Note: I'm not done with Omega, but I needed a break from the game's ruthlessness, so I thought I'd explore another game. I wish I hadn't.
To me, certain computer game genres age better than others. I think CRPGs age very well, which is really the entire point of my blog. The stories, gameplay, and challenges found in titles like Ultima IV and Might & Magic rival or exceed most current releases. Adventure games, too, can provide delight well past their shelf lives because of the richness of their plots and the challenge of their puzzles. Anyone who eschews Zork or King's Quest just because they're "old" is as characterless as someone who refuses to watch Casablanca or listen to Benny Goodman for the same reasons.
But it's also true that other genres struggle to find relevance with age. First-person shooters are a good example. Doom was groundbreaking for its time, but it's hard for me to imagine finding a lot of fun in it now, with other shooters on the market that offer the same basic experience but with better graphics, sound, and controls, and the ability to look up and down. [Later edit based on comments: Oh, for #$*%s sake, people. Fine. Doom is the greatest game ever made. All hail the glory of Doom.] I imagine simulation games suffer some of the same problems, when each new release offers even more realistic simulation. I don't play many simulation games, so I could be wrong, but would anyone really enjoy the first version of Microsoft Flight Simulator today, knowing that a more recent version would offer a more realistic experience, more aircraft, more locations, hardware acceleration, and so on?
Even within the basic genres, certain sub-genres age better than others. When I was playing Sorcerian, I noted that action RPGs tend to age worse than regular RPGs, simply because action RPGs are more "about" graphics and animation.
Strategy games fall somewhere in the middle. Strategy games are fundamentally about variables, and if you really like strategy games, you enjoy weighing the probabilities associated with power, movement, and resources--just like a real war theater. The best strategy games are those that give the most useful and interesting variables, and this isn't necessarily dependent on age. I remember playing a Civil War strategy game when I was a kid that would have given Einstein a migraine. It took me months to figure out what I was doing, but once I had a handle on it, the game was a joy. Graphics are secondary in strategy games; some great ones (Reach for the Stars, Roadwar) barely have any graphics. I thought Warlords took a significant step backwards between III and IV because the latter jettisoned many of the strategic variables in favor of better graphics and animation. Did any Warlords fan really want that?
This brings me to Paladin, which is a strategy game without a lot of variables, which means that it didn't age very well. The game is a quasi-CRPG, and I admit that it satisfies all three of the core criteria that I establish in Rule #1. But I find it so little fun that I'm almost moved to spend the rest of my six-hour minimum staring at the opening screen rather than actually playing it.
Paladin has the least intuitive controls, of any game I've played so far. The game follows the opening screen above with a partially-rendered screen that makes it look like the game has frozen. No amount of clicking or typing seems to help. Only by a careful reading of the manual do you determine that the function keys are the way to control the game, and only by a more careful reading do you realize that the process of creating a new paladin involves opening up a different program and using more arcane function commands.
You control a party of characters moving through one of several scenarios or "quests," each with a different set of objectives. Only your paladin, the leader, can move from quest to quest, and as he does, his statistics improve. Each quest is made up of turns alternating between your characters and enemies, much like in Warlords, Heroes of Might & Magic, or any number of similar strategy games.
10 quests come with the basic game, but the publisher, Omnitrend, released Paladin Quest Disk: The Scrolls of Talmouth later the same year. The game also came with a construction set, and the version of the game that I downloaded contains several files that I can only imagine were constructed by fans.
The first quest I tried was called "House" and the game put my paladin (Drust) in charge of a swordsman and two mages. The quest instructions told me the back story:
A holy quest for real estate!
During your turn, each character can move, attack an enemy, pick up an object, use an object, unlock a door, or cast a spell. Total actions and movement are limited by "movement points." In many ways, playing the game is like being perpetually on the combat screen in Demon's Winter or the D&D "Gold Box" games (which, incidentally, Paladin is keeping me from), except that I think you have fewer options in Paladin. You certainly have fewer spells: rangers can cast confuse, speed, invisibility, and detect door, and mages can cast those plus fireball and mind stun.
The "victory conditions" tell me that I have to find the scrolls and get off the combat map within an hour (all quests are timed).
The biggest problem with the game is that without the ability to move diagonally, it takes forever to get around the game map, especially when you're walking through corridors and your characters can't get past each other. I also lost patience when the game decided that the SHIFT key was being held down permanently, and every time I tried to move to the next character (N key), it insisted on ending the turn (SHIFT-N).
I made three assails against the house, and did find one of the scrolls one time, but you lose the game if your paladin dies, and that kept happening to me.
Sigh. I suppose I can't leave this game until I win at least one of the quests, but I promise you, this game is tedious and boring. Don't look for a lot of postings here.