Commonly abbreviated as TA:K or TAK, this Real Time Strategy is the follow-up of the successful Total Annihilation made by the now-defunct company Cavedog Entertainment, and sadly, Needs More Love. The latter's setting, centered around mechs and vehicles and never showing humans, had been chosen partly because it had been thought that the much-admired 3D engine was not capable enough to depict them. Later, however, improvements made TA:K possible.TA:K has number of differences separate from its predecessor. Firstly, it is set in a magical-fantasy world called Darien rather than a Grim Dark science fiction future; secondly it has four sides rather than just two(The expansion adding a fifth one); thirdly said sides' units were very divergent, rather than almost every Arm and Core unit having a direct other-side analogue as in Total Annihilation. TAK also introduced mana batteries and multiple selectable attacks.TA:K was not as successful as Total Annihilation, and parent company Cavedog shut down due to bankruptcy shortly after the release of its Expansion Pack, The Iron Plague. However, the game enjoys a strong fan community and its versatile engine led to many mods and new side additions - probably the best-known fan-created side is the Azurians.The Plot: All-powerful magicianGaracaius conquers a fair portion of land and gains immortality. Of which he soon grows bored of (relatively speaking), and gives all of said lands and power to his children to rule over with artifacts and 'lodestones' that harvest mana and disappears. Needless to say, the siblings soon end up fighting over both. Drama Ensues when the Steam Punk Creonites enter the fray and take the quest of wiping out all magic. Who turn out to be trainees of Garacaius who learned and taught science in his exile. Oops.
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Elsin, Neutral Good Mage King of Aramon has your stereotypical medieval country with castles, farms, wizards, evil, backstabbing nobles and all the intrigue that comes with the package. Aramonian bases are well-known for their amazing ability to protect themselves, without much effort put into supervision; letting an Aramon player to build up a decent fortress in multiplayer will likely lead either to a long stall, or a fast and easy win for the iron-clads. Aramon also possesses the strongest army aside from that of Creon, to compensate for their almost nonexistent air and water unit repertoire. Allied with Veruna.
Kirenna, also Neutral Good Sea Mage of Veruna, a Roman-Italian-Scottish-and-whathaveyou nation spread over numerous small islands, has the most powerful naval force in the game under her command, only challenged by the Creonite fleet. They also perform suprisingly well on the land, despite most of their troops being pushovers and Glass Cannons, but only have a handful nigh-useless air units. Allied with Aramon.
Lokken, the very Lawful Evil Necromancer of Taros rules over a barren wasteland, which has more undead, demons and other monstrosities to it than anything else. His armies are balanced on all sides and employ brutal force for a living, along with amusing amounts of collateral damage, and, as such, the best suited for offensive approach, yet, if handled carelessly, can prove quite self-destructive. Defense isn't really their thing, and the speed of progression is largely dependent on management, making new players somewhat weak against early rushes and very weak against Creonites who advance to double the power during that time. Allied with Zhon.
Thirsha, True Neutral Huntress of Zhon, rules over a savage, wild land inhabited by primitive tribals and monstrous beings who worship her as a goddess. The army, or more accurately, the entire population of Zhon is the most versatile, presenting a great variety of troops among which are the best of their kind, and the winged beasts of war they employ are unmatched, except by, of course, Creon. Their utter ignorance of the concept of basic defensive structures such as walls, housing or pretty much anything else aside from magical campfires and totems is somewhat of a drawback, however... Allied with Taros, for some unexplained reason.
And the expansion gives us the nation of Creon, ruled by Lawful Neutral Mendalos The Sage, whose strongly Steam Punk-themed forces can be described as a comfortably paced, impenetrable wall of mass destruction. They were intentionally made more capable in all but the strongest aspects of the other four; abusing their slow advancement is the only way to beat them for sure.
Changes from Total Annihilation
One reason for TAK's failure is that it did not continue some of the trope-aversions its predecessor had been praised for. These include:
Do Not Run with a Gun: Units failed to engage enemies while moving from place to place. Many early fan mods focused on trying to fix this problem.
Palette Swap: There are different terrain designs, but they are purely cosmetically different, as opposed to the original TA's different planets with different characteristics such as varying resource levels and preventing the use of certain units.
Ridiculously Fast Construction: The effect used was similar to the nanolathes from Total Annihilation, but was supposedly meant to indicate being "magically summoned into existence". Fine, except two (three with the expansion) sides were supposed to have an ideological thing about not using magic for mundane things, or at all...
Units Not to Scale: Ships did not appear large enough to transport the units they did, although the effects used when loading units might imply that they were being somehow stored in the magical equivalent of a teleporter.
This game provides examples of the following:
Everything Fades: Not done as consistently as in Total Annihilation, because the corpses of organic units will behave differently to the wreckage of robots. However, non-organic waste such as the statues of units that have been turned to stone will never just vanish on their own.
Fantasy Gun Control: Averted. In fact, it becomes a plot point in the campaign. The video intro for the mission "The Ether's Fury" ends thusly-
"Aramon had discovered the secret...of gunpowder."
Retconned with Iron Plague — it turns out Aramon bought the Gunpowder from Creon. It becomes a plot point for igniting the war with the Creonites.
Friendly Fireproof: Especially with magic attacks, which have a tendency to destroy your own side as well if you're not careful.
No Canon for the Wicked: Averted in a very strange way (and one not very popular with fans) — all the missions are canon, but unlike e.g. Starcraft where one campaign follows the next, instead the player plays a mission as Aramon, then one as Taros, and so on...including at least two cases where he first has to command one side and win a battle, then take over the other one and undo his previous victory.
After the End: Technically the setting is this, with the 'End' being when the Kandrans' use of magic caused an apocalypse that, among other things, broke a continent in half to produce the later Aramon and Zhon. However, as it was more than 4000 years before the present day, there is little sign of it, except on some Zhon maps which feature the ruins of old Kandran buildings.
An Ice Person: Not in the game itself, but the fan-made Azurian side consists mostly of a race of ice people.
All There in the Manual: The manual, that is, and also a lot of background information in the form of HTML files on the CD. Those who read it all were surprised (especially given the previous Total Annihilation's scant storyline) to find that the background of Darien was at least as well developed as WarCraft's Azeroth was at the time.
One story in particular deals with a Verunan sailor who explored Zhon looking for a MacGuffin and managed to defeat three Jungle Orcs and a Shaman using only a sword; those who know those units' capabilities will immediately mark him out as a true Badass Normal.
Awesome, but Impractical: The four original sides each have a 'Sacred Dragon' super-unit which is rather disappointingly weak for its cost, build time and unique status. A more direct analogue of Total Annihilation's Krogoth was the god of each nation, which (after the 3.0 patch, formerly they had appeared randomly in multiplayer games) could only be built by the nation's monarch and took one hour to construct.
Death Is Cheap: It is possible to restore units to life from corpses, statues or ice figures, but only Elsin (the Aramonian monarch) can do it. Other factions can turn corpses into something living, but never resurrect the original: Dark Priests of Taros can convert corpses into Ghouls and Dark Hands convert them into Liches, Creon Chief Engineers can turn them into Automatons, and Zhon can use their Spirit Wolves to animate the fallen as Risen Wolves. Only Veruna, as usual, is left out of the party.
Elemental Nation; Aramon is Earth, Veruna is Water, Taros is Fire, Thirsha is Air, and Creon would be Steel.
Elemental Powers: Garacaius' four children, the monarchs of the four original sides, embody the four classical elements. Respectively: Elsin of Aramon is Earth (or Stone); Kirenna of Veruna is Water; Lokken of Taros is Fire; Thirsha of Zhon is Air (or Wind). Another four qualities quoted about them are Honour, Hope, Terror and Vengeance. Three guesses which two consist of the good guys and which two are the baddies.
Enemy Exchange Program: Possible for each side except Veruna and Creon. Aramon can have Elsin resurrect the corpses of enemy builders to build another side's units for them, while Taros and Zhon can directly mind-control enemy builders with their Mind Mages and Harpies.
Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Veruna is very Greek in the look of its terrain, the design of its ships, its architecture, some of its unit designs...
Taros is like Feudal Japan set in Mordor, it has zombies, ghosts, with Warriors, Necromancers and Warlocks in Samurai and Shogun attire.
Kill It with Fire: Lots of Tarosian units are attacking with fire, including their monarch. Aramonian mage archers have secondary attack "Tracking arrow" which apparently shoots arrows set on fire. Elsin's secondary attack "Meteor" might also count.
All 4 dragons have the same primary attack - Fire breath
Kill It with Ice: Aramon acolyte's "Hail Shower" attack, and Taros weather witch's "Ice Storm". Oddly, water based Veruna doesn't have any units using ice as means of fighting.
Magic Versus Science: The fifth side from The Iron Plague, Creon, is essentially about using Steam Punk science and technology to try and eradicate all magic and magic-users.
The ending involves a rapid peace treaty when the anti-magic and pro-magic factions realize they were founded by the same man.
Magitek: Arguably, the Creonites use some form of Magitek, despite their ideology. However, with the game's economy based on Mana, they really wouldn't be able to compete without it.
Mockumentary: The briefings take their style directly from Ken Burns' The Civil War.
Mook Maker: Zhon doesn't have buildings that produce units. They have units that make other units. This means their whole army is very mobile.
Mordor: Taros is heavily based on the classical fantasy evil country, down to the problem of where the food supplies come from for all the torture chambers and dark castles sitting on the blackened rocks.
No Body Left Behind: Some units, mostly magical, demonic and other such units, fade away when killed instead of leaving a corpse.
Our Centaurs Are Different: An expansion-pack addition to Veruna, somewhat superfluous as they already had two other level-2 ranged units.
Our Dragons Are Different: Each of the original four sides has a single Sacred Dragon super-unit, while Taros has regular dragons piloted by Sky Knights, Zhon has smaller Drake dragons, and Creon has cyborg Neo Dragons.
Our Werewolves Are Different: The expansion introduced Zhon's Spirit Wolf unit, which is a bipedal wolfman with a sword capable of resurrecting corpses as ghostly 'Risen Wolves'.
Our Zombies Are Different: A weak Tarosian melee unit. No real use to a Tarosian player, only exists as an easy enemy to defeat for Aramonian and Verunan players in the single-player campaign.
Pegasus: Aramon's Flying Builder unit, added in the expansion pack.
Posthumous Character: Garacaius was dead long ago but is still a major part in the plot. In Iron Plague his history with Creon is a major factor in the conflict.
Precursors: The Kandrans, a vanished civilisation who first tamed magic and then were destroyed by it. For the first 4000 years after the cataclysm, use of magic was taboo and persecuted.
The Remnant: After Lokken was defeated in the first game, a small band of cultist called The Cult of Lokken still fight to restore Taros's former glory, and they are successful in reviving Lokken from the dead.
Shock and Awe: There are bunch of units that can shoot lightnings or lightning balls, most notably Aramon's and Zhon's monarchs.
Shooting Superman: Turn-to-stone spells do not work on Basilisks (which have the weapon themselves), Stone Giants (which are already made of stone) or zombies (because...they're...dead?). The Creonites' freeze weapon works on some units which "stoning" doesn't and vice versa; the main limitation of the freeze weapon is that it does not work on units with heavy metal armour for some reason.
Status Quo Is God: The sequel Iron Plague ends in the same status the first game began, the four monarch are all alive, and went their own seperate ways.
Strange Bedfellows: In The Iron Plague, the four monarchs and former enemies team up against the Creonite invasion. Also, arguably the original storyline if you know the backstory, given that it says that previously all four kingdoms fought each other, and only recently has a two-against-two mentality developed.
Zhon and Taros are only allied because the two 'good' nations are; they have no goals in common.
Taken for Granite: The Basilisk, the Acolyte's Turn To Stone spell, and the freeze weapons of the Creonites do something similar except that the target ends up as an ice statue.
Unwitting Instigator of Doom: The war on the second game started when a Veruna captain searched for the lost ships carrying the gold to pay Creon. She assumed some Creonite ships were the ones who attacked the ships and engaged the fleet, this sparked the chain of events which result in the whole war.