Friday, April 23, 2021

Game 410: Siege of Darkwood (1993)

Chancellor has moved from La Verne to El Segundo since we saw him last.
Siege of Darkwood
United States
Independently developed and published
Released 1993 for Macintosh
Date Started: 20 April 2021
Date Ended: 21 April 2021
Total Hours: 2
Difficulty: Moderate (3.0/5)
Final Rating: 22
Ranking at Time of Posting: 159/412 (39%)
Siege of Darkwood is a sequel to 1992's Darkwood from Robert Chancellor, future Blizzard and Amazon Game Studios employee. Like its predecessor, it's an afternoon RPG, competently programmed but somewhat lacking in content.
In Darkwood, the main character, Derek Silverhand, rose from penniless orphan to Captain of the Guard by defeating successively more powerful monsters in the arena. Here, in his role as captain, he must oversee the defense of the city as it is besieged by an evil being named Torque. Derek must have gone soft as captain, because as the game begins, he's back down to Level 1 and has 80 gold and no equipment. He has a full set of Dungeons and Dragons attributes, but intelligence and wisdom don't come into play in the game.
The quest is introduced.
The siege takes 10 rounds, the first 9 of which feature a handful of monster parties scattered around the city of Darkwood. The appearance of the screen initially made me think there was a strategy element to the game, but there isn't. Instead, you simply click on the monster party that you want to fight and hit "attack." Once in combat, you can click on an enemy to make a physical attack, use a magic item, use a potion, retreat, or surrender (which ends the game).
Once you defeat each group, you can take whatever time you need to heal at the temple, buy new items, or gamble before engaging the next group. Once all the groups are defeated, the next round starts. The "map" is just an interface for selecting the enemies; you don't move around it at all. Enemy groups move closer to the city as rounds pass, and if any are adjacent to the city, they can attack the city's "hit points," the depletion of which is another way to lose the game. It's easy enough just to prioritize the closest enemies, though.
Enemy parties surround Darkwood. The one I've selected has one orc.
Until about Round 4, each "group" has only one monster, progressing in order of difficulty from kobolds to orcs, warriors, hobgoblins, ogres, and hill giants. Groups start featuring two monsters in Round 4 and three in Round 7. Higher-level creatures include weapon masters, minotaurs, stone giants, trolls, and stone golems.
Winning combats and earning gold is the name of the game.
Unlike Darkwood, there's no way to grind against lower-level enemies, so you have to be ready for each new round. Since there are so few tactics in combat, a lot depends on the choices you make between combats, including weapon and armor upgrades, attribute-boosting potions, healing, and magic items. The game's primary strategy is figuring out the best way to spend your limited funds on these boosts. My experience suggests that the order of priority is:

  • Fully heal at the temple between each combat.
  • Buy at least decent weapons and armor (e.g., long sword and scale mail).
  • Buy Potions of Charisma until you have 18 charisma, which makes everything else cheaper.
Until your attributes hit the max of 18, potions are a good purchase.
  • Keep 2 Potions of Heal in your inventory. If you need to use one in combat, buy another.
  • Buy Potions of Constitution and Dexterity until you have 18 of those.
  • Buy Potions of Strength until that's at 18.
  • Buy a Ring of Protection +2.  
  • Upgrade weapons and armor to the best available every 2 rounds or so.
  • Buy a Wand of Destruction when you can afford it. Ignore Wands of Fire and Lightning.
  • Buy the Sword of Justice when it becomes available in the 9th round.
The gambling hall somewhat ruins what would otherwise be a tight economy. In addition to simply allowing players to save scum for favorable outcomes, one of the games ("Treasure Hoarde") is rigged for the player. You roll two dice, and if the sum is 10 or greater, you win 1000 gold pieces for 100 bet. That's 10:1 winnings on 6:1 odds, an average return of 167 for every 100 bet. Fortunately, you can only gamble so many rounds before a guardsman arrives to remind you that you have a city to defend. My recommendation is to ignore the gambling hall. That way, the money you earn just barely allows you to stay ahead of the monsters, and creates more nail-biting situations. Even if you have to reload a lot, you'll win within a couple of hours.
This one, on the other hand, has exactly 1:1 odds.
That's about it. The clanks and screams of combat get a bit repetitive by the end, but the game is over quickly. By the eighth round, when you're facing groups of 3 monsters, the Wand of Destruction mostly carries the day. In Round 10, Torque attacks alone and is laughably easy to defeat, particularly with the Sword of Justice. A final congratulatory message closes the game.
Fighting the final boss.
On a GIMLET, Siege earns:
  • 2 points for the game world. I like the whole "city defense" setup, but there still isn't much to the backstory. This game gives Derek himself a bit more of an origin story.
Derek reminisces about where he came from.
  • 2 points for character creation and development. There's no creation. You gain 7 or 8 levels during the game, and advancement is reasonably satisfying.
  • 0 points for no NPCs.
The character sheet, somewhat late in the game.
  • 1 point for encounters and foes. The foes are D&D standards with no special attacks. Higher-level monsters just hit harder.
  • 2 points for magic and combat. You have a couple of options. There are some limited tactics inherent in the order that you choose to attack enemies in groups.
I blast a stack of three enemies with a wand.
  • 3 points for equipment. Figuring out what to buy, in what order, is the most important part of the game.
  • 4 points for the economy. Simple but tightly structured.
  • 2 points for a main quest.
What happens if you die.
  • 3 points for graphics, sound, and interface. There's nothing spectacular about any of them but nothing terribly wrong, either.
  • 3 points for gameplay. Though linear and not replayable, Siege offers a quick game with a moderate challenge.
That gives us a final score of 22, a few points higher than I gave Darkwood, recognizing a few additions. It was a decent title to fill the breaks between grading papers today. 
Without exclamation points, it just sounds sarcastic.
Let's hope 1993 brings us a lot of one-off titles like this. It will get us through the year a lot faster than the sheer number of games otherwise suggests.


  1. I like how iconic the Mac style of windows is in these games. It lends an odd consistency between games that you don't see on DOS/Amiga.

    1. Yeah, Mac native RPGs like Exile (1995) got ported to Windows 3.1 and looked pretty awkward in comparison.

      Come to think of it, we're now past Ultima 7 and Ultima Underworld, so even in 1993 simple top-down 2D games must already be looking like a bit of a retro throwback.

    2. It did indeed. We will eventually get to The Aethra Chronicles in 1994 and I remember being put off by its presentation. Which was a shame because later when I didn't had the prejudices of my youth anymore I found it to be a very good game.

  2. I like games that have a strategic interface on top of a more tactical combat system, so it's disappointing that this game is only a touch less shallow that the original Darkwood. I congratulate the author on advancing their skill but find it somewhat egregious to charge any amount of money for a game that can be won in less than a day.

    1. There's plenty of games I can think of that can be beaten in less than a day that are worth paying for. After all, it's always better for something to end too soon than to drag on for too long

    2. While its true that a lot of games aren't worth the money they're charging, especially these days, time seems a poor complaint. If you're dedicated enough, you can beat a lot of games in under 24 hours. And by that same comparison, no movie is worth money, even obnoxiously long films like Satantango.

    3. If your metric is hours spent vs expense you should probably pick up crochet or knitting instead of games.
      Me, I'd pay good money for a decent game that can give me a decent rpg experience and can be finished in 5-6 hours. Who has time for 80+ hours behemoths these days?

    4. I agree with Alex's sentiment even if it doesn't quite stand up under scrutiny. My standard for how long a game "should" take is quite wide, but even at the low end, it's more than 2 hours. 2 hours isn't a game at all. It's a demonstration.

    5. I actually do knit, for the record. I like to make striped scarves and drawstring bags, and I recently learned to make socks.

    6. According to SDA, Bioshock can be beat in 52 minutes, Deus Ex in 43 minutes, Baldur's Gate in 21 minutes, and Ultima Underworld in 16 minutes. It's also possible to power through both System Shocks in under an hour.

      Outside of speedruns, there are plenty of games under an hour that are worth playing, especially on the arcade side. A 1-credit clear of R-Type is maybe 30 minutes.

    7. Since people seem driven to misconstrue what I wrote above, time spent isn't my only metric of a game's quality, and I don't consider intentionally speedrunning a game the same as an average playthrough. Of course a game will seem short if you exploit glitches and skip content to beat it faster.

      Siege of Darkwood is a short game, and that's what I called out. But as Addict wrote, it's also relatively shallow, barely a step above the first Darkwood with no NPCs, a perfunctory main quest and basic, unexciting combat. It could have provided and exciting experience; for example, lots of scrolling shooters are very short if you're good at them, but those are fast-paced, exciting and difficult. Adventure games are incredibly short if you've beaten them before or use a walkthrough, but make up for it in various ways.

      Tldr: Siege of Darkwood being short isn't my only problem with the game, and I don't think a game is automatically bad because it is short.

    8. Modern speedrunners hardly play through games in a way anyone would consider "normal", though. Most of them rely on glitches and exploits to skip vast swathes of content in ways that look incomprehensible without proper context. Like the Zelda OoT glitch where you swing a bottle in a certain arcane way and teleport to the end credits. Counts as "beaten" for a speedrun, but not so much for everyone else.

    9. Not all speedruns are horrifically broken glitchfests that beat the game in 5 minutes. From my understanding, most speedrunners prefer the more standard sorts of speedruns on account of them being more interesting to watch and play, along with generally not requiring frame perfect timing to do it.

    10. That is the entire reason that speedruns have categories, most often reliant on hitting certain milestones in game or else by using the game's "percentage complete" feature. Nearly all of the glitchfest speedruns fall into the "end credits only"/Any% category.

    11. Right, I suppose I should have done a better job of putting a facetious spin on it.

      I agree that lack of depth, content, and replayability are what make Siege of Darkwood a rather underwhelming experience.

    12. I do count $/hr of entertainment as one of the most important metrics for buying games (the other being that it looks fun--if a game is not fun, then even for free you are not getting any entertainment per hour).

      I've been tracking my video game spending since about 2014 and am currently at about $0.12 per hour for my average, with the most expensive games at about $1/hr and many free games (roguelikes, etc.). GOG, where I buy most of my games, averages about $0.10-$0.12 per hour. This does not include chess and tabletop RPGs, which are free per hour.

      And I do not go to the movies, largely because I don't believe I get enough entertainment hours per dollar on what I spend.

    13. I really, really don't care about game length. In fact, these days I prefer shorter games to longer ones. I have over 1600 games on Steam and don't even remember most of their prices. Some of them are pretty quick to finish, others offer hundreds of hours of fun, but I wouldn't rate the latter type higher than the former just because of length.

      For me, the main factor is how enjoyable the time I spend with a game is from start to finish. A great but short game like Fallout 1 (only 10 hours or less on a regular playthrough) that is of consistently high quality from start to finish is better than a long game that grows stale halfway through due to repetitive copypasta design of its locations and encounters.

      Many games that boast with long playtimes add a lot of boring filler to the game that just isn't any fun to play through. I still remember how drained I felt after finishing Dragon Age Origins due to the ridiculously high amount of copypasted filler encounters I had to go through, and I haven't touched its sequels because of that. I would have enjoyed the game much more had it only been half as long, with most of the copypasted filler content removed.

      Quality > quantity.

    14. At least we agree on DA:O. Man was I disappointed. I started on Hard and had to eventually drop it down to normal because there were just SO DARN MANY trash mob fights that all took forever.

      That game would have been much, much better if the fights had been as hard as the 'Hard' mode but there had only been 1/3 as many, give or take. I think it took me 64 hours or so to play, and for the last 30 I did not receive a single item upgrade for my main character. Pretty disappointing.

  3. A simple enough game that I probably would have liked, had I known about it. This blog really hammers home just how many games I missed in my journey through gamedom. Some I knew about and never played, but so many more I never heard of and never had the chance to play. Especially these one-off games, I would have liked a lot of them.

  4. This could have been a decent enough structure for a roguelike game, with different characters and randomised enemies, loot, shop inventories, etc. Add some kind of metagame around this (upgrade Darkwood between runs) and it actually starts sounding like a fun little game.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. My main impression is that they did a great job on that title font/graphic. Very of its time, but that burnished brass or gold look really scratches an itch in my brain.

    1. Reminds me of the logo for Seven Cities of Gold, a great game I used to play on my C64. I can't remember if the SCoG logo had a burnished effect, but it did have a neat little sparkle animation.

  7. Char-cater display. Nitpicking, I know.

  8. I remember paying this and the original Darkwood as a kid on the family Mac. It was simple, but satisfying. I still remember the sounds of combat and the winning trumpet fanfare.

  9. I had some misplaced nostalgia for this game, so the year before last I ported/rebuilt the game (with changes) to Pico-8. It’s playable in a browser for free here if anyone is interested in checking it out:

  10. Thank you for this reminder.
    I remember this as a kid!
    I thought the tragic intro to Darkwood was for the developer, not the character. It around the time Mary Jane's Last Dance was on the air.
    Ever since then whenever I've heard a Tom Petty song I remember Darkwood. Now thinking of Darkwood, Tom Petty comes to mind as well.


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