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Chaos - Battle Royale of the Wizards

Updated: Mar 27, 2020

You take control of a lone character and have a selection of offensive/defensive weapons at your disposal. There are any number of opponents, and each must be eliminated if you are to triumph in a fight to the death. They’re looking to do the same, all within the same map. No, this isn’t Fortnite. It’s Chaos, a ZX Spectrum game released over 30 years ago, created by legendary games designer Julian Gollop, and a magical battle royale to the death, long before even Epic itself existed.

As many videogame fans and writers have commented, the concept behind Fortnite is not a new one. Fight-to-the-death multiplayer games have been around for decades, although it’s only the advent of standardised internet play that has opened the genre up in the last few years. Back in 1985, multiplayer existed, but it was your friend, or friends, sitting in the room with you, each one pitting their wits against the other, teaming up, scheming, planning, attacking and defending in a battle to the death. The game was Chaos, devised by Julian Gollop, who would go on to create more famous brands such as Laser Squad and X-Com. However, to many fans of a certain age, the masterpiece for which Gollop shall always be revered is the game subtitled The Battle Of Wizards.

As with Fortnite, the concept is simple. The player is dropped into a map, upon which is a pre-selected number of opponents. Each wizard has a number of spells that have a percentage success casting rate, ranging from 100% with weak creatures such as a giant rat, to the tremendously difficult 10% dragons, awesome beasts that eat pixelated magicians for breakfast. Unlike Fortnite there is no scavenging, save for the extra spells you can gain by hiding in a magic wood, or building, save for the wall spell, four slabs of brickwork that can be used to block off non-flying combatants. Defensive spells are also available and these include a magical shield, armour and castles in which the wizard can reside, safe from attacks by opponent wizards or creatures.

And it is with these creatures where the magic of Chaos happens, excuse the pun. At the start of every game, a random assortment of legendary monsters is deposited in each wizard’s spell book.

Successful manipulation of the right monster for each situation is essential if you are to win this battle. Rideable creatures such as the gryphon or horse protect the wizard; elves and dragons offer both a melee and ranged attack, while the undead cannot be harmed by any living enemy. But there’s more: don’t fancy your chances of creating that golden dragon? Well, simply cast an illusion, with a 100% success rate and all the offensive capability of the real thing. There’s a drawback of course: all it takes is one disbelieve spell from an enemy wizard, and the illusion is shattered forever.

Today, it’s plain black playing board and crudely animated graphics will endear few gamers to Chaos. Yet underneath this stark façade lies a game of incredible depth, especially when you consider it is condensed into just 48k of memory. Spurred on by the success of the game when re-released by budget label Firebird, Gollop created a sequel in 1990, now under the banner of his own software label, Mythos Games.

Lord Of Chaos addresses several of the issues that the first game was criticised for; now the game has a more defined plot as wizards stage duels against each other, fighting for the magical power that keeps them alive in a post-apocalyptic universe. Each level contains a wealth of detail in comparison to Chaos’ barren combat arena, and prior to teleportation the player can also select their spells from a mana quotient, thus bypassing the sometimes unfair random nature of spell allocation in the original game. Once landing upon the world, the game play is broadly the same as the player creates monsters and magical effects with which to eliminate their opponent and move on to the next power-hungry wizard.

While undeniably a step up in terms of game play, and a fantastic experience in its own right, Lords Of Chaos moves the series away from the unadulterated purity of the first game. Here, in Chaos’ grim land of limbo, it is kill or be killed, a magical coin toss of a gamble against opponents taking that very same risk in a winner-takes-all battle to the death. It wasn’t a new concept, even in 1985. In 2018, the success of Fortnite proves that the model is just as endearing today as it was back then. Let battle commence, and remember: wizards don’t floss…

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