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Fog of War

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I don't understand why it is always so overcast in this game.

You glance through the mist obscuring the battlefield (there always seems to be mist on a battlefield — some say it's to obscure the parts that haven't finished loading yet, but you don't know what that means).

The expression, not to be confused with the 2003 war documentary about Robert S. MacNamara, The Fog of War.

A feature of many Strategy Games that keeps the player from seeing everything that happens on the game map by limiting their knowledge of "enemy" units and movements to those areas where they have (or have recently had) units of their own. Some games enhance the effect by having a "partial" fog over areas that the player's explored at least once, but without any units in range at the time to observe.

While this is a realistic limitation, many players find it irritating and restrictive, often because the AI driving the other side is usually not likewise handicapped. Turning off the fog of war is thus one of the more popular Cheat Codes a game could have, or for that matter it can easily be an option to turn it off without any kind of cheat code.

This exists in Real Life, in the sense that you need to have someone or some sensor observing the enemy in order to actually know their whereabouts. However, generally when someone talks about the fog of war they mean the sense of confusion created in one's mind when subjected to the chaos of combat. Usually they're talking about commanders making or trying to make decisions while sorting through the morass of time — late, conflicting, and rushed reports with limited time in which to act. The stress of getting shot at doesn't help. To quote an old saying: "Order, counter-order, disorder."

A Sub-Trope of Weather of War, see also Defog of War on abilities and items that help lessen this.


    open/close all folders 

  • The most recently-added Veteran Reward in City of Heroes is a power that allows one to completely remove the Fog of War from any map. However, it has the drawbacks of taking a moment or two for the map to load in instanced missions, and the fact that the fog of war can acually be beneficial in telling which parts of a map have been explored and which haven't.

  • Philophobia interestingly implements a fog of war system in a 2D Platformer, blacking out any part of the map that is not in the player character's line of sight.

    Real-Time Strategy Games 
  • Achron has an interesting variation, because the fog only blocks vision of units. You can still hear units in the fog, and you can see crates and particle effects from weapons. This is explained that the units are actually camouflaged so they can only be seen at short distance.
  • The Age of Empires games have the standard Fog, and also include Shroud, representing that you have not explored an area and have no idea of the landscape. Unlike Fog, Shroud remains gone once the area is explored (as you now know the landscape), and will not come back.
  • The Command & Conquer games (And their Dune-based predecessors) include a common building, the Outpost (or "Command Center") which allows one to see the radar screen, which views everything not in the (unexplored) shroud. Power requirements must be met to keep the outpost working. But this means the fog of war is lifted in all explored areas of the battlefield.
    • In C&C Generals, the radar screen only sees enemies in the line of sight of units on the field. It's built into the USA and China (with an upgrade) command centers and still requires power. The GLA have a special vehicle (and don't contend with power at all).
    • Also some of the C&C games give players access to units and structures that can create fog of war through either radar jamming or large-scale cloaking fields.
      • Which have the unfortunate tendency to backfire by creating conspicuous areas on the map that look like fog of war but move like enemy units.
      • Not to mention there is always some sort of equipment that reveals part of or the entire map. If your opponent tried to reveal only a portion of your base, and it gets recovered, he just found out where your base is. If he revealed the entire map (and the Allies usually had both the Gap Generator and the Outpost that revealed the entire map), now he has a giant black dot on his screen broadcasting where he should aim that nuke. To top it off, savvy players can easily pinpoint where the generator is by finding the center of said dot, and aiming in the general area usually means you hit something important.
      • Allied players however, tend to also place Gap Generators in completely random and pointless locations, leading to wasted nukes.
    • Red Alert:
      • The Allies also had a Radar Jammer, which would temporarily stop the opponent's Radar Dome from working if it got within range. Unsurprisingly its range is pathetically short.
      • The Soviets have access to the Spy Plane superpower that removes FOW in a small area, while the Allies can build a Tech Center that gives them vision of the ENTIRE map a few minutes after construction.
      • The Remastered version gives the option of having FOW regrow when there isn't a unit to provide line-of-sight as with most modern RTS games.
    • Red Alert 3:
      • Fog of War regrows wherever your units aren't. It's also cleared away over certain special units, like superweapons and Kirovs using their boost ability. Support powers and superweapons can't be used on area in FOW... unless, of course, you're the AI, who gets to dump unblockable one-shot kills on your units without even a token effort at having a spotter.
      • While the minimap is available from the start, an infiltrator going into a Construction Yard or outpost will short it out for a long time.
    • In Tiberian Sun and its sequel Tiberium Wars, Nod can build stealth generators which are actually usable, since you can effectively hide your units and bases while still letting your opponent explore the area. It's hilariously useless in a game with AI, as the AI will gladly build walls and pavement around it (which are NOT cloaked) and can see invisible units. When you're wandering around a suspiciously well-kept concrete fort, you know where to aim that nuke.
      • Swings back again to pitifully useless in Tiberium Wars, as the generators themselves do not cloak and cannot be cloaked in any way whatsoever. Since everything else is cloaked, the enemy easily knows what to shoot now.
      • That's to mess with the heads of human opponents; make them think there are bases in places where they aren't.
  • Commandos plays the trope in reverse — only the enemy is affected by fog of war, as they cannot see your commandos unless specifically looking at their direction, while you (the player) can pretty much see the entire map and every enemy in it from the very start of the mission. The whole point is to plan your assault in advance, based on the enemy's repetitive scouting routes.
  • Conquest Earth integrates the fog of war with the story and game play, as special units must manually clear the atmosphere on each map.
  • Dark Reign was one of the first games to use complex fog of war, making it possible to set ambushes by hiding below cliffs, in depressions in the ground, behind hills, etc.
  • The original Dawn of War made heavy use of the this, even detailing it by this name in the tutorial.
  • PC example: DEFCON: Everybody Dies only allows you to see enemy units that enter within range of your and your allies' radar. You cannot tell where the enemy's defensive units are unless you send some offensive units within radar range — which allows both sides to see each other.
  • You can only see what your units see in GrimGrimoire, though you eventually gain a spell called Clairvoyance that allows you to (temporarily) lift the fog of war.
  • Harpoon, has realistic fog of war, which is to say knowledge of (for example) bandits (or bogeys) is limited by how they are detected; a contact ping on radar may just give distance, bearing and heading. A visual sighting might be necessary to determine its nationality and intent. more... 
  • The Homeworld series features three dimensional fog of war, with special units such as Recon ships and Sensor Arrays that extend the range your ships can detect, or even lift the fog of war for your side completely. These units are a prime target for human opponents.
  • This is province based in Knights of Honor, you can see what's happening in the entire province once your marshall crosses the border. Also applies to your spies in enemy courts, depending on what they are employed as.
    • If employed as a marshal the same rules apply as for your own marshals.
  • Neptune's Pride has Fog of War turned off by default, but it can be enabled by turning on Dark Galaxy mode in the game creation options.
  • Outpost 2, which was more of a city-builder with RTS elements and predates a lot of the early examples, didn't have it at all. The player's view was real-time from space, so any activity at the enemy base was totally in-view. The only things that were hidden were enemy units moving at night with their lights off; they were visible, but they wouldn't show up on the Mini Map.
  • ParaWorld quite literally has a fog of war - the areas that aren't within sight range of your units are covered in fog, obscuring enemy units and leaving only wild animals and enemy buildings visible. This has the unfortunate effect of slowing the game down, so it's usually more desirable to turn it off.
  • Sins of a Solar Empire: Planets and the legal phase jumps between them have to be explored. A ship or building provides intel for the entire gravity well, but planets without a presence will only show your most recent intel. The TEC faction any factions can also research the ability to detect incoming ships from one or two phase jumps away. Vasari's 8th level tech (super tech) can detect jumps from anywhere in the map.
    • The Advent also have Fog-of-War-reducing Culture abilities.
    • You can share intel about ships and planets with enemy factions. It goes both ways.
    • It's interesting to know what's going on from scout frigates and can be incredibly useful in the early game, but after a certain point any planet's defensive emplacements would rip a scout apart if you weren't microing that sucker. But by that time, you tend to not need much intel, and what you do need, you can get by pushing into his systems with fleets instead of scouts.
  • Its inclusion in Force Commander, a Star Wars RTS, was a big sticking point — among many. Since all units are landed from orbit, it is hard to believe no one thought to take even a single satellite photo of at least the terrain.
    • Cloudy weather.
  • Justified in Star Wars: Empire at War with infantry sight ranges and vehicle sensor (or whatever) ranges, as not having it in effect at all would make it easy for any faction to simply abuse bombing runs, orbital bombardments or planetary defense cannons without directly engaging the enemy. The partial version of this trope is in effect even at the start of battles, meaning you know what the map itself looks like, but you won't know exactly what your enemy is up to. On some ground maps, specific weather effects can drastically reduce sight range (specifically falling volcanic ash and snowstorms). However, there are various ways to reduce the Fog of War, such as building Sensor Nodes (passively removes the fog within a large radius of the node), claiming abandoned Sensor Arrays/Satellites (lifts the Fog across the whole map as long as it is controlled), and spotter units' "Sensor Ping" ability. Only near the end of the battle (and when it's in your favor) does the Fog lift on its own, saving you the trouble of searching for stragglers.
  • In the RTS Total Annihilation, most of the fixed base defenses and artillery units can't even see as far as they can fire, so in order for them to operate effectively, you have to set out patrols of scout units around the perimeter to keep the Fog cleared. Fortunately, the game's excellent command interface makes this a piece of cake, no matter how large or convoluted the perimeter.
  • Also, in the spiritual successor Supreme Commander, this can be taken to extremes — the maps being so much bigger, and many of the weapons having realistic range (one experimental unit has a range of over 100 kilometers), it's possible to bombard positions that are right on the other side of the biggest maps, although the best accuracy is achieved when using either radar or spy planes to provide visual targeting information.
  • The various Warcraft games and their relatives, like Starcraft, except the original Warcraft.
    • The first Warcraft had shroud, but no fog while the second had a simple option to turn it off; Starcraft was the first to consider disabling it cheating.
      • Warcraft III, however, has an option to make the whole map visible from the start. There's still a cheat code to lift it though (iseedeadpeople).
    • Starcraft II gave the Terrans the Sensor Tower, which causes enemy units to show up as blips in the fog of war, without revealing what they are. It shows up as a honking big circle on everyone's minimap though.
  • Wargame: European Escalation and its sequels handle this in probably the most realistic way possible; the entire map is visible from the start, but there is no way to see enemy units unless you have one of your units in a position to observe them. And if your observer doesn't have the right sensors or the competence (represented by an "optics" score), or the enemy is particularly good at hiding (represented by a "stealth" score), you may not even be able to get a good idea of what the unit is, just that it happens to be there. As one might imagine, good recon units are some of the most valuable units available, and a large part of every battle revolves around trying to get your own scouts into good positions while killing every enemy recon unit you can find as soon as possible.

    Role-Playing Games 
  • Deus Ex: Mankind Divided: The hacking mini-game features a fog of war. Unlike in HR, you cannot view the whole system at once. Areas have to be discovered.
  • In Fallout 2, your character can moan about the fog-like effect your PipBoy demonstrates when you haven't explored an area.
  • Night battles in Girls' Frontline restrict your ability to see enemy units on the map, and prevent you from deploying units on helipads that are out of sight. Echelons with at least one Handgun unit can see adjacent nodes, the Illumination Fairy can grant up to two extra nodes of vision when sufficiently leveled, and capturing a radar node lets you see two nodes away from it.
  • The definitive feature of the Japan only Game Boy Color game Kakurenbo Battle Monster Tactics, which is expected when you realize that the term "kakurenbo" means "hide and seek." Only the first battle DOESN'T use fog.
  • Kingdom Hearts II has a Heartless called the Illuminator whose only ability is to create this. The problem? You're fighting Barbossa. He's invincible until you take down the Illuminator, which can respawn.
  • Done partially in Ogre Battle, where you can't see enemies unless they're close to you. How close depends on the angle.
  • Project Zomboid uses a bird's-eye Isometric Projection, but the fog of war is reintroduced by way of a sophisticated "lighting" system. The light level of each map tile is constantly recalculated based on light sources, the player's sightline, and any perception impairments (e.g., panic). The same system shows or hides nearby zombies, while map tiles that have never been viewed are completely black. This can make exploring a building with narrow corridors, many rooms, and closed doors quite tense, while navigating a dense forest at night can be absolutely terrifying.
  • While this is not the default case in Telepath Tactics, it is a possible setting for maps. In the campaign, the maps for assassinating Gulch and exploring the ruins both use this feature.

    Shareware Games 
  • Carr Software's Capture The Flag allowed for two levels of Fog-of-War. One let you see changes in any sector of the map you have previously seen. Two other only lets you see changes in sections of the map that your active players could see.

    Simulation Games 
  • Even Dwarf Fortress has a fog of war of sorts. Unlike most examples, it's underground.
  • Football Manager is a non-wargame example. Players you or your scouts do not know about have no visible attributes, and need to be scouted a couple of times to reveal how good they are. After a period of time, the fog descends again and attributes gradually become hidden. Famous players and frequent opponents are always fully visible.
  • The naval warfare simulator PT Boats Knights Of The Sea has this on two levels, first there's the range at which ships can detect (and usually engage) enemy units, as shown in the map screen, but in addition there's also literal fog limitting visual contact in the first and third person views available.

    Third Person Shooters 
  • Super Animal Royale uses a shadow effect to block your view of enemies and items behind walls and trees; however, other than that, you can see in all directions, except at night when you're reliant on your flashlight.

    Tower Defense Games 
  • In Plants vs. Zombies, you have to deal with it throughout all of World 4, with the fog getting worse with each level. In 4-10, they go all-out and just replace the fog with a Blackout Basement level.

    Turn-Based Strategy Games 
  • Battle for Wesnoth has either partial or complete fog on specific maps. How far your units can see through it depends on their maximum movement range, making scout units useful not only for exploring and claiming villages but also for detecting enemy ambushes.
  • The turn-based Civilization games (including kissing cousin Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri) use a Fog of War; one of the diplomatic options available is trading your explored map knowledge with other cultures.
    • One particularly realistic aspect of Civilization IV's fog is that, though most of your units are removed from an enemy's territory when you declare war, submarines are not. This makes subs the best passive scouts in the game.
    • Also, in Civ-series games, launching your first satellite will remove the Fog of War once and for all. Spysats rule!
      • In Civ IV, they only do this once (when you discover the Satellite technology), but not for all.
    • Additionally, if you founded a religion and that religion is in a city, you can see that city and the immediate area, the same is true as you increase your spy points with a civ. You can even steal the location of all military units, though it is only good from that turn.
      • This system was reworked for the Beyond the Sword expansion - owning the religion's holy city (where it was founded) no longer entitles you to automatic line of sight of a rival city with that religion. Rather, espionage now has its own points system (among them, accumulating a certain amount of points entitles you to look at known rival cities).
  • Disgaea's multiplayer mode has this as an option because at higher levels, attacks tend to become One Hit Kills. Without a fog, players would likely just hang around just outside the enemy's range until the opponent makes a mistake or they start throwing each other around.
  • The Fire Emblem series, starting with Thracia 776, has maps with fog. It can be literal fog, nighttime darkness, or in some cases other weather effects (up to blizzards and sandstorms), but it functions with the same fog-of-war rules as Advance Wars, sans units being able to hide on certain terrain. In some of the games, Thieves and classes coming from them (like Assassins and Rogues) get to see much farther in the fog, and sometimes you can get Torches and Torch staves to temporarily dissipate the fog/darkness. (Enemies will have no trouble hunting you down in that darkness, though.) Every single one of these is met with groans of disgust by the disgruntled fans.
    • Even though it introduces Fog of War, Thracia has some oddities like making the fog literally pitch black, covering both units and the map, meaning that you cannot navigate the map and what it looks like. Unlike other maps, they are usually relegated to side chapters save for one. Also, thieves do not provide any vision bonus unlike other games.
    • As if lampshading this, Fire Emblem: The Blazing Blade gives fog of war levels their own Leitmotif - a dreary dirge, "Shadow Approaches".
  • In Gadget Trial, all missions have fog of war engaged, and there's no option to disable it. The enemy also is completely unaffected by it. This is compensated for by the fact that the enemy is really, really stupid.
  • Galactic Civilizations: you can see systems on the map but not precisely where they are until you send a ship there, plus if you don't have a ship in or near a system you'll only be able to see enemy ships that are in orbit around a planet. There's even a tech tree for expanding how far you can see through the interstellar void. Luckily, it also affects the enemy, and one fun tactic is to keep fast-moving troop transports out of a soon-to-be enemy's line of sight, then launch a smash and grab with a massive battlefleet carving through their defenses to open a space for the troopship.
  • Heroes of Might and Magic: The adventure map is covered in a fog of war that obscures everything, although in the first three games once you've explored it you can see everything that happens in the area for the rest of the game. There is a map object and special structure for Necropolis called the Cover of Darkness, which covers the area in fog of war for your opponents until they explore it again. Starting with the fourth game, there is a light fog of war on areas that are explored but have no friendly units, where you can see the terrain but not any units moving through.
  • Jagged Alliance 2 has a partial fog of war. After exploring a sector on the map, any enemy movement through that sector is quite visible. However, you will not know the strength or size of the enemy group until it comes within range of your militia (or attacks you). This is changed somewhat with much later mods, where enemies may be completely invisible on the map until spotted by a militia unit.
  • In Master of Orion II the planetary systems on the map are all visible from the beginning, but the actual planets in each system cannot be seen until explored. Likewise, ships of other races cannot be seen if they are outside scanner range. The right leader or racial ability will reveal planets and their ownership. Curiously, the color of the stars tell the player what kinds of planets they're likely to have.
  • Certain levels in the strategy-card game Metal Gear Ac!d and its sequel were in 'Search Mode', which allowed you to see terrain and items but not enemies — until you were standing very close to them. Thankfully, there are multiple cards which extend your range of eyesight. Not so thankfully, getting hit by an enemy in Search Mode renders you completely blind for some reason we can only guess at. While the effect wears off in a set number of turns, you have few ways of fighting back and no idea where to run from to hide, turning you into a sitting duck. The good news is that it completely subverts The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard-type AI; you play in fog of war mode for only a handful of levels. The computer plays in it all the time.
  • Nintendo Wars has had it since Game Boy Wars, but only on certain maps or settings. This fog actually affects AI, since it will ignore units that are hidden in forests, reefs, or just plain not in their vision radius by the fog (except in the first two games for the last part). Recon units have extra vision radius, infantry and mechs get an extra three squares if they're on mountains, and in every game she appears in, Sonja gives all her units extra vision in Fog.
    • The games also have (optional) weather conditions. Rain usually limits the vision further and even adds temporary fog if not present on the battlefield.
    • In a slight twist, the characters talk about it like a physical object and think it's perfectly natural for you to see the entire map one battle and have fog of war the next.
    • Completely justified in Days of Ruin, where it is present as dust kicked up from the meteoric impact which destroyed most of civilization.
    • The AI actually handles fog of war differently in each game:
      • In the GBA Advance Wars titles, the AI had full knowledge of your units, and could attack unhindered; the only way to protect yourself is to hide in forests and reefs, where the AI cannot fire unless they have an adjacent unit (or if Sonja has her COP active).
      • In AW:DS, the AI will maneuver as if omniscient, but has to station a unit to reveal yours before attacking.
      • In Days of Ruin/Dark Conflict, the AI behaves as though fully affected by Fog of War.
    • There's a cheap trick in Advance Wars where you could scout out the map by moving your unit but canceling their order in order to reveal the map. Though risky as they could collide with a hiding unit, it's a way to navigate the fog. However, the developers were aware of this so the unit will still spend their fuel upon moving through fog of war even if the turn wasn't finalized. Days of Ruin/Dark Conflict doesn't used this trick because the unit moves after their order is confirmed.
  • The PC game Peoples General includes a sort of fog of war, where you can see the whole map, but no units except those within sight of your own. Depending on how well you can see them, you will either fully identify a unit, or simply see that there is an enemy unit there but not what type. Since running into an unseen unit leads to devastating ambushes, and since Recon units can help conceal other units, making sure you know where the enemy is is a major part of your strategy.
    • This is also the case in the Panzer General games, which are part of the same franchise.
  • Songs of Conquest: The map has two levels of obscurity: areas that are unrevealed to the player are hidden completely, while revealed areas that are far from Wielders and captured buildings are covered in shadow.
  • In the various Space Empires games, viewing a star system's map only lets you see stars and planets and other stellar bodies. You can't see enemy or neutral units or colonies unless you have a unit or ship of your own in the system.
  • Stars! (1995) only provides current information for areas you are currently scanning, but old information is available for previously scanned areas. Much of the early game maneuvering is deploying scout ships to determine the environments of the planets around you so as to decide where to settle.
  • The Total War games suffer from having a fog of war that makes it difficult to learn about major historical events. Apparently Rome would have taken years to find out if Carthage had conquered Egypt, and the English king may have been kept waiting for decades before he found out that the Turks had taken Constantinople and Vienna.
    • You are informed about rather more general events however, like which country in the world that you've never encountered in any form has the largest income or army in the world. Even though you don't know where they are.
    • Thus the reason for having diplomats. Trading maps helps to keep you up on who has conquered who. Also keeping track of whose at war helps.
    • The game also has literal fog of war, because if your battle takes place in rain or early in the morning, there can be fog that makes it difficult to see your enemy.
  • XCOM reveals the terrain as it's explored, but doesn't show which parts are not visible at the moment, while aliens are only visible if they're within your troops' line of sight. After you've explored the entire map, it becomes frustrating trying to find that last alien when you're not even sure where to look. This problem is averted in the reboot, where after a certain number of turns the enemy will come to you.

Non Video Game applications of this trope include:

  • A Real Life example and possible Trope Namer: Carl von Clausewitz, wrote in On War "The great uncertainty of all data in war is a peculiar difficulty, because all action must, to a certain extent, be planned in a mere twilight, which in addition not infrequently ? like the effect of a fog or moonshine — gives to things exaggerated dimensions and unnatural appearance."
    • Clausewitz was referring to both a proverbial and literal fog, the first due to the complex logistics of processing and gathering intelligence, which takes enough time to spoil the freshness of the data, and the second being the amount of dust kicked up by artillery, moving thousand-troop battalions and barrages of black-powder firearms. Contemporary technology has vastly reduced the proverbial fog and plays with (sometimes even invokes) the literal one.
  • In real life, large crowds create huge clouds of dust, especially with horses or vehicles, unless the field is muddy — in which case armored cavalry will die up when placed against pikes and arrows.
    • In addition to dust and fog obscuring vision it is still very difficult to get an accurate assessment of a battlefield even with satellites, radios and observational aircraft due to countermeasures and the inherent chaos of the situation.
  • Anime illustration: In an episode of The Melancholy Of Haruhi Suzumiya, the SOS-dan was challenged to a computer game with this limitation. Yuki quickly figures out that the opposing side has cheated by removing the Fog Of War on their side, hacks the system, and levels the playing field.
  • Strangely enough, One Piece had begun a war in which mist was constantly seen sneaking on to the screen from no one knows where.
  • Played straight in the 1992 film of Last of the Mohicans. Musket fire apparently creates clouds of smoke thick enough to blanket the adjoining lake, and the heroes literally escape through the resulting fog.
    • Similarly, in Real Life, Scots mercenaries would fire off a round from their muskets, then drop their muskets and charge with their big-ass swords through the ensuing cloud of smoke.
  • Star Wars: Republic does this both figuratively and literally when one Jedi survives Order 66 due to being on a foggy battlefield at the time. The Clone Troopers pursuing her can't make out the terrain and accidentally shoot at each other.
  • Advanced Squad Leader has a mechanic called Concealment. Units can be marked with a "?" marker at the start of the game, which means the opponent is not allowed to look at them. The other counters under this "?" can be good units, bad units or even dummies.
  • Provided by the cards in Twilight Struggle - you can see everything on the map with perfect information, but you don't know what historical event your opponent may be about to set in motion.
  • At least two chess variants, with sub-variants:
    • Kriegsspiel: you donít see your opponentís pieces at all.
    • Dark chess: you only see those pieces you can attack.
  • Mostly averted in Victory in the Pacific, as both players can see the whole map and the locations of all enemy forces, as is befitting the large-scale strategic view, as both sides would be aware of the approximate region of ocean enemy ships were assigned to (finding them tactically was another matter). This wasn't always true of Japan since the USA had broken their code - so the Japanese player has to commit his forces in each segment before the Allied player does.
  • The entire challenge of the Board Game Battleship. Neither of you can see your opponent's units, and your opponent is only allowed to inform you, after each shot, whether it hit or missed.
  • Fire Emblem: Three Houses: Fifth Path: Like in canon, the battle against Lord Lonato takes place in a magical fog.