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Let’s get this out of the way: Black & White 2 is a disappointment.
Call it the Lionhead effect: the way previews, presentations and developer interviews promise the Earth, then the final game arrives and things don’t work out quite as everyone hoped. Admittedly, since Fable, the Lionhead hype machine has quietened down, but Black & White 2 still promised the perfect combination of creature-raising god game and RTS. After all, wasn’t that why they hired Blizzard-veteran Ron Millar?
Sorry, but if you’re after a next-generation RTS, this isn’t it. Nor is it as visionary a game as the original. Clearly, a decision was made to make the Black & White sequel less frustrating and more accessible. As a result, it’s actually a lot more conventional: a game that for much of the time plays like a fantasy spin on the ancient city-building sim. The RTS elements are surprisingly basic, the creature-training has arguably been watered down, and a little of the magic has been lost. It’s no wonder that Black & White 2 has had such a kicking in the specialist games press.
You see, this time the focus is very much on winning lands. You pop up with a scattering of people, there’s another god, and it’s your job to resolve the conflict. In tune with the game’s moral focus, there are two core ways of doing this. The good way, as pushed by your friendly angelic advisor, is to build a culture so magnificent that your rival deity’s followers will up sticks and join you. Add temples, lamps, universities, nurseries, graveyards, and other public amenities, and they’ll start looking on your people with envy.
The evil way, as promoted by the foul-looking fiend sitting on your other shoulder, is to raise enormous armies and crush your enemies. In true Black & White fashion, the path you take affects the landscape: it’s either sweet summer flowers or magma everywhere you look. And if you really want to push things either way, there are buildings you can add that directly affect your city’s balance. After all, most evil deities aren’t too fussed about providing retirement homes, while just rulers don’t often hold with torture pits.