Yeah, I know. Don't start, all right? I don't like having three active games on the board any more than you do. But you wanted me to start posting again, right? I've hit a bit of a wall with both Sentinel Worlds and Star Command. They're too similar, for one thing. It was a huge mistake ever trying to play them both at the same time, because I forget which gameplay elements belong to which game. Anyway, I made attempts to re-start both of them several times over the last two days and found myself watching re-runs of Scrubs instead. My triumphant return was ruined.
Times of Lore is a relatively generic high-fantasy game with an uncomplicated quest and interface. It's just the sort of thing I need to get the pump primed again. Let me get back in the habit of blogging, and then I'll go back to the two sci-fi CRPGs. Fair enough?
The back story is told in a series of well-illustrated screens at the beginning of the game, accompanied by a quantum leap (at least for DOS) in game music (it's too bad I don't much care about music). The story is set in the kingdom of Albareth, whose king and high mage have mysteriously vanished shortly after winning a ten-year war against a barbarian horde (one suspects they have ascended to rule the House of Shadows). The king's ineffectual steward, Dariel, hasn't been managing things so well. The barbarians are threatening the kingdom again, the lords are squabbling amongst themselves, the wizards have gone into hiding, and a new evil cult is rising.
Despite the growing danger in the countryside, my father, a woodsman, has refused to leave his home, and has instead sent me to stay with my wealth uncle in Eralan, Albareth's capital city. At the same time, the steward has summoned a council of lords, demanding that they bring various magical artifacts with them, hoping to summon back the king and his Medallion of Power. When my uncle suddenly dies, leaving me his gold, I am left to make my way as an adventurer, running missions for the steward and the lords.
Character creation is a quick process of choosing a knight, a valkyrie, or a barbarian (someone's been playing Gauntlet). I went with a valkyrie because, what the heck, I never play a female PC, and I immediately found myself in a tavern.
The game's Origin origins show in the graphics but not in the gameplay--it almost immediately revealed itself as an action CRPG, and not a particularly good one. Commands are limited to talk, examine, inventory, pick up, drop, give, and use. There is no diagonal movement. The game supports mouse control, but I found it so wonky that I disabled it and went to keyboard-only. The in-game sound is not up to the quality of the pre-game music.
This being an Origin game, though, we have to have some NPC dialogue, and it's fairly extensive for an action RPG. You begin by selecting the "talk" icon on the far left (although it looks more like you're about to bite the NPC) and from there have a selection of options. If you don't want to be rude, you begin with "start chitchat" and then you can ask for rumors or whatever the other topics of the day are. Speaking to the innkeeper, I got a hint about a sorcerous tower to the north of the city. The game buzzes at you every time an NPC says something that opens up a new dialogue topic.
In another room of the inn, I immediately got a quest from a cloaked figure to retrieve the Foretelling Stones--one of the magical artifacts summoned by the steward--which had been stolen by orcs in a caravan raid.
I tried exploring the town and immediately found myself out of the town, heading through the wilderness. The game doesn't seem to have any transition between areas. I was immediately assailed by a large number of orcs and other enemies, who I dispatched by facing them and repeatedly hitting the ENTER key.
Enemies drop gold, scrolls, food, and potions. The scrolls and potions have different colors, and it didn't take me long to figure out what they do: blue scrolls freeze enemies, red scrolls kill all visible enemies, blue potions heal a little, green potions heal a lot. I'm not sure, but it might be that you can only have one of each item. I've never held more than one, and I've noticed that if I use one, an enemy tends to drop the same item fairly soon afterwards.
I wandered north for what seemed like an eon before I finally succumbed to the wounds inflicted by repeat combat. Hit points are represented by a candle on the right side of the screen. The game announces death by placing a tombstone at the very spot where the enemy slew me--it was nice of the townsfolk to bury my body where it lay and erect a memorial.
I set out again and was a little more careful. At length, I came to a house of a woodsman (not my father, I gather), who was upset about the proliferation of orcs in the area. He told me that to find their camp, I needed to continue on the forest road to a pool, then head north along a winding trail.
From the woodsman, I also got a dagger, which automatically throws if I hit ENTER while not right next to an enemy. I have to keep remembering to pick it up after each combat.
At this point, here's what I don't know about Times of Lore: whether you gain experience or levels for killing monsters ('cause otherwise, it seems easy enough just to run by them), what happens if I attack townsfolk, whether there's anything to buy with the gold besides food and a night's sleep at the inn, and how, exactly, I save the game (resting in the inn seems to save it, but I don't know if there's any other way).
With the basic combat, the large game world, and the various potions and scrolls, I am reminded--unfavorably--of Faery Tale Adventure. As I've said before, action CRPGs don't tend to age very well. Games with interesting tactics (Wizardry), compelling plots (Ultima IV), broad worlds to explore (Starflight), or all three (Pool of Radiance, Might & Magic) never grow old, but games that blow their wad on graphics, sound, and action last only as long as the next better game that comes along.
I wanted to at least complete the first quest before I finished posting for the night, but I wandered along that damned forest path for an hour and never found a pool of water. The game world seems quite large and mostly devoid of anything interesting. But it's uncomplicated--thank Lord British for that.