fight Skironians and some minor enemies first (not that I’m complaining about fighting Skironians; meetings with lich lords always turn out interesting, especially with Aegaion). All of this happens during a long span of time during which Motsoghnir dwarves are vanquishing Aigathol dwarves and the rebels left behind (i.e. most of them) are losing to Maat’Karian loyalists.
In the end, I didn’t much use for the new allies anyway. I didn’t recruit their units. Giving them their own keeps (AI-controlled preferably) and some lines in dialogs would have made them seem more important.
In the last part of WotJ (VI) protagonist halt the Motsoghnir’s genocide campaign, and topple Menon Hekare. In practically every scenario, the protagonists are forced to kill former allies and citizens, which makes them very sad. The friends are also very happy to see each other again after being separated for a long time. But the happiness of reunion is mixed with a sad relief, because the friends who were left behind earlier, believed the others to have died. The emotions in their reunion are very contagious.
But without a doubt, my favorite part of the story is the scene in Menon’s mind. It’s great to see Akhen meet Menon as he really was for one last time, and a moment of happiness in Menon before he dies, but most importantly, the scene serves as a lesson that is both realistic and beautiful at the same time. How you think it applies to real life is up to interpretation, but if I had to give mine, I would say that don’t deny your feelings, and never believe you’re above emotions. Actually, the whole campaign serves as a warning on what happens when people think they are above others.
Perhaps this is why I also liked Motsoghnir’s genocide campaign. I already saw problems incoming when they were met first time in ASoF. The Motsoghnir were not happy to see elves or humans, and Alenya lived outside their society. I figured that they would resent Alenya’s and Dvalin’s offspring. It is typical for dwarves to be prideful and not able to open themselves to others. Just like in history, societies which believe in their own superiority, and cannot open themselves to others, tend to commit horrific deeds and then eventually suffer a defeat. This resemblance with history is certainly one reason to like Motsoghnir’s genocide campaign. But I feel like the more important reason is the excitement I had to deal with when playing with them and later against them. They are powerful and unpredictable; when they are allies, it feels like they could do something radical at any moment. And they are strong enemies too: unlike most dwarvish enemies in most campaigns, they use both magic and brute force. Motsoghnir scenarios also feature the best audio-visual effects, such as sounds of thunder and “True Darkness”.
Later Akhen decided that it would be best to build their capital elsewhere. It is kind of sad to see the capital in ruins later. On the other hand, the feelings this story causes are the very reason I love it 😉 . Still, I find it little strange that everyone leaves the city. Skironians should be able to find Maat’Karians from the desert anyway, and there are other Maat’Karian cities nearby anyway. Leaving all those cities is just too complicated, especially with all the wounded. They were still at war, so they should expect an attack at any point or at least active spying.
Technically speaking WotJ’s greatest advantage over ASoF from storytelling point of view is that WotJ contains a lot more non-essential dialogs. This is great, because it caused the characters to feel more humane, and they seemed like friend even during missions. I liked the relationship building that happened during these dialogs. Especially Mahyus’ interactions amused me, not to forget the dialog between Akhen and Nyx.
Like in ASoF, the writing is great. The objective quality is very good, and they convey emotions very effectively. If I had to criticize writing somehow, I would say that there were more errors (grammar, wrong words) in WotJ than in ASoF. Most of the encountered errors should be fixed already though. The second minor issue is that occasionally… the English felt perhaps… slightly too sophisticated? It feels strange to interrupt reading a dialog to check a word from dictionary. And people don’t tend to use sophisticated words when they discuss. I believe they work better in narration, where they can be used to convey meanings and emotions in a precise manner. Somehow I remember this issue better from ASoF though.
The portraits are nice, except for perhaps two of them: grown-up Akhen and Nyx. In my opinion, grown-up Akhen portrait is too muscular and warrior-like. The young Akhen, on the other hand, is clearly a wizard. And I don’t like Nyx portrait, because the huge left eye really sticks out, the mouth looks misplaced, and in general the face lacks character. But having searched through OpenGameArt, I know that there are no real alternatives for Nyx’s portrait (with compatible licenses). (Of course there were some relatively minor characters with worse portraits)
Trivia: The name the leader of the Windsong is called Vappu. In Finnish, Vappu means May Day.