Friday, October 23, 2020

The Summoning: Won! (with Summary and Rating)

Jera rules the world.
        
The Summoning
United States
Event Horizon (developer); Strategic Simulations, Inc. (publisher)
Released 1992 for DOS, 1994 for PC-98
Date Started: 16 August 2020
Date Finished: 20 October 2020
Total Hours: 53
Difficulty: Easy in combats (2/5), hard in puzzles (4/5), average moderate (3/5)
Final Rating: (to come later)
Ranking at Time of Posting: (to come later)
       
Summary
This sequel to DarkSpyre (1990) continues the series' effort to bring Dungeon Master puzzles and combat to a single-character axonometric interface. The player enters a fortress of more than 40 levels (though some are optional) hoping to make his or her way to the mysterious Shadow Weaver, a warlord threatening to take over the entire world. The game's well-written backstory plays well into the encounters, NPCs, and plot twists that the player finds within the labyrinth, and the puzzles--tough but fair, involving innumerable levers, pressure plates, teleporters, and rolling balls--particularly shine. Most RPG elements, such as combat, character development, and equipment, are only average, but the game doesn't do much of anything completely wrong. Although it lasts a bit too long for my tastes, it never reaches levels of frustration as high as DarkSpyre. I enjoyed and recommend it.
     
*****
   
I was physically close to winning when I last wrote, but it still took a while. The longest part involved fully exploring the Otherworld. I didn't realize I had barely scratched the surface. I had missed the second destination of one of those double-destination teleporters, and it led to two new Otherworld maps--Otherworld Two and Otherworld Three.
   
Each map had plenty of enemies (including new giant crabs) and plenty of puzzles. One puzzle left me stumped and I had to consult a "let's play" on YouTube to solve it; it involved shooting arrows across a line of teleporters to activate a pressure plate. There was another one involving a rolling barrel that took me about an hour. That's something I picked up from my brief audit of the cluebook: what I had interpreted as cross-sections of trees were in fact "barrels." These levels introduced the "rolling barrel," which looks like a barrel but acts like a ball.
     
I didn't even realize there was an Otherworld Two.
      
The major purposes of the Otherworld levels were twofold: first, they delivered the series of items I needed to open the way to the part of the Staff of Summoning. Second, they provided two scraps of paper that together contained the "Shape Change" spell. (I also got "Lightning Shield" and "Swiftness.") Otherworld Three ended at King Evermore's Treasure Chamber, where I had to choose one from among several items. I chose Boots of Levitation, expecting that they would help me short-cut other teleporters and pressure plates in the future.
    
Back on the first level, on the other side of a Raido rune, I met a young man with no name. He could not remember ever having a name. He had been waiting in the room where I encountered him for many years but didn't seem particularly bothered by it. He said he felt like a part of him was missing; I figured he must be the Staff of Summoning piece in human form.
        
This guy talks a bit like a living staff.
       
The weird little creature called Qasar had the spell ("Channeling") necessary to turn the kid back into a staff. He would only give the spell to one of his own kind, which was obviously what "Shape Change" was for. I cast it, changed myself to whatever furry toothed creature Qasar is, and spoke to him. He congratulated me for my ingenuity and gave me the seven hand gestures for the spell. 
     
No champagne first?
      
I cast the spell near the nameless kid, and he changed into a staff, which I promptly stuck into my backpack. I returned to King Evermore and gated out of the Overworld, never to return, not even for any of the stuff I left strewn in his foyer.
     
That left the four levels of the citadel, three of which I had already partly explored. Each of the first three levels is roughly organized into quadrants, and you can only pass between quadrants on the same level in certain places. Thus, getting to the northwest quadrant of Level 1 means first going up to the southwest quadrant of Level 3, crossing over, and descending two ladders to Level 1 again. I'm making it sound easier than it is; the reality involved a lot more teleporting and levers and pressure plates. But you get the idea.
      
An "execution chamber."
       
I'll spoil for you now that I wasted a lot of time and inventory preparing for a final battle that never came. The Raven, who was relatively easy, was the last "boss-level" enemy that I fought. The Ebon Knight was the last difficult enemy that I fought. I expected some epic-level fight with Shadow Weaver, at least, and I prepared for it by leveling up with a variety of weapon types and magic skills and saving runes like Berkana (restores all magic power) and Dagaz (casts "Slaying" spell), but as we'll see, the endgame doesn't even involve a battle. Some random citadel guard or skeleton was the last enemy slain. Some commenter was right: once you find Warmonger, you can pretty much just use it exclusively. I never once used "Healing" nor used any of my diamonds to make a full-healing potion. I kept a Shield of Spell Absorption, Bracers of Regeneration, and a Cloak of Invisibility for no reason.
       
A clue to the spell parchment to insert.
       
Levels 1-3 of the citadel are mostly about supplying the black and white pearls that you need on Level 3 to open the way to Level 4. There was one key thing to do, however, which was to find the phylactery of Balthazar, the mage controlled by Shadow Weaver. I guess I had been encountering Balthazar for several levels--I just assumed it was some random mage--but you can't defeat him permanently until you find the phylactery, which itself means feeding a bunch of spell scrolls into the appropriate slots.
   
Once found, the phylactery need only be thrown against a wall to free the mage. The act gets you about 50,000 experience points, enough to raise me to Level 10 ("hero").
       
I guess "free" wasn't quite the right word.
       
Five black pearls and five white pearls are needed on Level 3. As some commenters pointed out, you don't ever find any extra black pearls. I did end the game with several extra white ones.
      
Inserting the first pearl.
     
The final level is an outer ring with a group of inner chambers. Various teleporters are scattered throughout the outer ring, leading to isolated inner rooms where you battle guards, skeletons, and stone golems to find iron tokens. You need about eight iron tokens to open the teleporter that leads to Shadow Weaver.
    
There's one!
     
Two sentient swords guard Shadow Weaver's chambers, but Warmonger threatens them and they agree to depart the world, although they swear revenge. From there, getting into Shadow Weaver's chambers is just a matter of inserting half of the Staff of Summoning in a hole. It awaits pickup on the other side of the door.
       
A sequel is set up.
        
Shadow Weaver stands alone in a large, empty room, as if the developers' budget ran out in the final area. Wearing a cloak and mask, she invites the character to take the second half of the staff from the chest behind her and mend it. The chest contains not only the staff but the God of Magic's rune necklace. Casting "Mending" brings up a cinematic in which the staff is made whole.
         
You rule the world but you don't have any furniture?
          
Shadow Weaver then demands that the character hand over the staff. When the character refuses, Shadow Weaver taunts her, claiming that she is impervious to both physical and magical attacks. Indeed, "any attack brought against me will only serve to harm the attacker" (I verified this). Jera says something about thwarting her plan, but Shadow Weaver says: "Plans? What do you know of plans? The puppet speaks back to the master with only wood for brains. You have been my pawn from the beginning, and now your part in my play is done."
      
The player has a few seconds to make a choice of object to hold in her hand before activating the Staff of Summoning. No matter what she chooses, Jera says that she knows that Shadow Weaver is Abighael, daughter of Borel. But Shadow Weaver reveals that she is also Rowena, head of the Council of Mages. She Palpatinesquely played both sides of the war and engineered the arrival of a hero to find the second half of the Staff of Summoning, which for some reason she could not do. "[Now] my revenge will be complete. The world will finally regret the pain it has brought me."
        
TV Tropes calls this "All According to Plan."
        
Three objects work and offer three different endings. The first thing you can do is hold the rune necklace and summon the God of Magic. Shadow Weaver is delighted, as she intended to do that anyway. The moment he appears, he blasts and kills Jera. He and Shadow Weaver then engage in a "great cosmic battle" that Shadow Weaver loses. The God of Magic then apparently destroys the world.
        
         
The second possibility is to hold Chesschantra's skull. Chesschantra paralyzes Jera when she arrives, and Jera watches helplessly as the mother and daughter together summon the God of Magic, who does his thing.
        
Not even a word of gratitude?
       
Mother and daughter battle and defeat the god, at which point Chesschantra turns on her daughter and kills her
 
This was mean.
        
The game offers the same world-ending message, although it is unclear why Chesschantra wants to destroy it.
     
But why?
          
The third and "correct" option was my first inclination, so I'm happy with that. If you hold Warmonger in the other hand, the staff summons King Borel. Although Shadow Weaver claims that it's impossible, since Borel was destroyed by the god-created DarkSpyre, Borel does appear. He thanks Jera and opens a portal to take his daughter to "a realm where they may dwell in peace." Abighael seems happy with this result as she takes Borel's hand and steps into the portal.
    
After they leave, Jera is left alone in Shadow Weaver's chambers. Warmonger has disappeared. Jera notes that Borel had his own sword, but it wasn't Warmonger, and she speculates that Warmonger has "gone off to sulk somewhere." I'm not sure if this is supposed to be a hint that one of the swords guarding Shadow Weaver's door went and found Borel and helped him return, or if it's just blather.
        
Am I supposed to attach some significance to this?
      
Shadow Weaver's outfit is left on the ground. Other than grabbing it, the only thing to do is leave via a portal. If the player leaves without putting on the outfit, she is attacked in the next chamber by a group of elite guards. I do not think they are beatable. They do half your hit point total in damage every time they hit, and they almost always hit, and there are about a dozen of them. I tried using all my amassed equipment, including Figurines of Resurrection, and I couldn't kill even one of them. Even if I could, the room's one door has no mechanism to open it.
         
Shadow Weaver should have put these guys on guard duty.
       
The proper solution is to put on Shadow Weaver's outfit.
        
I look and perhaps sound the part. I hope my lack of shadow-weaving abilities isn't a problem.
         
The guards then assume that she is Shadow Weaver and bring news that the final battle has been won and the entire world is under her control. She seems to accept this situation, with plans to rule benevolently while continuing to impersonate Shadow Weaver:
        
The world has seen much of war these past decades. It is now time for a little peace, I think. Come! Gather my messengers! It is time to go out and see what I have won. There are a great many things I have planned!
        
Roll end credits. I tried several other objects with the Staff of Summoning, including the wizards' skulls, but nothing else worked. Making it to the endgame rewards you with about 500,000 experience points, catapulting you to the top level even though it no longer matters.
           
Jera shows a lack of understanding of the economics of ruling the world and keeping a standing army.
                         
The twists at the end were pretty good, although I think some of my commenters oversold them. I was expecting something even more earth-shattering. Still, I have to praise the game for improving upon the approach of DarkSpyre and making the backstory relevant throughout the game. I never really like the "you've been doing my bidding all along" trope, but it's well done here and actually makes sense with the plot reveal. Shadow Weaver's one mistake was assuming Jera wouldn't go to the citadel's lower level and find out how to use the staff from Chesschantra's ghost.
      
          
I like the puzzles of The Summoning much better than DarkSpyre, too. They feel more organic and less artificial (although the previous game had a good reason that they felt artificial). Most of them have a couple of solutions, and some can be skipped entirely or circumvented (e.g., using the Boots of Levitation to get over plates and teleporters; casting "Freeze" to stop rolling balls). I could have done without the double-destination teleporters, however, which force you to test every teleporter once you know they exist.
    
The Summoning has NPCs, but as for other RPG elements, I'm not sure the sequel did a better job. Making Warmonger so overpowered and then introducing it slightly more than halfway through the game was a mistake; it ruins the other weapons. I wasn't enamored of the spell system. For combat tactics and character development, DarkSpyre may have been a little superior. But because of its other elements, I expect The Summoning to out-perform DarkSpyre's GIMLET score of 30.
   
For a game of this many entries, I would normally save the GIMLET for its own article. But I've already got one of those coming up for Dark Queen of Krynn so let's just bang it out here:
     
  • 5 points for the game world. It has a good backstory with original elements, referenced repeatedly during the game.
  • 3 points for character creation and development. Character creation is relatively meaningless given the way the character develops, and as for that development, I never felt that any of the "level-ups" made me more powerful.
  • 5 points for NPC interaction. I like the NPCs: they had personalities and interests of their own. They weren't terribly complex, and the game could have done more with the dialogue keywords, but the system was still miles ahead of DarkSpyre. They even offered a fundamentally role playing choice in the decision whether to kill them as you left them, as most were loyal to Shadow Weaver.
  • 5 points for encounters and foes. The foes are nothing special. Some hit harder than others and some throw globs of whatever at you, but for the most part you adopt the same approaches to all of them. I do give credit to the game manual for providing a couple of paragraphs of description for all of them. Most of these points go to the puzzle system, which I regard as a type of "encounter." The two games do a good job bringing Dungeon Master-style puzzles to an axonometric interface.
  • 4 points for magic and combat. The fundamental problem with combat is that it's too easy. There are a number of environmental strategies that you might employ if it were harder, including maneuvering enemies into the paths of each others' missiles, leading them to traps or rolling balls or teleporters, using spells like "Magic Wall" to limit the number that can attack you at once, crushing them in doors, or using "Invisibility" to elude them. However, as easy as it is to "Freeze" and heal, not to mention how overpowered Warmonger is, you might as well just wade in swinging. It's too bad because the spell system has some creative spells that I rarely bothered to cast, including "Magic Skill," "Weapon Skill," "Swiftness," "Battlerage," and "Zap Away." You mostly need to save magic points for puzzle-related spells.
      
One of several spells I never used.
     
  • 4 points for equipment. There certainly is plenty of it. Focusing just on the standard RPG stuff, you've got various types of weapons and armor, wands, potions, necklaces and other magic items (which have laughably short lives), and of course runes with different effects. Again, it would all be more meaningful with harder combats. I do not like that so much equipment was used for puzzle-solving, particularly when it involved items that most players would be expected to use immediately, such as Odin runes and skill books. I don't like that the distribution of equipment is completely determinate. And I don't like that half the game is spent micro-managing your inventory so you're not overburdened.
  • 1 point for economy. I'm being generous. Individual gold pieces that take up their own slots is more "equipment" than an economy. 
  • 4 points for quests. There's a main quest with several outcomes, even if some are obviously "bad," plus a few side-quests and side-areas.
  • 4 points for graphics, sound, and interface. I didn't think there was anything particularly good or bad about the graphics and limited sound effects. As for the interface, I think it required a bit too much mouse work, and too much of that had a tendency to go awry. The system of dragging the inventory panel up and down was never a good idea; it didn't work well in DarkSpyre or Dusk of the Gods, either. (I seem to have said otherwise in my summary of DarkSpyre, which surprises me.) I would have much preferred a single key to switch between the two. The automap is well-annotated but I would have preferred an easy way to call it up instead of requiring the player to equip a special object.
  • 5 points for gameplay. Here, The Summoning significantly outperforms its predecessor, which was painfully linear and difficult. Both games were a bit too long.
     
That gives us a final score of 40. I was expecting something in the 40s, so that basically works. I'd certainly consider it "recommended," and if Event Horizon had made a third title in the series, I suspect they would have done even better. Considering how much I was dreading the game at the outset, I'm pleased where I ended up.
         
Note that the hero in the advertisement is choosing the worst possible ending.
          
Samuel Baker reviewed The Summoning in the March 1993 Computer Gaming World. Some of his statements are a little mysterious ("I found that floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee paid dividends when there were many adversaries"), but overall he was complimentary to the game. Despite some frustrations with the inventory puzzles, he notes that: "I found myself more and more involved with The Summoning, playing not out of duty, but out of pleasure." That's exactly how I felt, although I can't agree with his follow-up: "I was sorry to finish the game." He alludes to Scorpia having tried the game but quitting in frustration, but I can't find her review in the issue he points to. Later that year, the magazine nominated The Summoning for "Role-Playing Game of the Year" but gave the award to Ultima Underworld II. I was surprised to see much less complimentary scores in MobyGames's round-up (they range from 39 in the German Power Play to 82 in the German PC Games); most of the complaints seem to have to do with technical and interface issues that I didn't experience.
       
The Summoning ends our experience in this game world--presumably, Jera ruled in peace forever--but not with Event Horizon or the two primary developers, Christopher Straka and Thomas Holmes. Screenshots of their vampire-themed RPG, Veil of Darkness (1993), suggests that it continues the DarkSpyre engine. Later, they'll move to a first-person interface for Dungeon Hack (1993), Ravenloft: Strahd's Possession (1994), Ravenloft: Stone Prophet (1995), and Anvil of Dawn (1995), but even then some of the graphical and interface elements look familiar. Straka's games have gotten continually better since the odd Wizard Wars (1988), and I look forward to seeing the rest of his trajectory.
    
With that, we get ever-so-closer to the end of 1992. Next, I'm going to attempt the French Oméga, Planète Invisible from 1986, but I warn you I'm not going to have a lot of patience for it. We'll see a wrap-up of Dark Queen of Krynn before that. I would also note that is my 120th entry for 2020, which has been my annual goal since setting up my Patreon account in early 2019. If I maintain my pace, I should have close to 150 entries by the end of the year, making this my most productive year since 2011. Even 10 more entries this year will make it my most productive year since 2013. Tell that to all those people who say Chester Bolingbroke is on his way out.


84 comments:

  1. You'll never make it, Bolingbroke! Ten trusty games stand before the exit to 1993 - and if you get beyond that, hundreds lie in wait. Submit to the Gamesmaster, fool!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Are there only ten games left in 1992? I already look forward to reading about 1993 games

      Delete
    2. Especially since the last of 1992 is Might and Magic IV and the first of 1993 is Might ang Magic V :)

      I have catched up with the series earlier this year finishing MM3 and I have been looking forward to playing along with the blog MM4 and MM5 since then.

      Delete
  2. Experience after the end game doesn't matter, but I feel like something very fundamental would be missing without it--experience and gold are the fundamental rewards in a CRPG, and to end the game without giving you generous amounts of either feels a bit like being handed the bill and hustled out of a restaurant before you've finished eating. Sure I'll never make use of the mechanical rewards of beating the game, but I still appreciate receiving them as a mark of completion.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree. It's just that you've only "earned" about 250,000 experience points, maybe 300,000 if you did the sewers, up to that point. So it's bizarre to suddenly be elevated to 800,000.

      Delete
    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    3. About the final guards, I reached the ending with two Dagaz runes in my inventory, I used them against them, each one did 99 damage to each guard, and no one died, so I suppose that they are invincible.

      Delete
    4. I've never really seen the point in giving experince and gold for beating the final boss. The game's over, you'll never have any chance to use them, so why bother?

      Delete
    5. As Alex says just up there, it's sort of like a high score.

      Delete
    6. Because you feel coooool when the Last XP hit you and you become invincible

      Delete
    7. I was always a little put off by that--having trained on goldbox games, I expected to be able to keep playing after I had won and run around the map to anything I missed with my high-level party and endgame loot.

      Delete
  3. So the conclusion is: Invading civilization of ne'er-do-wells is triumphant, with no doubt calamitous results, but instead of being ruled by Abhigael, it's ruled by you, pretending to be her. No need for taxes or tithes? Good luck keeping your generals happy, not to mention your invincible bodyguards.

    Strange ending, but props for being different.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is possible that the reasoning behind the ending was that killing the Evil Overlord doesn't automatically vanish his armies. The "no need for taxes and tithes" I suppose that it is not a literal description of how your character wants to rule, but it is more addressed to the player to confirm this next Shadow Weaver will be a benevolent ruler. It can be argued that with "having no need of taxes and tithes" it means that it doesn't needs them for the purpose of just enriching his personal treasure vault.

      Delete
  4. Sorry for the oversold but the end is way better that most games.
    And yes, the vampire game use the same engine and reutilizes the creeper and skeleton monsters. But if you play it you will see that is a bit more adventure than the summoning in fact it is clearly divided between 'dungeon' locations and 'normal' locations. I never finished it neither liked it.
    As for the summoning, I got the good ending right, and was so fed-up with the length of the game that altought I loved the end, I removed it right then and never tried any other of the endings.

    ReplyDelete
  5. 'Some of his statements are a little mysterious ("I found that floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee paid dividends when there were many adversaries")'

    Attack, run, repeat. It's a quote from Muhammad Ali about the way he boxed. Their hands can't hit what their eyes can't see.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I knew the quote came from Ali, but he didn't mean "attack, run, repeat." That wouldn't make sense in boxing. He meant that agility and strength are both important and must be used together. I didn't see a direct application in The Summoning's combat since you can really only "sting" one way and you can't really dance around the battlefield. But your interpretation (of what Baker said) is probably accurate.

      Delete
    2. The analogy would apply pretty well to the Dungeon Master Two-Step...

      Delete
  6. This game has been in my GOG account untouched for a long time (like so many others) but your experience with it sounds like it's a neat crpg and it finally makes me want to play it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Are you sure that "The Summoning" is available in GOG? I have only found "Summoner", which it is another game.

      Delete
    2. You're absolutely right. I could've sworn it was in my account but now I checked and it isn't. Neither there nor on steam. I think I'm getting old...

      Delete
  7. I remember playing this way back, the shock of omg Shadow Weaver is Rowena?! I must say I do appreciate this community biting their tongue along the way and not revealing the fun plot twist. Congrats on the victory.

    A bit off-topic. Wrapping up 1992 I expect Clouds of Xeen will be your last title for this year so you can combine it with 1993's Darkside via World of Xeen? My advice: don't do it. Clouds is intended as a standalone; Darkside expects you to have fully completed it and achieved the max level possible in Clouds before you attempt it, level 20. Proceed if you wish, but Darkside will seem unreasonably difficult if you've not completed Clouds first. Not only that, but if you complete pretty much any quest in Darkside, you'll be grossly overpowered, making Clouds ridiculously easy. Also not a great experience.

    Apologies but just wanted somewhere to say this as fair warning beforehand, and to maximize enjoyment of both linked MM titles as they can be played simultaneously from the beginning but should probably never be played this way if you've not played them before.

    Here's a related idea: how about creating 'placeholder' posts for upcoming games so the community can discuss before you begin? Addressing possible technical challenges, expected play time and time savers, historical info, personal experiences, stuff like the above to get the buzz going and excite readers. Could be a helpful addition to this great blog!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The thing about World of Xeen is that there's nothing stopping you from playing the games in their original order. You can just ignore the portals until you're near the end of the game and start doing World of Xeen content.

      Delete
    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    3. The ending of the game was for me a very memorable experience. As I have said in another message, I was fifteen years old, so the revelation of the true identity of the Shadow Weaver caught me completely off-guard.

      When choosing who to summon, first I summoned the God of Magic knowing that I would lead to a bad ending, but I wanted to see it. Next, feeling very intelligent, I summoned Chesschentra, and againg, I was caught absolutely off-guard with what happened next.

      So I started to examine my inventory, dreading that I was lacking some critical item. I started looking at the "plot items", reasoning that the developers of the game probably would have used an item which the player needed to reach the end of the game. The Warmonger was the most obvious candidate, I remembered who had been his previous user, I summoned Borel... and the end left me puzzled about if I had found the "good ending", or there was some other "better ending" which I hadn't been able to find. I supposed that becoming Shadow Weaver and ruling as a benevolent dictator was "technically" a good ending, but certainly not something that I would have expected!

      While reading Chet's playthrough of the game, I noticed that it does a bit of foreshadowing about which items are important in the ending. The title screen shows Warmonger, Cheschentra's skull and the God of Magic's necklace, and in the box art, although the hero is choosing a bad option (the necklace), both the skull and Warmonger are shown in the floor. The art cover is showing you the end of the game, and you won't notice until reaching it!

      Delete
    4. You have a good point about commenters restraining themselves. I appreciate that, too. And in reflection, the ending is probably better than I seemed to regard it in this entry.

      Delete
    5. I'm with Twibat. In fact, World of Xeen was sold as a standalone enhanced CD-ROM edition which the addict of course won#t care for but the point is its quite alright to experience the game(s) in that way.

      Delete
    6. +1 for Twitbat's suggestion. Install both games but don't go to Darkside until you've beaten Clouds. Ruins the game otherwise.

      Delete
    7. There's also the Sword of Xeen expansion to consider, although this comes after World. While it started a a fan-made project, it was eventually published in boxed form with the original games. Might be good for getting a M&M fix after finishing Darkside/World.

      Delete
    8. I'll take other opinions on MM4/5 when it gets closer, but this seems sensible.

      Delete
    9. It's actually possible to be around L22 or 23 in Clouds of Xeen, without touching Darkside. It's going to be rare these days that anyone isn't playing both together though.

      Swords of Xeen is another monster; literally, with some of the most unbalanced combats I've ever seen in an RPG. I got pretty far, but dropped it a few years ago. It's not an expansion, but a stand-alone sequel to Darkside/World of Xeen.

      Delete
    10. I went to the same thought process as Agrivar and when you realize that Warmonger is the correct choice and the game validates it, it feels extremely satisfying, if not really "earth-shattering". I agree that it was probably hyped up a bit too much in the comments.

      BTW, issue 111 of CGW has a retrospective of CRPGs by Scorpia, with small reviews of the major ones.

      She seemed to have liked "The Summoning", as she says: "It is a neat single-player CRPG with an emphasis on puzzles. It overdoes it a litte with the floorplate/teleport combos, but otherwise a lot of fun, if occasionally frustrating. Very good automap, which can be sent to the printer for hardcopy. Balanced combat, with a good mix of melee and spells. Short but unique ending. Despite only two disks in the box, this is a BIG game with much to do. Save files grow quickly, so reserve a lot of space on the drive for this one. It's worth your time."

      Delete
    11. Ah, it also points out the issue where she reviewed it, even if it's in this case it seems more to be a high-level walkthrough/game hints.

      CGW Issue 102, page 60.

      Delete
    12. Appreciate the replies, all good suggestions here. Only problem is Clouds and Darkside were sold as standalone, full game products. You could play Clouds and complete the game. You could do the same with Darkside, also a complete game never having played Clouds before.

      If you had Clouds installed and then installed Darkside later, the game recognized this and asked if you wanted to combine the games together, with additional special content that could only be accessed if you chose to do this. A special animated sequence advised the player they were combining the worlds together. With fireworks too!

      I suppose the question then becomes, should the game(s) be reviewed and rated each as a single standalone product as two separate games, or as a single combined game with additional, special content? Probably a unique situation that's not come up before. Should be interesting to see how this unfolds.

      Delete
    13. Here's an idea, albeit one that would take more time. World of Xeen, the release combining the two, came in 1994. Each situation would be played and rated fairly, without having the previous game be recently experienced. Of course, the problem here is that this would be a 100 hour game played twice for little benefit.

      Delete
    14. Dark Side of Xeen (1993) is the release combining the two. The 1994 version is simply both games re-released in a single box (with some extra voice acting, but no added content).

      Delete
    15. The thing about bringing up how the games were sold is that these days, they're only sold as the combined game. Sure, playing them seperately is how it was done when the games were new, but now the only reason you might want to do that is for historical curiosity rather than it actually being a good way to play them

      Delete
    16. I feel like "historical curiosity" is half or even 75% the point of the blog though. If Chet were looking for the best, most updated versions of games, we'd just be reading some guy's experience with a lot of ports and remakes instead of seeing what the game brought to the table at the time of release.

      Delete
    17. That would imply playing games without patches which sometimes came out months or even years later, pretty much ruling out using GOG versions. If the original version can even be found.

      You can't recreate the feeling of playing the game in the 90s anyway, so the changes of playing the combined game seem pretty insignificant to me. As far as I know playing Dark Side just adds a few pyramids (which can easily be ignored) and dungeons (which you can't enter until you've finished both games).

      It's nothing like playing Ultima VII with Exult which updates the UI in several ways.

      Delete
  8. "The twists at the end were pretty good, although I think some of my commenters oversold them"
    They work better if you don't read the manual's novella and take Rowena at face value. I warned you that that novella was spoilery. Plus, if you know that a twist is coming, it's never going to be as effective as if it were a genuine surprise. So I guess part of the blame is also on us who told you about the twists.
    But you have to admire the amount of red herrings the devs placed in your way. For example, Rowena warns you not to venture to the Citadel's basement - but you're already suspicious of her so you do anyway - but what you find there is Chesschantra, who leads you to (another) bad ending. Or the whole Warmonger thing - you're constantly told how it's evil-evil - to the point that you didn't even want to use it in the first place - and then it turns out the one item that leads you to the good ending.
    And also - what other game has you assume the identity of the big bad after you defeat them?

    "The game offers the same world-ending message, although it is unclear why Chesschantra wants to destroy it."
    Chesschantra has plenty of reasons to hate the world, given how she and Abighael were banished and then hunted. What does come out of the left field is how she turned on her daughter after originally sacrificing herself for Abi's sake.

    "if Event Horizon had made a third title in the series, I suspect they would have done even better"
    They did, sorta-kinda. Anvil of Dawn takes place in a completely different world and is a first person game, but in terms of mechanics, level design and even overall narrative it's extremely similar to The Summoning.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Another thing that should be considered about the twists it is that some of us (me, and I suppose that also the poster formerly known as VK) we experienced thing in our teens. I was fifteen years old when I played "The Summoning", and my previous experience with computer RPGs was "Eye of the Beholder I and II". Having a plot twist in a computer game that wasn't a graphic adventure was completely unexpected!

      Although it cannot be considered an RPG by any measure (at most, it would be an action-adventure game with some RPG elements), I recommend you to play "Veil of Darkness". It is the next game of DreamForge Entertainment, and it could be considered as an improvement over "The Summoning" although it drops all the RPG trappings.

      Delete
    2. I mean yeah, the grand plot twist of EOB2 is that the guy named Dan The Dragon turns out to be... a dragon! Well, the resident superintelligent archmage didn't see it coming... :D

      Delete
    3. I agree with Agrivar; Veil of Darkness isn't really an RPG, despite sharing The Summoning's engine, but it's by far the better game, and worth playing on it's own. Whereas the Summoning had me frustrated toward the end and ready for it to be over with, Veil of Darkness ended a little too soon to me, and I wished there was either more, or a similarly done sequel.

      Delete
    4. Also, the setting of "Veil of Darkness" could be considered as a non-official "Ravenloft". I think the game has enough historical significance (it makes you think how could have been a fourth isometric game which had the strenghts of Veil of Darkness" and were a full RPG) to merit a playthrough (it is much shorter and the puzzles are simpler: there is no playing with teleporters and pressure plates!), and it is a good game by itself (although its lack of RPG elements would give it a dismal GIMLET score).

      Delete
  9. So, wait, what the hell was all that stuff about Warmonger being evil, and bringing ruin to the world if it's ever used, and so forth? Not only does it never turn on you, you need it for the good ending! And then it just fucks off and leaves you alone, mentioned like an afterthought. It's like the developers forgot their own foreshadowing.

    Maybe you're meant to understand that this is all smoke and mirrors by Shadow Weaver to keep you from picking up the sword, but the thing spells 'Bad Ending'. If I played this blind I'd probably leave it where it was, then end up PISSED when I found out dozens of hours later it was not just good all along, but necessary to beat the game! Dick move IMO.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You need Warmonger to pass the two sentient swords guarding Shadow Weaver's chambers, so you can't reach the end of the game without it. Also, you need to "awake" Warmonger to learn the movements of a plot critical spell, so the game forces you to have the sword even if you wan't to use it (although theoretically you can still roleplay your dislike of wielding a demonic sword using only in clearly evil enemies).

      Also, I think that the key element of Warmonger's backstory it is not the sword being good, but their previous user being good (and the final boss' father).

      Delete
  10. Congratulation on the win!

    After reading all of the entries for this game, I'm glad I haven't started it. I would have dropped it, as it definitely not the kind of game I can enjoy.

    ReplyDelete
  11. the last picture does not load for me (the ad)

    ReplyDelete
  12. So it started with three gods, one of which had a daughter with Borel's wife. Borel created a demonic sword called Warmonger; and used this to defeat the three gods. This defeat created the darkspyre from the first game. If nobody could climb this tower, the gods (seemingly not so defeated after all) would destroy the world. It seems justified that the people of the world are pissed off at this, and blame Borel. Let's face it, somebody who creates a demonic sword is probably not one of the good guys.

    Borel tries the spyre and is killed. The people exile his wife and adopted daughter Abighael to an island. The backstory says that the island was invaded by brigands, and the wife dies fighting them after teleporting Abighael away. But this is an unreliable narrator; it later turns out Abighael is ruling the brigands. It is entirely possible that she fought with or was betrayed by her mother. Or maybe she was killed by the brigands; her body is still on the island, after all. Or both: the former explains why the mother would kill Abighael in the second ending; the latter explains why she wants to destroy the world.

    Abighael wants to ascend to godhood. For that, she needs the staff of summoning, which can only be retrieved by (a descendant of) the hero who conquered the spyre. So she builds an invasion force and attacks the hero's country. The country's councilors find help in the form of a prophetess, but this is secretly Abighael again so she effectively sabotages the defense. As the country falls, she sends you to retrieve the staff of summoning to defeat the conquerors, but she actually wants the staff for herself. The main plothole then becomes, if she is so darn powerful, why is she sitting in an empty room doing nothing.

    It's pretty good for a twist. It also makes your character TheChosenOne and the plot a MacGuffinDeliveryService, two tropes which I feel are overused.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
  13. I think that the plot doesn't resist a close scrutiny (and it isn't meant to), but it could be argued that maybe the Gateway spell (which it is needed to gain access to the half of Summoning Staff in the Otherworld) it is only known by Warmonger, and the sword would never tell the spell to Abighael, but it could be convinced to tell it to another descendant of Borel (specially if the Warmonger has developed some kind of empathy towards humans and the descendant seems to be a good person).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Gateway is learned from the 8 mages, not Warmonger. They could have had a scene where Rowena begs to know the spell after you learn it, then the player arrives to find King Nevermore murdered.

      Delete
    2. You're right, I misremembered. But Warmonger tells you the "Mending" spell, which it is needed to repair the Staff of Summoning.

      Delete
  14. One of the things I most admire but also am most baffled by is Chet's willingness to engage with and overcome unfair puzzle mechanics like double-destination teleporters. They elicit a mild scolding in the review, but I would certainly have rage-quit this game upon discovering them. I can't see a place for Rube Goldberg mechanisms in fantasy RPGs; they make no sense in context and are not part of what I'd consider the CRPG core gameplay loop (kill stuff, get loot, kill stronger stuff). They find a more natural home in Tomb Raider and its conceptual descendents, where you're not concerned with "leveling up" Lara, but learning new ways of navigating and manipulating the puzzle environment.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't think they necessarily NOT make sense in context. I mean, this is a world in which the cultural norm is to use levers and pressure plates to obscure the mechanisms necessary to open doors and thus breach the fortress. They have analogs in real life. And most of the games that use them go out of their way to suggest that the dungeon was literally constructed as a puzzle.

      I don't know why the double-destination thing didn't bother me. It's just one of many ways that the basic components of the game has an extra trick to it, like having to weigh down pressure plates. It wouldn't make sense to get mad at that one element if I was willing to accept the rest.

      Delete
    2. It would annoy me because it's not signposted in any way. You see a lever or a pressure plate, you instantly know how to interact with it. Teleporters that change destination when you go through them would force me to quit any game.

      Delete
    3. The guy who gives you the map to the Ebon knights's realm tells you that there are double teleporters. You get this piece of information even if you don't have the manual at hand.

      Delete
    4. It is only very tenuously an RPG, but the (arcade) game Gauntlet II also has transporters that go to multiple destinations, depending on various conditions. They are extremely frustrating in that game, too.

      Delete
  15. Who says you're on your way out?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I just assume they're out there.

      Delete
    2. That's funny, you're the one person I have supported on patreon that's actually made an effort to maintain and actually exceed your level of production. Too bad it's a lousy time to travel...

      Delete
    3. Is it only me that actually feel conscerne when there is a break in this blogs scheduel, i Love it and dont want chet stressad out. So of you taket breakes do it and me and i think a Lot of readers will just appriciate the next post

      Delete
    4. I don't have any planned breaks.

      Delete
    5. I was gonna ask who is saying that, but then I figured it must be RPG Codex.

      Delete
    6. RPG Codex hates me, but I don't think I've ever seen them say that I couldn't do it. They've attributed my persistence to some pretty vile things, but they've never predicted its demise.

      Delete
    7. In fairness, RPG Codex hates everyone.

      Delete
  16. As someone who was too young to play these games when they first came out, I wonder about how many people made it to the end of these puzzle heavy games at the time. Compared to the average player, I feel like Chet has more skill and patience for them and he even gets stuck fairly often. Without the internet community and resources what percentage of players made it to the end? Was it intentional to make them so hard or just poor designs? Were hint lines, guidebooks or magazine solutions commonly used? I don’t remember my older brother ever using any of those resources, but we didn’t have much disposable income at that time so maybe we just couldn’t afford the help.
    For an action or puzzle game maybe it wasn’t a big deal not to finish, but for a rpg with a story it’s like selling novels with the final chapters in a different language!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. there were hint's in magazines, word of mouth and sometimes you just stuck with it until you found the solution and most people didn't have a list of all crpgs released to go trough

      Delete
    2. It wasn't like you could just go download hundreds of games from Archive.org in one go back then; you usually got 1 game here and there, and so you stuck with it until it was beat. Nowadays, we're somewhat spoiled for choice, as you can amass quite a digital collection cheaply (I've probably got a couple dozen games free in my GOG library alone), plus a lot of reasonably high-quality freeware titles that you can dig through...

      Delete
    3. Early 90s, we didn't have a shortage of games. We bought some, we rented some, and then there was the schoolyard virus swapping service (Keypress.exe and ParityB were popular). You could buy cheap shareware disks with plenty of games of questionable quality, but there were also budget collections with pretty good games that were 2-3 years old. Not comparable to todays offering, but we pretty much always had a couple of games to play.

      A lot of those games I didn't play to completion, especially RPGs, and I didn't mind that at all.

      Delete
    4. It is also true that most games where not made to be beat without a great investment of time and frustration so most people where content with never seing the end it's more true about platformers and action games but the feeling influenced the mindset about other genres.

      Delete
    5. It took me literally months to finish Ultima VI (not exclusively playing that of course) as a teen, without hints, the game map (I had a budget release with the manual but no map of it) and with a limited knowledge of English.

      Buck, while I can't say I ever lacked games to play in those years, neither there was the abundance of cheap and readily downloadable high-quality games there is today.

      It had always bothered not to finish I game I started (especially if I bought it and not "obtained it" otherwise), so I guess YMMV.

      Delete
    6. Looking at my stack of game boxes, there are a lot of strategy games and simulations, which are hard to compare to an RPG or adventure when it comes to finishing.

      I bought Wizardry 7 and never finished it back then, but I got a lot out of the game in terms of exploration and mechanics so I didn't mind. Same with Lands of Lore. I also see Fallout (finished), Star Trail (finished), Dark Sun: Shattered Lands (finished) and Wake of the Ravager (don't even remember having bought this?!).

      I think adventures are the kind of games I would like to finish mostly, but for the well-known adventures there was always a walkthrough available.

      Delete
    7. Given how expensive the bigger games were back then, most people wanted to get their money's worth out of them. So they made them "difficult" so people couldn't win them too quickly. It's one of the complaints about Eye of the Beholder, since it was so easy to beat. I beat it in a week (literally seven days), which was unheard of at the time for a game like that. Many people could only AFFORD a few games a year, so you expected to take a long time to beat them.

      It's also why many games, especially RPGs, started padding their games at that time.

      Delete
    8. I remember seeing the "$53.99" sticker on the Pools of Darkness box, which would be about 100 dollars today. Hard to imagine.

      Delete
  17. "As for the interface, I think it required a bit too much mouse work, and too much of that had a tendency to go awry. The system of dragging the inventory panel up and down was never a good idea; it didn't work well in DarkSpyre or Dusk of the Gods, either. (I seem to have said otherwise in my summary of DarkSpyre, which surprises me.) I would have much preferred a single key to switch between the two. The automap is well-annotated but I would have preferred an easy way to call it up instead of requiring the player to equip a special object."

    You can pull the panel up/down with the +/- keys. You really should have played a session with the mouse completely off (in the setup program), where everything is keyboard-controlled, and once you get used to it, you can do everything very quickly.

    Fully agree about the automap.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I was guessing 38ish, so 40 is alright. I played it back in the day but never bothered beating the game, since it came out around when I played Ultima 7 and dog gone it, wasn't in the same league.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I also am not very fond of isometric games in general.

      Delete
  19. Veil of Darkness is much lighter on the RPG elements than The Summoning or Dusk of the Gods, but it's a good game and worth looking at regardless, as it's the last game made in this engine.

    And congrats on having such a productive year! It also coincides with you playing through one of the best years for RPGs, so there's that. Although 93 is gonna be one of my absolute favorites because of Dark Sun.

    ReplyDelete
  20. I played, enjoyed and fully mapped (for Strategywiki.org) Mandragore and Oméga, planète invisible at the beginning of 2020. Now it is the first time ever that Chester plays a computer role-playing game that I cleared already.

    BUG ALERT: there are two version of the French Oméga for C64, and one of them has a critical bug. In the bugged version, the two planets in the "north-west" are identical and both freeze the game near the landing point.

    If needed, I still have the working version and I could send it to you. Otherwise, you can try the German localisation.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow, that's great. I thought I'd be pioneering new territory if I won Oméga. Yes, please e-mail me the one that you know works because I have no idea which one I have. I'd rather play the original French.

      Delete
  21. I've been away for a while and am just catching up. I'm sorry I'm late to the party on this one, as I played through it as a youngster and wanted to comment. But I'll mention a few big things I remember that you seem to have missed:


    1) You said that you can't really dance around the battlefield. That's not quite true. Enemies can only move in 4 directions while you can move in 8, so thanks to the Pythagorean theorem you can kite whole groups of enemies around as long as you have both the skill and the room to maneuver. Combine that with unbreakable bows and arrows and the ability to retrieve your arrows from the ground mid-combat and you can even kill the gazers without having the mirror or spending any resource other than time. This is how I dealt with the Ebon Knight.

    2) If you're really good about putting on the boots of levitation right before walking onto something, hustling across and taking them off the moment you're on the other side, you can do everything you really need to with them before they expire. This includes both passing over lethal terrain and avoiding pressure plates that permanently seal off treasures that would otherwise be mutually exclusive.

    3) The genie hints that you can get two wishes if you're clever. While it's never spelled out in the game (maybe in the hint book?) I'm pretty sure he's breaking the fourth wall here and suggesting you abuse the save system. You can save, wish for knowledge, reload and wish for an item.

    4) Korguz - the foreign guy who expects you to show respect by taking off your footwear - is a murderous asshole. His guards will warn to to show proper respect, but neither they nor he will explain that showing respect means taking off your shoes. If you try to talk to him with them on he'll immediately try to kill you. This MIGHT be slightly excusable in his homeland where people could be expected to know his people's customs, but he's the stranger in a foreign land here. Apparently he expects everyone in the world to know his customs and feels entitled to kill them if they don't, even if they've never heard of his native country before.

    And people say AMERICANS are lousy tourists.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Oh, one more I almost forgot:

    One of the mage skulls - I *THINK* it was Firefang? - warns you against using Warmonger. If you talk to him about it again with an awakened Warmonger in your possession the two of them get into an argument!

    ReplyDelete

I welcome all comments about the material in this blog, and I generally do not censor them. However, please follow these rules:

1. Do not link to any commercial entities, including Kickstarter campaigns, unless they're directly relevant to the material in the associated blog posting. (For instance, that GOG is selling the particular game I'm playing is relevant; that Steam is having a sale this week on other games is not.) This also includes user names that link to advertising.

2. Please avoid profanity and vulgar language. I don't want my blog flagged by too many filters.

3. Please don't comment anonymously. It makes it impossible to tell who's who in a thread. Choose the "Name/URL" option, pick a name for yourself, and just leave the URL blank.

4. I appreciate if you use ROT13 for explicit spoilers for the current game and upcoming games. Please at least mention "ROT13" in the comment so we don't get a lot of replies saying "what is that gibberish?"

Also, Blogger has a way of "eating" comments, so I highly recommend that you copy your words to the clipboard before submitting, just in case.

I read all comments, no matter how old the entry. So do many of my subscribers. Reader comments on "old" games continue to supplement our understanding of them. As such, all comment threads on this blog are live and active unless I specifically turn them off. There is no such thing as "necro-posting" on this blog, and thus no need to use that term.

I will delete any comments that simply point out typos. If you want to use the commenting system to alert me to them, great, I appreciate it, but there's no reason to leave such comments preserved for posterity.

I'm sorry for any difficulty commenting. I turn moderation on and off and "word verification" on and off frequently depending on the volume of spam I'm receiving. I only use either when spam gets out of control, so I appreciate your patience with both moderation tools.