Published by GT Interactive and developed by Strategy First in October of 1999, Disciples: Sacred Lands, is a turn based strategy game set in the fantasy universe of Sacred Lands. The player can take control of one of four playable races during the campaign mode: the noble Empire (Humans), the treacherous and malevolent Legions of the Damned (Demons), the shambling Undead Hordes (Undead) and the stalwart champions of the Mountain Clans (Dwarves). As well as participating in shorter, skirmish type scenarios.
Like Heroes of Might and Magic and similar titles, Disciples is a turn-based strategy game with tactical combat in which players move armies of creatures around the map in order to obtain treasure and defeat enemies. However, what differentiates it from those games includes a very strong focus on RPG elements and a streamlined tactical combat system focusing on smaller groups of units instead of the more commonplace "stacks" of multiple creatures.
In general, the nature of Disciples is a fairly streamlined one. Instead of flagging or otherwise claiming individual resource generators, the player would have to have their faction's terrain over it in order to control it, which often required special hero units capable of planting rods, such as angels, succubi and banshees. As a result, controlling a large amount of territory is often a victory condition for many of the game's scenarios. However, rods can be removed by other rod planting heroes and the units themselves are less than capable in combat, only being able to have one other unit with them unless they were a high enough level. Thus, the general flow of the game occasionally revolves around this mechanic, both in the control of territory and the eradication of enemy armies.
As another differentiation from its peers, the combat of Disciples does not take place on a grid. Instead, combat was a more directly RPG-like affair, with both armies containing a front and back row of units. Unless they were ranged, units could only attack adjacent enemies, although certain creatures such as wizards were able to attack all enemies at once. This combat would remain very similar until Disciples III: Renaissance, which shifted to a more standard tactical battlefield.
However, what Disciples and its sequels are most known for is the way that creatures can progress by earning experience. With enough experience earned the creature could upgrade to different forms, which were often branched. For example, the lowest level support creature for The Empire is the Healer, which could then either upgrade into a form that healed all friendly units slightly or a form that healed one unit greatly. Similar tradeoffs could be seen throughout, as various upgrades traded on damage, armor, durability or even special abilities. Hero units leveled up in a similar way, although they did not change form but instead acquired more skills, such as the ability to have more units in the army or increased movement speed.
Magic in Disciples is handled as a resource, with the player's ability to research and cast spells dependent on controlling mana crystals of different colors. While early level spells only required the faction's basic color, more advanced spells required multiple types of mana, furthering the importance of controlling terrain. Spells were specific to each faction, with the Empire focusing more on healing and buffs, the Legion with damage and destruction, the Undead with debilitation, and the Mountain Clans with protection. All factions could summon various magical creatures to aid in reconnaissance or battle.
Disciples supports multiplayer for up to four players, but oddly enough lacks any sort of Hotseat mode as is common in the genre, allowing for games only through IPX networks or direct connections.
Disciples: Sacred Lands is available on Good Old Games for the price of $5.99 USD and is the gold edition, which means it comes with additional scenarios. However, it is often overlooked in favor of its sequel Disciples II, which is also available on many digital distribution services and improves upon many of the concepts presented in Sacred Lands as well as a much stronger aesthetic both in art style and sound design.