Monday, March 14, 2016

Dusk of the Gods: Won! (with Final Rating)


Dusk of the Gods
Event Horizon (developer); Interstel (publisher)
Released 1991 for DOS
Date Started: 2 March 2016
Date Ended: 13 March 2016
Total Hours: 25
Reload Count: 11
Difficulty: Moderate (3/5)
Final Rating: 37
Ranking at Time of Posting: 162/211 (77%)

I won Dusk of the Gods in about 18 hours of play since my last post. That was enough material to fill two or three more entries on the game, but I decided just to push forward and win it for a couple of reasons. First, we just came off a very long, multiple-entry game (Disciples of Steel) and it's time to get some momentum going for 1991. Second, I'm not sure the posts would have been interesting. There would have been a lot of the kind of went-here-did-this language that characterizes summaries of adventure-style games in which all of the puzzles revolve around your inventory.
   
Here's this game's version of Loki. You could hear Tom Hiddleston saying these lines.
   
At the end, Dusk felt much more like an adventure game than an RPG. Although there's plenty of combat--too much, really--it's so boring and monotonous that the only highlights come from finding objects. Only a couple of major quests require you to kill someone or something; all the other combats are just random mooks standing in the way of the boots or helm that you need in the next room. Real progress comes from finding Item A in some location, taking it to Person B in exchange for Item C, and so forth.

To win the game, I had to solve a number of quests necessary to ensure an Aesir victory at Ragnarok. And it had to be a total victory, meaning that five gods--Odin, Thor, Frey, Hodur, and Heimdal--had to survive. I also had to retrieve the Gjaller Horn so that Heimdal could blow it and thus usher in the final battle. There were a number of side quests that provided equipment upgrades, but until you finish the game, you don't know what's a side quest and what's a main quest, so you pretty much have to go everywhere and do everything.

The territory ended up consisting of nine large areas: four regions of Midgard (controlled by kings Nithod, Nitheri, Hrothgar, and Magnus), Alfheim (home of the elves), Jotunheim (home of the giants), a region with a couple of islands ruled by Aegir and his wife, a frozen tundra, and the underworld. Many of these areas had caves leading to extensive dungeons.
  
Exploring one of many, many caves on Alfheim.
   
The regions can be explored in just about any order after you get Frey's boat. Until after the end of my last post, I had assumed that the water around the land was a hard border, but it turns out that you need to cross parts of the ocean to get from one area to the next. Navigation is tricky, mostly because your destination depends less on the direction you travel and more on the part of the map you're on when you cross the boundary. For instance, sailing north from Midgard on the east side takes you to Alfheim, while sailing north in the middle take you to Jotunheim.
  
The maps aren't nice rectangles. They're actually strange shapes, with invisible borders following irregular lines, making it hard to explore them in any kind of systematic pattern. I ended up following a routine of exploring the perimeter of the mainland first, then trying to fill in the middle, and then sailing around the outskirts to make sure I didn't miss any islands.

Navigation became easier when I figured out how to use the boat, which just involves holding it in your left hand. The boat can nonsensically travel over land as well as water. Later, I got a shield that allowed me to walk on water, making it all even simpler, although the boat was always faster than walking.
   
This looks pretty stupid.
   
I'll recount a little about the specific puzzles because it seems wrong not to, but really there wasn't anything exciting about them. As I said, you basically have to just explore everything to dig up the various quest items. Half the time, I found the items before getting the quest from the NPC. NPCs would say things like, "Thanks! Here's the sword that I promised!" despite the fact that we'd never met before.

Saving Thor was a two-part quest. I first had to find his hammer head on a field of battle, where it had been consumed by some kind of rock spirit. The spirit happily regurgitated the item, and I took it to Thjasse-Volund, the smith, to be reforged. But the visions had also indicated that Thor's fishing line needed to be strengthened. This was a poorly-implemented quest and the last thing that I accomplished. I had to get a magic net from a goddess named Ran by bringing her Ledling and Dromi, the chains that had failed to contain Fenrir. They had fallen into the hands of a Viking named Magnus, and I had to kill him to retrieve them.
  
The rock creature turns over the head of Mjollnir.
    
I had to replace the fishing line that Thor would have ended up using with the magic net. The problem was, I found the fishing line many hours before I got the net, and I didn't remember where I got it. Moreover, when you do drop the net in the right place, there's no indication at all that you've done anything significant. You're literally just dropping it on an empty floor in a random hut. I had to look up the solution in one of Shay Addams's Book of Clues to figure it out. That was the only external help I needed.

To save Odin, I had to retrieve all the bits and pieces necessary to create a new chain, Gleipnir, to bind Fenrir. At the beginning of the game, I thought this was the "first quest," but in fact it ended up taking all game. There were seven separate items that I had to find, and most of them were the subjects of their own sub-quests. For instance, to get a "cat's footfall," I had to first find a sapphire in Alfheim, then trade it to some dwarves in a cave under Midgard for the necklace Brisingamen, then give the necklace to Freya.
    
And getting a bird's spittle meant eating a dragon's heart, which allowed me to talk to birds.
    
One of the items, the Arrow of Pain that had slain Baldur, wasn't even listed by Odin as one of the components. I had to hear about it from his friend, the giantess Hyrokken, and then find it among a bunch of other arrows in the underworld.
   
The smith assembles the chains out of the items I brought him.
    
Saving Frey meant preventing him from trading his Sword of Victory for the hand of the giantess Gerd. That, in turn, meant retrieving an alternate item, a Rod of Subduing, from the underworld. It was guarded by Hela herself, and I guess most players have to use something like a Cloak of Obscuring to sneak in and get it, but as I'll discuss below, by the time I visited the underworld, I was invulnerable.  
   
Hela chases me out of her domain.
  
Heimdal was saved by finding the remnants of a shooting star and getting the smith to turn it into a magic breastplate for him.  I also had to obtain the Mead of Consequence from the giant Surt so the Vanir would fight at Heimdal's side. Finally, to help Hodur, I had to give him the Torc of Sight, found in Grendel's Mother's storeroom. She could only be killed with a special broadsword that I had to pick up in her own house; fortunately, an NPC told me what I had to do.
   
Hodur puts on the Torc of Sight.
  
Combat, as I said, remained boring throughout. You just stand across from the enemy and trade blows, mostly. It also remained dangerous, and for about half the game, I had to make frequent trips back to Asgard to get healed. There just weren't enough Apples of Vigor in the game. Fortunately, I figured out a shortcut. It turns out that there's no consequence to dying and getting resurrected in Asgard--except that some of your quest items get left at the location that you died. That's not a big deal; you just make your way back, pick them up, and finish the combat that initially killed you. Quest items don't get left behind if you die in water, so drowning yourself is a quick way to get back to Asgard with no penalty.
   
I fight a bunch of witches or something.
   
It took me a while to figure out the magic system, and I'm not really sure what the game was trying to accomplish with it. You gain spells by sacrificing certain items like incense and statues in the various temples to Freya, Thor, Odin, and Tyr. There are a fixed but plentiful number of these items in the game. As you sacrifice more and more items to the same god, a little picture of his totem fills in on your character sheet, and you get more and more spells. Spells from the same god "stack" on top of each other, and you basically have to cast them in reverse order. For instance, if you sacrifice something to Tyr, the first thing you get is a "Teiwaz" rune that increases your warrior skill. Sacrifice a couple more items and you get a "spellfire" spell. Above that is "enchant weapon," then "Tyr's Fist," and finally "Flame Arrow."
   
Note that the images of three gods are partly filled-in, and I have associated spells in the upper-right corner.
   
The problem is, the spells decay over time, falling away one by one if you don't use them, and there's no easy way to anticipate exactly when you'll need them. If they didn't decay, the system would make a lot more sense. Fortunately, none of the spells are terribly necessary, and many are duplicated with runes that you find scattered about the land.

I got equipment upgrades at regular intervals, although anything that seemed too good to be true ended up being a limited-duration magic item. A fantastic sword called Nagerling--given to me by King Nitheri after I brought him a brooch created by the smith Weland--did over 100 points of damage per blow but disappeared after about 10 blows. The shield Lifegiver disappeared after it healed me from 3 or 4 combats. Some Boots of Speed disappeared after I had been wearing them for about an hour. There were way too many torcs to choose from. I like that the game allows you to dual-wield weapons.

I spent most of the game either over-encumbered or on the edge of being over-encumbered. Once I realized that dropped items don't disappear, I started using the cave near the Rainbow Bridge as a storage space, but I was always afraid to leave an obvious quest item on the ground.
  
I drop a bunch of equipment outside the cave to Midgard.
  
Questions of difficulty became moot about halfway through the game. I can only assume it was a bug. When I killed the dragon for King Beowulf, I found three goblets of Dragon's Blood in his lair. Later, I picked up another two from slain enemies. Quaffing a goblet of Dragon's Blood turns your skin to stone and renders you "invincible" for about two minutes. I used the goblets when I encountered boss-level combats that I found too difficult, such as the battle with the giant Froste, or the fight with Grendel, who's invulnerable to anything but fists.

Anyway, after one such use of the blood, I noticed some time later that my "invincible" status didn't fade after the usual two minutes. It never faded. The entire second half of the game, I was completely invulnerable to everything, including drowning. When I got to hell, I was supposed to use some magic shoes to cross a field of thorns and the magic boat to cross a river of blades, but I didn't need either. I hate to have taken advantage of such an obvious bug, but by the time it became clear that the status was never going to fade, I had accomplished so much that I didn't want to reload and do it all again. Thus, leveling up and getting equipment upgrades were meaningless for much of the game.

This was the second bug that helped me. The first occurred early: at some point, the screen remained light even when I entered a cave or when night fell across the land. I no longer needed any torches.
   
There were a couple of places where I had to burn down trees to get access to caves.
   
There ended up being no DarkSpyre-type puzzles in the game. A lot of doors required keys, but they were usually found nearby. There was one riddle: to get the Gjallor Horn, I had to answer this puzzle posed by Gaunt, guardian of the horn:

For all those who are just, it shall guide true, the unpoisoned sword, a swing of the axe, the warrior's spear.

Those who know it not, thou should not trust. A broken oath, an unjust act. In the end, it shall be their doom.

I got the answer (HONOR) on the first try.
   
  
At length, I solved all the quests, fetched all the items, and killed all the things that needed to be killed. Just for fun, I brought the horn to Heimdal before I'd wrapped everything up, and I saw the "losing" screens. Heimdal recounted who fell in battle and why, thus providing clues for anything that the player didn't accomplish. (Actually, I guess it wasn't Heimdal doing the recounting since he's one of the gods who can live or die. I'm not sure who is narrating the endgame.)
    
Well, I guess I screwed that up.
  
But when you've done everything right, the narration describes each god's victory and ends with a congratulatory message.
    
   
We're already running a bit long, but let's wrap it up with a quick GIMLET.

  • 6 points for the game world, the best part of the game. It makes fantastic use of people, objects, and events in Norse mythology and manages to teach you as you play. The living world responds to your actions, and NPCs comment on things you've accomplished.
   
Here I am at the Glittering Fields, where good people go after death.
   
  • 3 points for character creation and development. A great character creation system gives way to a hum-drum development system, with your two skills increasing slowly with use. Ultimately, equipment matters a lot more than experience-based boosts in attributes.
  • 5 points for NPC interaction. NPCs are a vital part of the game, and I like the dual system of clickable and typeable keywords. There are no real dialogue choices or role-playing options, though.
  
An NPC provides a key bit of information.
   
  • 3 points for encounters and foes. Most of the enemies are pretty boring, and they all just charge you and fight in melee range. There are a couple of boss battles, but since the game doesn't even tell you the names of your foes, you sometimes don't realize you've fought a boss battle until it's over. Froste, for instance, is indistinguishable from all the other giants in his fortress.
  • 3 points for magic and combat. As described above, combat is boring and magic is weird.
  • 4 points for equipment. You find a lot of useful items--weapons, armor, pants, helms, torcs, gauntlets, boots, and plenty of herbs and potions. Generally, the uses are quite clear, and for weapons and armor, it's easy to figure out what's better. One complaint: it's not always clear when a magic item has limited uses, or how long it's going to take to run out.
  • 0 points for economy. There really isn't one. Yes, you find iron coins, but their individual inventory items, not a pool of cash as in a typical RPG. There are only a couple of NPCs that barter anything for them.
  • 5 points for quests. It's got an obvious main quest, a few side quests to help improve your equipment, and an alternate "bad" ending for the main quest. My only quibble, again, is that it's not clear what's a main quest and what's a side quest, so you can't afford to skip anything.
  • 4 points for graphics, sound, and interface. The graphics are quite nice, I thought, and the mouse/keyboard interface works fine. There's no sound except for a repetitive music score, though.
   
Entering the hall of King Magnus.
   
  • 4 points for gameplay. Nonlinear but a little too long, and aside from the bug that made me invulnerable, I think combat was just a little too deadly.

That gives us a final score of 37, just north of my "recommended" range. I do recommend it for the mythology, but if I wasn't trying to fully document it for my blog, I would have gotten sick of it and quit before the end.
   
  
I don't know exactly when Dusk of the Gods was released, but it was some time in 1991. Computer Gaming World didn't get to it until September 1992. I'm curious how it worked back then. Did gaming magazines wait until someone told them about the game to cover it? When did we transition to an era in which we had reviews the same week a title was published?

In any event, the reviewer, Allen L. Greenburg, didn't much like it. He praised the dedication to research into Norse mythology, and the character creation system, but like me he found the combat bland, the quests a bit boring, and the text a little too verbose. He also complains about the graphics, which I found quite nice. Ultimately, I have to agree with his conclusion that the game is "far less appropriate for recreation than for education."

Dusk of the Gods was the second RPG from Event Horizon Software, which was due to change its name to DreamForge in 1993. We're just getting started with their catalog: we still have The Summoning (1992), Veil of Darkness (1993), Dungeon Hack (1994), Ravenloft: Strahd's Possession (1994), Menzoberranzan (1994), Anvil of Dawn (1995), Ravenloft: Stone Prophet (1995), and Warhammer 40,000: Rites of War (1999) to go. It looks like they kept using the DarkSpyre engine through Veil of Darkness before switching to a first-person engine after that. Event Horizon's founders--Christopher Straka, James Namestka, and Thomas Holmes--remained active as the principle designers and producers on each game, but they all seem to have left the industry when DreamForge folded in 2000.

Where Dusk of the Gods may have been at the beginning of Event Horizon's arc, it was at the end of publisher Interstel's. The Texas-based company would be sold and shuttered within the year.

So, an interesting title that shows that the developer could employ the same engine for two very different sorts of games, both unfortunately flawed in their own ways. I'll always be grateful to Event Horizon for plugging an unfortunate gap in my knowledge, and I look forward to seeing how they improved it in next year's The Summoning. For now, we turn our attention to an always-enjoyable Gold Box experience with Gateway to the Savage Frontier.

27 comments:

  1. I have looking forward to "Gateway"! Since I did not enjoy the Dragonlance games as much as you, Gateway is now my third favorite Gold Box title (after Pool and Curse). Far, far better than Silver Blades.

    I can't wait until Sunday!

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    1. Couldn't disagree with you more. Gateway is my least favourite, though I too have a harder time enjoying Dragonlance as a franchise. My ranking would be Pool, Secret, then Curse.

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    2. The two Savage Frontier games were the only two entries in the Gold Box series that I never played. Hopefully I'll get a chance to play along.

      My ranking is Pool / Pools (tied in my opinion), Curse and then Silver Blades far behind the rest. I thought that Silver Blades, along with the Dragonlance trilogy, just had a very mediocre story, even if the mechanics were the same as the other titles.

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    3. Lots of different opinions on the SF series. I've started playing Gateway and I have to admit the start is a little rocky, but we'll see.

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  2. Veil of Darkness is arguably not an RPG, there's no character development.

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  3. Rites of War is no real RPG but a (very good) strategy game similar to the Panzer General line of games. Hmmm... just thinking about it makes me want to play it again! :)

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  4. Am I the only one who finds the text box in this game nearly illegible? Grey letters on tan backdrop is pretty low contrast, and then they "fancy" font they picked is pretty rough on the eyes in addition. I couldn't read anything at all on those screen shots when viewing from my phone, and even from the computer I'm squinting a lot and deciding it's not really worth the bother.

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    1. I had commented on the initial Dusk of Gods post that I would try playing the game as well. I could barely read the text and gave up on the game after an hour or so.

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    2. It's pretty bad, but it's worse in the screen shots than in the actual game.

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    3. Enlarging the screenshots helped me. In Safari, for instance, you can just click on them and they should enlarge.

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  5. Funny how mundane these aupposedly epic quests become, once you've done a thousand of them. The game can't quite carry the mythological weight that it delivers.

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  6. Congrats for another win. I have good memories about playing The Summoning. It has an interesting spell system.

    And Fate: Gates of Dawn appears on the list. This will be epic.

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    1. I had fun with The Summoning as well. Requires adroit little teen fingers that I do not have now, though.

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  7. Nice, you'll be done with 1991 in no time. Probably.

    I gotta say, I like a game that has an open approach to completing its story missions in an order of the player's choosing. It certainly became a thing in 2000s BioWare games, like the first Dragon Age and Mass Effect. Hard to balance for difficulty though, I'd imagine.

    I'm curious to see how you'll tackle Dungeon Hack when it rolls around: you can customize almost every part of that game's dungeon up to and including its length. Should make for an interesting series.

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    1. I like open-the world games, too. The problem here is that the game gives you no sense of the size, or shape, or scope of its world. Most of the time, when you come upon a key NPC or quest item, it's completely by accident. So you don't really get a chance to take advantage of the games open-world status by planning your own route through the maps.

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    2. Right, I suppose it's a less helpful format when all you have is "pick a direction and go that way" for guidance. The first Divine Divinity felt like that.

      Did the original game's box come with a big map of the Norse multiverse? Maybe one at the back of the manual? With the amount of research that appears to have gone into this game, I wouldn't be surprised if that manual was an inch thick.

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    3. Yeah, I don't know whether it's in the manual or not, but in Norse cosmology the universe consists of 9 worlds, so the number of areas is kinda known beforehand.

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    4. I'm 99% sure that it didn't come with a map. I even watched an unboxing video on YouTube, and it just shows all the materials that the MOCAGH has--no map.

      VK,knowing the number of worlds--even if each one translates to its own map--doesn't mean knowing how they're configured in relationship to each other. Finding things, as I said, is still pretty random.

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    5. I guess it's a matter of preferences. Personally I hate it when the questgiver tells you exactly where you need to go, it robs the game of all player agency and sense of discovery. Conversely, that "Eureka!" moment when you figure out how those ten random things fit into your goals is one of the most satisfying things in games.

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    6. I don't want a giant blinking arrow pointing at my quest, but I'm fine being told where the city I've been asked to visit if it's common knowledge

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    7. Yes, Tristan makes my point. I don't want to know exactly where to go, either, but I want a general sense of the size and shape of the territory. My point was that there's no way in this game to say, at the outset, "ooh, I think I'll explore the three Midgard areas first, then go straight to Jotunheim!" Its takes the point away from the open-world concept if you literally stumble upon everything, including entire maps.

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  8. Fate Gates of Dawn is looming.

    The end of the world is near.

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  9. From the screenshot, it looks like Baldur is the one narrating there. He does refer to Odin as "my father" there. Baldur is supposed to come back from the dead after Ragnarok is over.

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  10. You gave consecutive games '37', though they offered rather different experiences. Did you enjoy one more than the other?

    Did Hodur say 'Hodur!'?

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    1. Yes, that seems about right. They were both fun for different reasons, flawed for different reasons, and offered about the same net satisfaction.

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  11. Late reply, but since no one else seems to have jumped on it...

    Did gaming magazines wait until someone told them about the game to cover it? When did we transition to an era in which we had reviews the same week a title was published?

    I could be mistaken, but I believe the way the review pipeline worked back in the day involved several delays.

    First, magazines normally reviewed release copies (as opposed to betas, etc.) of games; I suspect well-organized companies would send off a review copy as the game was manufactured or went into general distribution, but not really much earlier. So a magazine wouldn't even have a copy to review until around release day.

    Second, the lag time between putting a magazine together and publication was (and still is) long. I don't know what the average for, say, Computer Gaming World was, but I'd imagine 3-4 months was pretty typical. Printing and distribution are the biggest delays, but editing, layout, and so forth take time, too.

    Third, if you're a print magazine then you've only got limited pages--and you may only want to dedicate so many pages to each genre per month. So if six RPGs are available for review in June and only one in July, a few of those June games will probably get bumped forward.

    Fourth, keep in mind that a magazine's newsstand date is often a month or two later than when it was actually released. "Why" is a relatively lengthy explanation that I'll leave to someone else.

    All of which explains how a game can seem to be reviewed quite late. Assuming I'm not off-base on any of these assumptions--I know a bit about the publishing process, but I'm no expert.

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    1. These are all sensible explanations. Thanks for chiming in!

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