Thursday, January 4, 2018

Game 276: Shadow Keep (1991)

    
Shadow Keep
United States
Independently developed and distributed as Shareware
Released in 1991 for Macintosh
Date Started: 30 December 2017

In Skariten, we had a freeware-quality game masquerading as a major commercial release. With Shadow Keep, we have the opposite: a fun, well-programmed title whose author only wanted $10. The game would probably be better-remembered today except that Mac games had a limited audience in the first place and are difficult to emulate today.

Shadow Keep was clearly inspired by Ultima IV and V. You see it in large mechanics, like the keyword-based dialogue system for NPCs (where NAME and JOB both work), in small mechanics like the use of "Z" for character stats, and in content like the importance of an ankh, the use of descriptors like "lightly wounded" and "critically wounded" for enemy health, and capturable pirate ships as enemies.
      
Some of the homages go a bit too far.
       
And yet I hesitate to call it an "Ultima clone," partly because most games of that designation are clones of the early Ultima titles, not the good ones, and partly because it finds its own style with the GUI interface and original graphics. For instance, you have a paper doll on the main screen, which depicts what the character is wearing and holding. To "use" something, you don't hit a universal "U" key but instead hold the object in one hand or the other and activate that hand with "L" or "R." The other controls are simple, consisting of what you see on the screen: talk, pause, search, adjust sound, adjust speed, and see the character stats. You need to use weapon, armor, and item menus to equip things.
     
The game begins outside the titular Shadow Keep.
      
The author, Glenn Seemann, was "a brilliant young programmer" according to every NPC in the game. He was based in the little town of Destrehan, Louisiana, just up the river from my beloved New Orleans, and home of the best plantation tour that I've taken in the area. A dozen web sites, all clearly copying from the same source, claim that "an earlier version of the game existed in the early 1980s for the PET and TRS80 computers." This is uncited and I frankly have trouble believing it. Too much of the game depends on the Mac interface, and too much of the content is inspired by Ultima IV-V, which weren't available until the late 1980s. I have an e-mail in to Mr. Seemann hoping to clarify.
       
The queen fills in some of the back story.
      
The main character here is the son of a legendary knight who participated in The Great Battle against the Evil Overlord decades ago. It had been a Pyrrhic Victory, with many knights slain and the entire race of giant birds wiped out. The battle only turned when the Evil Overlord was somehow relieved of The Black Sword. Now, decades later, the Evil Overlord has returned. He sacked the PC's hometown and killed his family, stole the mystical Ankh from the Temple of Life, and unleashed abominations on the land. The PC has journeyed to Shadow Keep, home of King Mondor and Queen Verryl, the "last bastion of law and order," on a quest to find the Black Sword and destroy the Evil Overlord once and for all.
     
The king outlines the main quest.
    
The character starts in front of the titular Shadow Keep ("Mondor, honey, since we're the last bastion of light in an evil world, maybe we should think about re-naming our castle"). There's no character creation, not even a name, although the game assumes the character's name is the same as the save game file. The PC starts with 200 gold and a handful of magic keys. He has bars for health, magic, rations, and strength, and separate statistics for "fighting ability," magic level, and experience. Fighting ability and magic level increase as you fight and use magic scrolls. "Experience" does nothing; it's more like a point system to compare scores with other players.

The land is quite large and dotted with shops, huts, and temples, but also wandering monsters. Early in the game, I bought a dagger and leather armor at a nearby shop and for the first few hours, periodically darted out of the safety of Shadow Keep to slay an enemy or two before retreating to heal. Damage heals steadily over time.
          
Transacting in a shop.
      
Shadow Keep itself has no services, but the large castle has plenty of NPCs to talk with and rooms to search for valuables. Early in the game, King Mondor gives the main quest to the player. I spent much of this early session just feeding keywords to the NPCs, whose names are almost all drawn from Shakespeare (e.g., Ophelia, Polonius, Oberon, Titania, Malvolio). The keyword-based dialogue works pretty much like Ultima IV except that it takes entire phrases (e.g., VALLEY OF THE UNICORN). It also has a much larger box to display the results, which is ironic because the NPCs don't generally have a lot to say. Most of them have one or two lines inspired by JOB (and a lot of them have the same job, like king's advisor or lady-in-waiting) and then everyone has stock responses to common terms like SHADOW KEEP, OVERLORD, and BLACK SWORD. Only a small percentage offer unique comments; more on that in a bit.

A key game element, whether indoors or outdoors, is the frequent use of "S" to search your surroundings. The action briefly highlights the 8 squares immediately adjacent to the character, and it reveals secret doors on walls and treasures hidden within furniture or (outdoors) trees. You want to hit it when next to pretty much any object. The castle turned out to be full of gold, potions, rations, and keys (you need many keys to unlock the doors in the castle), and the manual says that King Mondor explicitly encourages you to loot the things you find, as only clever adventurers will defeat the Evil Overlord.
       
Searching turns furniture into valuables.
      
Such generosity does not extend to looting the actual treasure chamber, unfortunately, nor to killing any inhabitants or even wielding a weapon while in the castle. Such actions bring the guards swarming at you, and unlike Ultima's guards, they don't forget about your deeds when you leave the castle and return.
      
Don't even think about it. Trust me.
     
I haven't made much progress outdoors because combats are hard early in the game. There isn't much to them. You stand adjacent to the enemy and exchange blows with the "R" or "L" keys depending on which hand holds the desired weapon. If you have a magic scroll or potion, you can use it the same way. There are both land-based and water-based creatures, but the latter don't drop treasure chests. Particularly annoying are giant spiders and giant scorpions, both of which inevitably poison you. I found a few vials of both spider and scorpion poison antidote in the castle, but not enough for more than a few combats and the creatures are everywhere.
       
Trading blows with a goblin in the woods.
     
From the denizens of the castle (and a few people in the huts to the southwest of the castle), I've learned that the Ankh stolen from the Temple of Life was probably taken to Far Land, a continent across the sea. There's supposedly a labyrinth built by gnomes that connects the two continents, and I need a magic amulet to navigate the labyrinth. (I need to find an innkeeper named Thaldo and ask him about the amulet.) At some location, I'm going to need to pass a Guardian, built by a long-dead wizard named Sorn, which will require me to have a Sacred Bone. The bone is in the dungeon beneath the castle.
    
Getting some information from an NPC.
     
The Black Sword was lost in a battle between the knights of Shadow Keep and the Overlord's Demon Knights, an elite unit. The remains of the Demon Knights are in the Catacombs beneath an old cemetery in the southwest corner of the continent. Everyone warns me not to go there.

The Overlord is in a vast cavern beneath the kingdom, and the only entrance to it is on a small island in the middle of the Sea of Serpents. A torch will scare away the serpents. When I encounter the Overlord, I'll want a magic Grail to protect against his magic.

I've explored a bit of the dungeon beneath the castle, but I need more vials of anti-venom, as the place is full of spiders and scorpions. A bird-keeper named John is rumored to be in the dungeon somewhere, and apparently he can fill in a lot of the blanks in the game's lore.
       
The entrance to the dungeon. I've just killed a scorpion and then took some anti-venom. Those bottles of poison are like bombs that kill you if you step on them.
       
Just as I was wrapping up, I had found or made enough money to upgrade to a sword and chainmail. I need to spend some more time grinding and then find a magic shop for those anti-venom vials.
    
Death gives you an image of what I presume is the Evil Overlord.
     
Before I forget, I need to thank reader Rick S. for helping me with the files. This was ages ago, back in April 2016, and I'm not even sure if he's still reading. I still can't get any sound out of any game I play in the emulator, but I watched some video online and sound doesn't seem to be a big part of the game.

I look forward to seeing how this one develops. It's definitely the best RPG for the Mac so far. [Edit: I meant exclusively, of course.]

****

About to get started on Eye of the Beholder II. Any opinions on creating a new team vs. importing my old one?

62 comments:

  1. Using old team supposedly makes game easier since they start on higher levels but they alos hit level cap faster, can't remember if EOTB II keeps the equipment as well.

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  2. You keep most of your equipment some of which will see you through to the end if I remember correctly.

    Some items get taken away like the stone portal keys as they would be useless.

    It definitely makes the game easier to import your party.

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  3. If you played EOB1 thoroughly, you should have a full set of +5 weapons (indicating the game was not designed with any sequels in mind). The best weapon available in the last part of EOB2 is only +3, most of the game you'll be using +1 or +2 weapons. Furthermore, an imported party will likely have a higher level than a starting party.

    So importing a party gives you a big advantage that is arguably unfair, and therefore I recommend not doing so.

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    1. If that's the case I think the bigger issue is that it would eliminate meaningful equipment upgrades (and the fun of finding them).

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    2. Thanks for saving me the time to write all of that, agreed on all of the above. Easier, but less fun if you import.

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    3. Yeah, the weapons in EOB 1 are better than anything in EOB2. However, EOB 3 sucks ass, so keeping those weapons into the 3rd game will make it more tolerable.

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    4. I also think importing and enjoying your high level party is a reward for completing the previous game, and the feeling of using the same party for multiple games is well worth it.

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    5. I notice that it strips the weapon names. "Nightstalker +3" becomes just a long sword +3, and what have you.

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    6. I concur with others. I've played it with a new party a couple of times (5-6 maybe?), with great fun/success. Once I did a EOB 1 & 2 continuous playthrough, and definitely felt that my team was overpowered and it took away from the discovery of new equipment upgrades. Which is a shame by the way, since for role-playing reasons, continuing with the same party is so much fun. Anyway, I think both options are valid, it won't change "that" much of your experience in the end, like an difficulty mode switch you have in recent era RPGs.

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    7. Keep your original party and equipment. You'd need those in EoB3.

      If you find EoB2 not challenging enough with your high level party, you can restrict yourself by fighting barehanded until you get drops in EoB2 to equip with.

      Yeah, doesn't make sense but EoB2 not scaling well with EoB1 doesn't make sense either.

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    8. I thought it was too easy at first, but then I ran into a room with a thousand skeleton warriors and it went downhill fast from there. I'm keeping my party and stuff.

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  4. A dozen web sites, all clearly copying from the same source, claim that "an earlier version of the game existed in the early 1980s for the PET and TRS80 computers." This is uncited and I frankly have trouble believing it."

    Hm... my first thought was that they might be confusing it with the other Shadowkeep, which does date from the early(ish) 80s... but that game was only released for the Apple, so who the heck knows...

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    1. As for the source they're all copying it from, I'm guessing Wikipedia, which I note does state that on its page about the game (without a citation). Anything on Wikipedia tends to get uncritically copied and spread around the web. Heck, there are still a lot of pages out there claiming that the term for a creature human from the waist up and octopus from the waist down is a "cecaelia", even though that word was just invented by some random people from a message board about mermaids who decided to make a Wikipedia page for their neologism... (And then later because it got so widespread, the name got used for a Pathfinder monster...)

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    2. Yeah, it's probably Wikipedia, but since Wikipedia's article isn't even cited, it's tough to tell.

      The number of sites that simply re-package Wikipedia is insane. I don't understand how they make any money, or why readers aren't smart enough to just go to the source.

      Trying to Google Image search "Shadow Keep" and "TRS-80," I've discovered how much my own blog has screwed up image searching for games. Because the game names linger in the "recent and upcoming" list for a while, Google's algorithm associates them with the images in every entry.

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    3. Possibly relevant: https://xkcd.com/978/

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  5. Party importing mechanics are almost always OP. Cute idea, but almost all games are balanced without importing in mind. I think BT might be the only example I can think of to the contrary?

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    1. It works well in Quest for Glory and even better in Realms of Arkania. I highly recommend he do so in those two series.

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    2. The Realms of Arkania sequels gives you a fair amoumt of exp at the start of the games, but a imported party will be stronger. If I remember correctly you can also willfully walk past of the chance to get the exp for extra challenge

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    3. There are a few exploits you can use to transfer larger amounts of money from part 1 to 2 in the Realms of Arkania games. This makes part 2 very easy because it allows you to get the best armor early on, which makes part 2 easier.

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    4. You'd think they would have some way of boosting the monster's levels a bit to keep the game from being boring.

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    5. Can confirm, importing my first casual character into QofG 2 resulted in a character weaker (although richer) than a new character.

      I'd like to see a list of games that have importing, and a description of the differences between that and new characters.

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    6. It's fine in Chaos Strikes Back, as that is brutal from the start anyway.

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    7. Mr. Pavone, that is trickier than it sounds. Trying to balance Darksun 2 for rich, high level characters imported from the first game, they simply doubled all the opponents' hit point totals. Toward the end of the game this got... out of hand.

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    8. No, I can imagine. Just giving theenemies more hit points just makes fights last longer. Adding more enemies gives them more attacks, provided they can get into position, and it makes the fights last longer. Never mind game economies are pretty messed up and limited in scope to begin with.

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    9. Same thing was implemented in the Ravenloft: Stone Prophet. Imported characters faced the enemies with more HP and THAC0 bonuses. That works poorly with AD&D, as there is more than enough experience in the game to get to levels 10+ anyway, and after that character progress is slow, especcialy in that very games. For imported characters magic becomes weak, while melee combat is boring. Or unfairly deadly without a fighter-heavy party.

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    10. Gateway to the Savage Frontier parties imported into Treasures of the Savage Frontier don't start at a significant advantage. There is some nice gear (cloaks of displacement and boots of speed), but my party at the end of Gateway only had marginally better gear and a level over a fresh Treasures starting party. It does make the early game a bit easier, but balances out toward the middle.

      Wizardry 6 to 7, and 7 to 8 reduced character levels, and some gear was lost. So while you started at a distinct advantage, it wasn't as huge as starting with a level 30+ party decked out in the finest Wizardry 6 gear would be.

      Most games, however, an imported party is either a requirement (BT 3) or broken entirely.

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    11. An import into Wizardry 7 might place you in a much harder starting area, depending on your ending, with culled stats and equipment. So it can also be a disadvantage. A new party quickly closes the level gap, so all that remains as an advantage are a handfull of nice items from Wizardry 6.

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    12. It works fine in the Gold Box games, but those usually make a point of stripping away all or most magic items.

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    13. I found starting CotAB with a trio of level 8 (as opposed to 5) fighters pretty significant. +3 to hit, an extra half attack per round and another 3d10+con hp.

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    14. Oh, it's a definite help, especially in that opening Fire Knives bit. In my experience it evens out fairly well once you start tackling Dracondras/Moander/Zhentil Keep, though.

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  6. I'd say if you can import, you should. After all, if the devs didn't want you to do it, why put it in?

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  7. The author, Glenn Seemann

    I knew I recognized that name: he's the author of Shodan, a long-forgotten Shanghai/tile-matching game for Mac OS, which samples an absolutely gorgeous piece of traditional Chinese music that I've sadly never been able to ID.

    (I contacted Seemann ages ago about it; he replied -- which I appreciated! -- but had downloaded it from a Compuserve library and didn't know the performer or song name.)

    I once spent a Christmas break snowbound in an isolated cabin in the Northeast, playing a CD-ROM full of late '80s/early '90s Mac shareware games like Shodan and Oxyd...and Taskmaster, a quirky tile-based RPG the Addict will get to in due time. A pity Shadow Keep wasn't on there too, as I would have enjoyed it!

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    1. Taskmaster

      Ugh, what a typo, and I can't even blame autocorrect:Taskmaker, that is.

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    2. Seems unlikely that the song would have found its way into the Shazam database, but, I'm curious, have you tried it?

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  8. I imported my party and found the game plenty hard enough, level caps and all. That said, not finding any more powerful weapons than what I had was a bit of a drag, but I found the game fun regardless. Your mileage may vary.

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  9. Glad to help with the files. And of course, I'm a big fan of the blog, so I continue to enjoy reading your escapades.

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  10. Interesting story. I suppose you could create a whole separate category called "Ultima Clones" or "Ultima Exploitation Games". These are not put downs. It just shows that neither SSI nor Wizardry seems to have had the same effect on players in général.

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    1. Given the popularity of Ultima clones, I'm actually kind of surprised there don't seem to be any Ultima clone construction sets. I mean, obviously they couldn't use that name, but it wouldn't have been that hard to create a simple game-maker that was tailored toward Ultima clones. I recently relaunched my blog about game creation systems (which I was inspired to create primarily by the CRPG Addict blog, as it happens), and I've been compiling a big list of game creation programs, and while there have certainly been plenty of JRPG clone makers, I haven't run into anything I'd really consider an Ultima clone maker -- at least, not a U5-or-earlier Ultima clone maker; there's Exult for making Ultima 7 clones. But the closest thing I know of to a U4 or U5 clone maker is the formerly shareware now freeware Adventure Creation Kit, and that was clearly mostly inspired by Stuart Smith's Adventure Construction Set (as I see now is even explicitly acknowledged on the about page), though it does borrow U4-5's keyword dialogue system, and the latest version of ACK comes with an Ultima "world kit" and an Ultima parody game (which the CRPG Addict has covered!).

      Although there are a lot of game construction systems on my list that I haven't had a chance to look at in detail yet, so maybe there is an Ultima clone construction set type system there that I don't know about yet... and really, I guess it depends on how close it has to be to Ultima before it's considered a clone. The Exile/Avernum series by Spiderweb Software clearly took a lot of inspiration from Ultima, for instance, and it did include a construction set (two, actually, one for Exile and one for Avernum); I don't know that they're quite close enough to Ultima to be considered Ultima clones, but a case could certainly be made for it.

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    2. Actually, on second thought, if this game qualifies as a (borderline) Ultima clone, so does Exile/Avernum. I'm probably being too strict in what I consider an Ultima clone.

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    3. I'd be strict, too. "Inspired by" isn't the same thing as "clone."

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  11. With regards to the importing of characters, the following excerpt from the July 1992 issue of British Amiga magazine The One:

    "There's no great advantage to using characters from Beholder 1. Such a party would be better equipped than one generated fresh in Beholder 2, however you'll find that the latter party will have higher hit points."

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    1. Or as I'd put it: the reviewer admits to modify-maxing their characters.

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    2. I tried to confirm, but there's no way to tell, from within the game, the hit point total of imported characters. You never see a number. You just get the status bar. I'd have to open the file in a hex editor or something.

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    3. Really? Don't you just go into preferences and change bars to numbers the same way you do for EOTB1?

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    4. Just so you know, that quote's not from a review. It's from an article of "start up" tips provided by US Gold.

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    5. @Addict -- In the EOB games I believe you can left-click (or right click) on the HP bar and it switches to a HP number display.

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    6. Edit: Looks like I'm wrong, that must have been a shortcut in a different game. All I can find in the rule book is Tristan's suggestion about going through the Camp > Preferences menu.

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  12. Do you think the residents of far land call their nation 'far land'?

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    1. In New Zealand, the people that live in the far north call their region the "Far North"... so it's possible?

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Far_North_District

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    2. This is a fertile land, and we will thrive. We will rule over all this land, and we shall call it...This Land.

      I think we should call it...YOUR GRAVE!!!

      AH! Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!

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  13. EOB2 is "famously hard" in the early going. I've only played it by importing max level characters from EOB1 and therefore on both playthroughs have found it "about right". I'd therefore recommend an import. Playing a game with an import function without using it always feels like missing out on a key feature of the game.

    Also, I doubt you're going to use it seeing as you like mapping and want the experience as-intended, but there's a really nifty little auto-mapping tool out there for the EOB games. I mapped my way through honestly on my first playthrough back in the day, and had fun with that, but did get significantly lost towards the end of both of the first two games. Using the automapper tool on my second playthrough allowed me to find all the places I may have missed the first time around, and made the incredibly dire and disappointing third game vaguely playable.

    (EOB3 is brutal, by the way, and not in a fun or challenging way. When you get to that one you're going to want every advantage you can get to make it be over faster.)

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    1. I played a lot of EOB2 as a kid (maybe 7-10 years old?) and never found it particularly hard, combat wise. The mapping/puzzles proved to be too hard for me, but never the combat, even creating new characters.

      That said, there are some particular meta-game tricks/traps that really got to me as a kid and caused me to abandon the game (Gur varfpncnoyr ebbz jurer, vs lbh fnir, lbh unir gb whfg fgneg bire.)

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  14. What? There's nothing particularly hard about the early parts of EOB2. Some of the middle parts are "famously hard" like... gur nern jurer lbh pnaabg erfg, naq gur orubyqre yriry, naq n srj bguref... but in the early parts you encounter jbyirf, ybj-yriry pyrevpf, thneqf naq fbzr onfvp haqrnq - and there's nothing "famously hard" about any of that. You'll be fine with the predefined party that the game ships with, or indeed any custom characters.

    EOB3, now THAT is "famously hard". The monsters in an early area require n zntvp jrncba bs cyhf gjb be terngre gb or uvg, and this is much easier to get if you import characters.

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  15. That Evil Overlord must rank among the cutest in CRPG history. And at least your character died smiling.

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  16. Regarding EOB2 I would strongly suggest to start with a fresh party. It is such a legendary game and part of that unique experience -as someone already commented before- is its rather high difficulty level. Trust me, there will be some very very memorable fights in this game (I don't want to spoil anything...) and taking an EOB1 party would "kill the thrill" making things a little too easy. Think of it like playing Dark Souls with an imported character from Demon's Souls (if that would be possible) and you get the idea...I am looking forward to your coverage of EOB2 and hope you enjoy it as much as I did and still do. In my opinion, one of the best RPG/MS-DOS games ever...

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    1. One possible approach is to play through with a fresh team and then spend a few hours on an imported run through. That would give you a nice feel for the difference (and an interesting post).

      For what it is worth I didn't find Eye2 or Eye3 to be that difficult--certainly not Wiz1 or MM1 crushing.

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  17. I love how happy and good-natured the protagonist looks. He looks so... neighborly. I appreciate that level of optimism in the face of mortal peril. The angsty protagonists of today could stand to learn a few lessons from him!

    While I'm at it, that title screen dragon is great too. He's very enthusiastic about the game (even if he can't walk without scraping his belly along the ground), and it makes me want to be as enthusiastic as he. This game radiates positive energy.

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  18. Quite a lot of varied and conflicting opinions about the difficulty level of EOTB2. I guess I don't need any more comments on that. I appreciate everyone's advice, and if when the game starts, it doesn't look like I took it, it's because I started a few days ago.

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  19. Actually, when I was a child I found a fantasy novel by Alan Dean Foster at our local library. This novel was named Shadowkeeper and described as »based on the computer game "Shadowkeep"«. Yet, the book is from 1984.

    https://www.amazon.com/dp/0446325538/

    Of course, I read the book in its German translation back then. But since then I wanted to play the game the book was based on. As the book was clearly worn out, and it was around 1991 when I read it, it must have been there a few years already.

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    1. The novel is based on the earlier Shadowkeep (1984) for the Apple II, which I reviewed about two years ago.

      http://crpgaddict.blogspot.com/2015/11/game-204-shadowkeep-1984.html

      The book was specifically commissioned to go along with the game.

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  20. Of course, the novel was named »Shadowkeep«, not »Shadowkeeper«. Autocorrect messed it up.

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