Silmarils was a very interesting development company. Many of their games escaped the traditional genre boundaries, many had a unique audiovisual style and many of their plots had a fascinating quirkiness to them. At the height of their most productive period, they made Storm Master which, unfortunately, got only little attention when the spotlight went to the much more traditional (but also much more successful) Ishar series.
Storm Master can probably be described best as Silmarils' attempt to make a game in the vein of certain Cinemaware classics (most prominently Defender of the Crown), but with more complexity added. The player takes control of the island country of Eolia which lives in constant conflict with its neighbours of Shaarkania. Although only a small channel separates the two islands, it is not traversable due to a large sea monster destroying all ships and eating their crews. So, in a pre-steampunk twist, both countries use pre-industrial aircrafts to fight their battles.
A council of ministers supports the player in her tasks. Probably the most important duty concerns the country's economy: Wheat has to be grown and processed to feed the population, a special kind of honey can increase the general intelligence and special kind of wool is needed to produce sails (needed for the flying ships). And last, but not least, military action requires money to pull off. Another important aspect, and this is where the game's title comes from, is control of the winds. Through religious ceremonies (which are, interestingly enough, played as a small interactive action scene), the winds can be either predicted or even influenced. Since wind is the sole source of power in these countries, this is essential.
On the military side of things, a Leonardo-type inventor oversees the development and construction of new ships. The player can customise and equip the basic types to her liking. Again, this is relevant due to strategic and battle preferences of the player. Some ships carry large amounts of soldiers (used to pillage enemy cities), others are fast and well-armed and therefore come in handy in aerial battles. The latter are fought in a fast-paced three-dimensional action scene which, more than anything else, shows the original technological background of the game: While strange balloons and wooden ships fly into and out of view, the player controls not only her vessel itself, but also the equipped weapons – various arrows and a catapult throwing rocks! Interestingly enough, the strategic elements and the action scenes are not as clearly separated as in most such games. There is an intermediate tactical level to the battles which takes place in real time, but which is nevertheless played on the strategic map; as basic as it may be, it effectively provides a nicely working link.
Of course, running the country involves even more aspects, like providing the common crowd with entertainment and trading goods. The military aspects are mostly carried out through the described raids on enemy territory (there is no concept of actually conquering your neighbour in the game – just destruction), but covert operations like spying (with the help of trained birds) and assassinations (of the enemy's ministers, forcing the respective area to be inactive for a time) can be conducted as well.
Graphically and music-wise, Storm Master is very impressive. The tiny intro animation is extremely effective and sets the tone for the whole game perfectly. Of course, this alone is not enough to make a good game. However, in a game which does draw quite a bit of its appeal from style, it is very important. The game's audiovisual side achieves transporting the strange world and its laws to the players very well. This makes the interface issues much more tolerable: In some pictures, it is quite unclear what are the hotspots to click, but of course, this blow is softened by such pictures at least looking interesting.
The gameplay, although not quite in the top league, is complex and logical enough to fill this world with life sufficiently to provide for an overall highly entertaining experience. Sure, stripped off its setting, Storm Master would not hold up nearly as well. After some time, it becomes noticeable that especially the action scenes are quite limited: The religious one, in particular, repeats itself exactly each time. And why is there no action scene for raiding cities and infrastructure? Maybe one which could even be played from both sides (i.e. in defensive mode when the enemy attacks your own country)? Likewise, the best strategic option in most of the scenarios (which basically only define the initial power of each of the countries, but again, this is nicely wrapped into a pseudo historic development) turns out to be rushing the enemy which might not be considered all that interesting to carry out.
But it is the overall package which counts in the end. And on that scale, Storm Master scores highly. Who cares if there are shortcuts to success which are not much fun? Nobody forces you to take them if you'd rather enjoy the game on a larger, more epic scale!
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