Dominions 4 diary part three: wizards, lizards and eternal darkness

In parts one and two , Balboa, my obelisk god, leader of the Lanka, successfully fended off challenges from other pretender gods in the west of the kingdom, and plans to turn his attentions south once those enemies have been defeated.

Lizards. Lizards everywhere. The cold-blooded bastards have crossed the southern river to strike at my exposed heartlands. Far to the west, my armies continue to decimate the gods that challenged me last month, but it'll take them ages to double back and help my central cities. This could mean trouble. Big, scaly trouble.

My people have also stopped believing in Balboa. The white candle icons that symbolise my god's sway in each province have almost all been replaced by the black candles that signify enemy influence. I'm not surprised. My obelisk-god is tough, but lacks charisma. It's hard to make inspiring speeches when you don't have a face.

That's another job for his beleaguered minions. I have a couple of mage batteries researching new magic in a couple of forts. I instruct them to 'preach the word of god' to bring back those white candles. I've formed my demonic ape wizards into a PR agency. It's not a great use of their talents, but their task is vital. If you run out of dominion candles, your god dies and the game ends.

But I need the wizards to kill the lizards. The scaly C'tis have laid siege to a central fort in a province called The Land of Our Lord. It'll be The Land of All Lizards if I don't do something fast, but there's no army nearby to help. There are 14 mages based there, however, and mages can summon monsters.

So it happened that the lizards laying siege to the barely-defended castle in The Land of Our Lord woke one morning to find the battlements manned by 120 ghosts, and a whole load of tigers, because for some reason one of my mages can do that, and if you're presented with the chance to summon tigers that's what you do.

I hoped that the ghost (and tiger) army would deter the C'tis, but actually it starts an absurd arms race. The C'tis army reinforces next turn with horned serpents and some magic casters. I respond by summoning some more ghosts, and a herd of elephants, because the guy who can summon tigers can also do that. The C'tis bring in chariots ridden by lizards and giant scorpions. I respond by summoning more ghosts, and raise four mound kings to lead them. This has to stop.

I decide to break the siege and march my 200 troops out to meet their 220 in the field. If I win, I'll break up their main force and buy enough time to redeploy my armies. If I fail, on the other hand, I could be in serious trouble.

The battle result pops up, and it's bad. I watch the battle replay. I see my vanguard of wild tigers charge the central block of lizard spearmen. They fight for a few seconds and then immediately turn around and run off the field forever. My 14 mages sling spells from the back, turning C'tis' horned serpents into harmless frogs, but enemy's core infantry prove too resilient, and their chariots too quick. They lose more than 70 troops, but they rout my army and raise green banners at the fort of The Land of our Lord.

It's a severe blow. In the next few turns they use the castle as a base to take the surrounding provinces, carving a big hole in my empire. Another army of C'tis has crossed the river to attack my western provinces, giving my armies there another front to consider. My biggest problem is my dwindling dominion. Faith in the lizards is strong, their black candles multiply across my territory. My cache of mages in the northwest are preaching furiously to keep two white candles alive in a couple of provinces. I need to redeploy my forces to protect the last wink of faith my people have in my god.

Desperate action is needed. I feed my obelisk some death gems to level up his ability to cast death magic, giving him access to a powerful global death spell called The Utterdark. This throws the entire world into an unnaturally thick darkness. Living creatures can't see more than a few feet in front of them, and spirits relentlessly attack from the shadows. As a result, income in every province for all factions is reduced by 90% and armies are less effective.

The spell affects everything that isn't dead or a demon. Luckily I have dozens of demon mages that can animate dead things and make them fight for me. I can tell from the size of the lizard armies that my economy is much weaker than theirs. I can't afford to recruit and maintain armies as big as the ones they field. Utterdark should curtail that advantage by making every nation poor and miserable. In the dark, my ghost warriors will thrive. I don't care about conquest now, I'm just trying to bring about the apocalypse.

I feel the affects of the Utterdark quickly. My workers can't work in total darkness, and I no longer have the upkeep to maintain my large western armies. Troops start to leave. In the centre of my territory, near the fallen fort in The Land of Our Lord, I gather together the scattered remnants of the fort's defensive force and raise another ghost army. Then I race them north to protect my preaching mages and hopefully preserve the remains of my dominion.

Meanwhile, there are weird goings-on in the province of Watronia, which is situated near my last couple of dominion candles at Giant's Rest. Phantasmal beasts and phantasmal warriors materialise there and overrun local law enforcement. Then a magical storm strikes and the province is invaded by air elementals. Then toads rain from the sky, causing further unrest. I gave my dominion an aura of bad luck at the start of the game—a deliberate handicap that enabled me to cast more powerful magic—but this string of strange occurrences goes way beyond bad luck. I suspect another god is casting summons from a great distance, softening my borders up for invasion.

My capital city is surrounded. I can't reinforce, and my cumbersome obelisk god can't flee on account of having no legs. He has some wight bodyguards and a small army of mages protecting him, and one other faithful companion: that small dog that Balboa befriended in the first part of the diary.

A cursory glance tells me that my capital is doomed, and I can't afford to sacrifice the valuable troops there. With sadness, I order the wights and mages to leave my capital city and flee north to rendezvous with the rest of my mage army. I leave the dog behind, hoping it'll bring Balboa comfort as the lizardmen charge the walls. Even if my god dies, he'll be able to reincarnate as long as I still have white dominion candles in a province somewhere.

My army of ghosts and mages are fighting their corner well. As the turns pass, enemy nations attack with smaller forces. The global financial depression caused by the Utterdark is sapping every faction. Independent ghost armies attack from the shadows and overturn local militia in a couple of provinces. People are starving everywhere. The only meaningful currency now is death gems, which I can use to summon the undead. The map doesn't look any different for my powerful sorcery, but there's a sense that a terrible entropy has taken hold.

I realise I've become an archetypal fantasy RPG villain. Somewhere in this world a level-one hero is being given a flaming sword and a quest to slay Balboa, bringer of the Utterdark. Frankly, I'm disappointed in the lack of subtlety to my evil. Eternal darkness? Hordes of undead? I might as well put a flaming eyeball on a big spire, craft some rings of power and sit quietly, waiting for Frodo.

That's not a bad backup plan, considering my prospects. I can't see the movements of C'tis's armies, but I know they're coming. Every turn the dominion candles in my remaining provinces go out one by one as the lizard's lizardy influence grows ever stronger. I need to flee eastward, and I've spotted a good place for a last stand.

I'm fighting for control of a huge disk world. I've only ever fought in its northern half, which I once controlled almost entirely, but to the northwest there's a separate floating island made up of three provinces. It's disconnected from the mainland, but can be hopped via a single magic bridge. I could retreat from the world and give my long-suffering people a life of happiness on their own little mountain world.

My exodus begins. My armies leave Giant's Rest and charge through the cursed province of Watronia, still full of frogs and elementals. My ghosts break through and soon I find myself closing on the eastern rim.

It's a wasteland. I'd expect to find lots of flags representing the dominion of other gods, but I see only the grey banners of independent armies. What happened to these people? Has the Utterdark sapped control from weaker factions once based here? I've done something pretty bad to this world, but this does mean a convenient lack of opposition. I hop over to the floating island and wrest control from a small army of barbarians. There's a fort in the northeastern corner of the island. I need it to access its lab. You can't summon ghosts without a lab.

Finally, my capital city in the distant west falls to the scaly C'tis. My god's form is broken and he vanishes from the corporeal world. Even worse, his dog is eaten. I take the island fort a few turns later, which is some consolation.

All but one of my mages preach intensively to give me some white candles in the surrounding provinces. I have my spare mage 'call god', which will rematerialise Balboa—presumably in the last vestiges of his dominion, now relocated to a grey mountain island on the other side of the world.

That's a bad assumption, it turns out. Balboa successfully reincarnates, but not on the island. Instead he materialises outside the gates of his old capital city, like a shit Tardis. I imagine Balboa and the C'tis commanders regarding each other with angry surprise for a few moments before the attack order is given. An army of 139 C'tis, made up of lizards, ogres, shades and great lions, rush out of the city to grind my god into dust once more. The obelisk zaps six ogres to death before he goes down, avenging his faithful mutt.

To get my god back I'm going to have to go back where I came from with a huge army, and somehow repel the influence of the C'tis at home. I'm shooting the moon, but my god's death has dispelled the Utterdark, which means other provinces will soon be able to recruit armies again. I need an advantage, something that my hundred or so death gems won't give me.

I remember that I still have blood-slaves. I've been unwillingly collecting them since the start, unable to destroy my empire's blood-slave dungeons. Now I have 325 blood-slaves locked up somewhere. I've sort of made a rule about not using them under any circumstances because of ritual sacrifice being a bit immoral. However, I have plunged the entire world into a hellish darkness since then, which constitutes a significant moral slippage. What the hell. As Anakin Skywalker said after slaying Mace Windu, “in for a penny, in for a pound.”

I sacrifice every blood slave, and spend every death gem. I raise the biggest army I've ever fielded. I have 404 troops, consisting of bane lords with swords that wither the flesh of living enemies, mound kings riding skeletal steeds, black winged shade beasts and hosts of ganas ghosts. They charge the mainland and encounter an army belonging to my old foe, Mictlan. The enemy is crushed completely, but it's too late. The march of C'tis eastward has overwhelmed me with its influence. My last dominion candle in my mountain fortress flickers and dies, and Balboa's spirit vanishes into the maelstrom of unbeing. I am defeated.

It was all going so well, before the lizards. Now Balboa has been relegated to a scary story the C'tis will use to frighten their children. In the tropical heat of the lizard kingdom, a guard will occasionally turn to a friend and say “hey, remember that giant rock that raised the dead and obliterated the concept of daylight for a while?” and the friend will turn and say “yeah, what a jerk”, and his friend will be right. It has been an inauspicious reign, but the tale of Balboa, Reluctant Confiner of Blood Slaves, Befriender of Stray Dogs and Bringer of the Utterdark, has come to an end, to the benefit of every living creature left in the world.

Tom Senior

Part of the UK team, Tom was with PC Gamer at the very beginning of the website's launch—first as a news writer, and then as online editor until his departure in 2020. His specialties are strategy games, action RPGs, hack ‘n slash games, digital card games… basically anything that he can fit on a hard drive. His final boss form is Deckard Cain.