Thursday, June 13, 2013

Dragon Wars: Final Rating

Dragon Wars
Interplay (developer and publisher)
Brian Fargo, Paul O'Connor, Rebecca Ann Heineman
Released 1989 for Apple II and Commodore 64; 1990 for Amiga, Apple IIgs, DOS, PC-98; 1991 for NES, Sharp X68000
Date Started: 3 June 2013
Date Ended: 10 June 2013
Total Hours: 26
Difficulty: Moderate-Hard (3.5/5)
Final Rating: 51
Ranking at Time of Posting: 87% (91/105)

Part of the fun of finishing "journal" games is reading the entries you never found, trying to determine which of them are fake. In Wasteland, there was an entire plot about aliens embedded among the fake entries. Dragon Wars's fakes are mostly humorous ("Try as you might, you just can't get your nose to remain on your face. That Namtar sure has an odd sense of humor"), but there are a few meant to lead you down the wrong path. There was one that suggested an alternate solution to the flooding problem in the City of the Yellow Mud Toad that would have you searching around for a "magic plant." Another suggests that Lanac'toor can be revived. There are a few related to a nonexistent plot with a vampire lord. But for the most part, most of my unread entries looked like they could have been plausible, and I assume I just didn't get them during the course of gameplay.

This is apparently where I was supposed to use that "Soul Bowl."

The list of unread-but-real entries illustrates how this game differs from many others of the era, with multiple side-adventures, multiple options in several places, and multiple paths to the end of the game. I really appreciated this freedom, especially after the frustrating linearity of The Bard's Tale titles. The game also departed from The Bard's Tale by refusing to overpower the party (in fact, they probably erred a bit too much in the other direction!). But they didn't solve all the problems with their approach, and the sheer weight of the combats made for an unpleasant experience in places--though I allow that if I hadn't feverishly played the game for 16 hours straight, I might not have minded the combats as much.

There aren't many games in which killing the "big bad" becomes "repetitive."

People have been telling me for years how great Dragon Wars is, and I think the review below will disappoint them a little. I had fun with it, but I'm not sure I see it coming up in my Top 10. Let's see.

1. Game World. To me, the game world is unquestionably the best part of the game. Sure, we've seen "kill the evil wizard" in a lot of games before, but rarely has it been done with this much detail and attention to the plot. Namtar's history, the geography and history of the islands, the cities' uses of dragons, the gods, and other bits of lore are slowly and satisfyingly revealed through NPCs and journal entries. The party's own place in the game world is clear from the outset, and I love the beginning of the game, with the characters starting naked in a lawless city. Decisions you make effect permanent change on the world: witness my deciding the siege in favor of Byzanople, or the destruction of Phoebus. There will be later games with even more detail and intrigue, but this game, along with the Ultima series (which lacks a dynamic world) set the bar for other CRPGs in this era. Score: 8.

Areas of the game are well-described and fit well with the game's lore.

2. Character Creation and Development. Very original and intriguing. Through the initial creation and customization, you define each character at a level that simply selecting a "class" (the standard in most RPGs) doesn't reach. The allocation of points during this process is absolutely vital because you get so few of them later on. In contrast to character creation, though, leveling in this game is very unsatisfying. Your reward for leveling up is only 2 skill points--enough to get you a single-digit increase in dexterity, spirit, or health, a two-digit increase in strength or intelligence, or a single-skill-level increase in most skills. No additional hit points or spell points come with leveling (unless you invest the points in spirit or health).

While I admire the developers' aim to avoid the overinflated characters found in their previous games, it's a bad RPG that makes you say "meh" when you level up. There are lots of places where I had to reload multiple times to win combats--places which in most games would send me off to a corner for some grinding. This is one of the few games that technically supports grinding but gives you the sense that it wouldn't really help: spending hours to rise one level and gain 2 skill points is not my idea of a good strategy.

My lead character towards the end of the game. I poured all my skill points into strength and dexterity for him.

I'm of a similar dual mind about the skill point system. While I love the inclusion of skills in CRPGs, I don't love CRPGs that introduce a bunch of useless skills, causing you to squander precious skill points. A player ought to be able to approach the game blind and still find success no matter how he chooses to specialize. It wasn't quite as bad here as in Wasteland, but I still didn't appreciate a host of "lore" skills that had limited use and a "pocketpicking" skill that, as far as I could tell, had absolutely no use. There were, however, a few places where you could choose how to solve a puzzle based on your skills, and this makes for a slightly more interesting game. Score: 5.

3. NPC Interaction. We start getting into "disappointing" territory here. First, you have the ability to recruit three additional NPCs into your party after the start of the game. But you can get them so quickly, and once you have them the game treats them indistinguishably from PCs, that the mechanism is rather pointless.

Barkeeps give occasional welcome hints.

There are other NPCs scattered about the game to give you quests, items, journal entries, encounters, and so forth. While they're almost all interesting, well-written, and non-goofy, there's really no depth of interaction with them. Score: 4.

A Dragon Wars NPC offers a depressing description of life.

4. Encounters and Foes. I've lately begun to realize that it was a mistake to mash encounters and foes into a single category. In doing so, I was thinking of modern games, in which interesting enemies often produce interesting options for dealing with them, but in this era they fit together uncomfortably.

On the "encounters" side, the game is pretty good. In every map, you find locations that require some creative use of a skill, attribute, or item. The best part is that most of these encounters are completely optional, producing only some extra treasure, bonus, or item. There are significant role-playing opportunities with some of the encounters, such as whether to sell yourself into slavery to escape Purgatory, or whether to use "bureaucracy" in the slave camp or just kill everyone, or whether to doom Phoebus by interfering with the dragon's feeding or not. These rich options fit well with the game world and history.

On-screen messages are almost always a hint to use some skill. In this case, it was "climb."

On the "foes" side, not so much. There are a lot of enemy types in the game, drawn from the typical CRPG rogue's gallery, but few of them are authentically interesting. They tend to come in two varieties--those that use melee attacks, and those that attack at a range--meaning that you have two basic templates for dealing with them. The "boss" encounters, though, are universally interesting and well-written, even if the tactics don't change much.  Score: 5.

Every time I fight a bear in a CRPG, I wonder whether in real life, a skilled warrior could honestly hope to prevail against one (without a gun).
5. Magic and Combat. I've bellyached about combat throughout these postings--long, frustrating, repetitive, relentless, and often too hard at the boss level--but I have to admit that things have improved since The Bard's Tale and Wasteland. The need to conserve spell points brings a tactical edge to the game that I didn't find in its predecessors. Yes, I was frustrated by having to reload multiple times in many of the quest-based combats, but each time that I finally won, I did feel that it was the right tactics--and not just random luck--that led me to that end. And even though I didn't really like the "distance" element of combat, I admit that it separates this game from many other multi-character first-person series. The "stun" system was also very original.

The magic system itself is nothing special: you acquire spells by finding or buying them, and you can learn them if you have the right school of magic. Different spells have different spell point costs, and the only real tactics involve the conservation of magic in between trips to recharging pools. I admit this game did a little better than its predecessors by making most buffing spells available only in combat, so you have to make more careful decisions about offense vs. defense.

I'm going to give this category a relatively high score of 5, but I'll be subtracting some gameplay points for the sheer number of combats.

6. Equipment. In terms of variety and usefulness, very good. Because character development happens so slowly and in such an unrewarding manner, improving weapons, armor, and other gear is vital to success. The game has a nice selection of weapons, armor, shields, helms, potions, wands, and other assorted equipment. Some of the weapons and items have special functions beyond simply wearing them.

Ulrik's equipment towards the end game.

But the game joins Dungeon Master and a few other titles by frustratingly refusing to be transparent about the amount of damage that weapons do. I guess they expected that each new weapon acquisition would be an occasion for experimentation, but I find that approach obnoxious. I also think that different weapons and armor had non-obvious effects on offense and defense attributes. Skill levels, too, aren't figured into those statistics, and it might have been better if the game hadn't even offered them.

Beyond that, my only complaint is that all items seemed to be fixed rather than random. I like some randomness in the acquisition of gear. Score: 4.

7. Economy. The game has an economy, but I can't honestly say that I paid attention to it. Almost every useful item is found, not purchased, though there are a few exceptions. Shops exist but are mostly useless. Gold isn't very plentiful; you only find it in a few chests and through killing human enemies (and even then, paltry amounts). I basically had enough gold whenever I needed it and didn't think about it otherwise. Not one of the better parts of the game. Score: 3.

8. Quests. We're back to the good parts of the game. The main quest is compelling and fun, proceeding in multiple stages, with a host of side-quests for better equipment, or even just more of the story, along the way. I didn't finish every quest in the game, which is a good thing. It's just too bad there's only one ending to the main quest. Score: 6.

The Universal God is a very Old Testament god.
9. Graphics, Sound, and Inputs. All tolerable or better. The monster portraits varied in quality, but were animated and almost always interesting. I found the sound satisfying if not spectacular--especially when I whacked an enemy with a melee weapon. The interface was uncomplicated and featured a helpful automap.

The automap looked so good, I kept forgetting you can't actually move on this screen.
I have to say a word about the macros. I used them a little. In theory, it's a good idea: if the player wants to use a character's "bandage" skill a lot, rather than making him type U-6-S-A-B every time, just map those keystrokes to one of the function keys. The problem is that the macros don't save with the game, so you have to re-create them every time you reload. Even if you don't reload for a while, little changes in things like the character order or the number of skills available can "break" the macro. Still, few games of the era offer any options along these lines. Score: 6.

10. Gameplay. Dragon Wars gets point for being nonlinear and, because of its nonlinearity, mostly replayable. It was satisfyingly compact and didn't overstay its welcome. I do feel like it was a little too hard and exasperating at points. You shouldn't have to reload quite as many times as I did to win battles, and there are just far too many combats. Having only one save game is a little unfair (it's easy to get trapped), and the game offers essentially no recourse for death until late in the game--you can't even dump the character and create a new one. Score: 5.

The final score of 51 puts it just below the top tier of games in my list: the Gold Box series, the Might & Magic series, the Starflights, and the last few Ultimas. It has some great elements, and with a little extra effort, it could have been among those greats. But it was certainly good enough to keep me addicted and playing well into the wee hours of the morning;

Despite not being able to use the name, ads for the game tried to tie it thematically to The Bard's Tale.

Scorpia's review of the game in the December 1989 Computer Gaming World is a little more positive than mine. She agrees with me on the compelling plot and open game world and criticizes the mysterious equipment attributes and shallow NPC interaction, but she found the combat "balanced" in a way that I didn't. Of the final battle with Namtar, she says it was "probably the best end-game battle of any CRPG I've ever played." I thought it was one of the most needlessly frustrating, though I allow it was pretty cool if you count throwing Namtar into the pit. I don't get the sense that she minded the slow pace of character development or the overall volume of combats. The commenters on my blog might fall closer to Scorpia's opinion.

Matt Barton's interview with Rebecca Heineman suggests that the lack of a Bard's Tale name hurt the game, and sales were low. Perhaps this is what led Interplay to abandon this type of CRPG. With the end of Dragon Wars, we've really reached the end of a lineage. The game that was supposed to be The Bard's Tale IV feels enough like its predecessors to belong to the same family, but at this point, Brian Fargo becomes more a producer than a developer, and Rebecca Heineman moves on to programming action games (her only RPGs that I can find after Dragon Wars are conversions). One final game, Swords and Serpents, released solely for the NES, shows a certain Bard's Tale ancestry, but otherwise it's up to Might & Magic to carry the multi-character, first-person genre forward for a while.

We're definitely not done with Interplay, though. We have a pair of Lord of the Rings games from them in 1990 and 1992, a very intriguing-looking game called Stonekeep in 1995, and of course they'll explode back on the scene in the late 1990s with Fallout, Fallout II, Planescape: Torment, and Icewind Dale.

After a quick visit to the early 1980s again, we'll be moving onto The Land, which I understand is a roguelike based on Stephen Donald's "Thomas Covenant" series but I otherwise know nothing about.


  1. I remember reading somewhere that Escape from Hell uses Wasteland engine, so you're not completely done with that kind of gameplay, probably. Although I can't remember for the life of me what that game was like.

    Why such a low score in the Quests category, though? Multiple endings are a pretty rare beast even today, and lack of them is certainly not worth 4 points.

    1. I don't necessarily cover all aspects of the GIMLET category in the review. For the "quests" category, the elements I assess are:

      -Game has a "main quest"
      -Main quest has different outcomes based on player decisions
      -Game has side quests
      -Side quests have opportunities for role-playing
      -General innovation and uniqueness in the quests

      Imagine each of these worth 2 points, and DW gets 2 for having a main quest, 1.5 for having a limited number of side quests, 1.5 for having some limited role-playing within them, and 1 for a slightly more interesting main quest than the norm.

      If you consider that I need to preserve perfect 10s for games like Baldur's Gate II that have multiple endings, class-specific quest threads, multiple options within those threads, and lots of side quests, I need to have a lot of space between the typical RPG of the 1980s and that perfect 10.

    2. It's just that 6 is a score you gave to Azure Bonds, and from what I've read on your blog and comments about both these games, I get the impression DW does it better (namely in offering quite a few choices & concequences). I might be wrong, of course.

    3. No, you have a good point, but looking over my rating for CotAB, I think this might be more a matter of my rating it too high than DW too low.

    4. "games like Baldur's Gate II that have multiple endings, class-specific quest threads"

      With your blind play-through style and not having time to replay, how will you be able to know if these things exist or not in any given game? Commenters might help here but I am curious how you would know if no one speaks up and says something.

  2. Will you be turning GIMLET to GIMLEFT then, or will it remain as it is? If you intend on changing your review system, it might be better to do it now than in a few years. At least, there will be less to update.

    Or, you could go the easy route and just duplicate Encounters into Foes for all current games and do differently from now on.

    Or you could just leave it as it is. I'm just thinking "out loud".

    1. The whole "foes" aspect is basically a dimension of combat tactics, so I suppose I could move those considerations to the combat section and make "Encounters" more about role-playing choices, puzzles, and such. That's kind of what I've been doing anyway. Not as much tweaking necessary in that sense.

  3. Except for the difficulty part (I'd rate it as moderately difficult) I mostly agree with your assessment. I think the scores could have been slightly better if you played the very nice looking Amiga version.
    It didn't make it on my top 25 RPGs poll at the RPG Codex, but I'd rate it as better than Wasteland, but not quite as good as Ultima V.

  4. Well with this game "only" getting a 51, unless there are any surprises then in the next couple of games, I'm guessing you are going to name Dark Heart of Uukrul as your game of the year for 1989.

    1. I think that would be a fair judgment.

    2. Maybe. "Game of the Year" isn't necessarily about the highest score but also innovation and legacy. There are a few games that could easily vie for the title.

  5. I'll say the game was somewhat entertaining to read of... But the real concern I have is for the bear violence. I think that you really need to think of your characters as they are. A strength of 22, say, sounds somewhat unimpressive from the way we're all brought up thinking - but clearly a 10 would make you a weakling, and a 13 is middling to average. As such, Bolingbroke is actually a monster among men. He's also equipped with a monstrous sword. So long as it's sharp enough to cleave through the bear's skull, I think it's safe to say he has the advantage over the bear due to his range and increased deadliness.

    Maybe I've overthought it a little, though.

  6. ...a black bear is not the same as a brown bear or grizzly. I'd put a trained, armed (and armoured) warrior against a black bear for sure. An angry brown bear of over 1000 pounds would be a scary sight though.

    1. If you managed to convince a healthy male black bear to try to kill the warrior, rather than just avoid/rebuke/defend itself, I think the warrior would have trouble.

    2. But in reference to Chet's comment:

      Warriors in a fantasy setting usually don't make a whole lot of sense. Unless they've been significantly magically enhanced, they aren't going to be able to do anything against your typical bevy of giants, dragons, dire animals etc.

    3. And polar bears are larger still.

      I'd say it largely depends on a few things: Equipment and armour, for example. A mounted knight with a lance? A spear or bow wielding warrior? I mean, they did hunt bear historically, didn't they? Which would imply it is possible.

      Secondly, it depends on how strong your dragon, giant, etc is. A giant is just a big human, and you can build a bow that will punch through bullet-proof glass. That should go through a skull or whatnot pretty easily. Heck, just read The Hobbit to see how you deal with such things in a fantasy world.

      Next up: How closely does your world follow the laws of physics? I'm not a big fan of the genre, but just go watch Hero or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to see what I mean.

  7. lol, I love how everyone is talking about your bear comment instead of the actual game you just reviewed ; )

    1. One of the worst fights I ever had with a group of friends is one someone asked "Who would win in a fight: Jackie Chan or a grizzly bear?"

    2. Jackie Chan hands down. It'd be a really long and convoluted fight, and Jackie would likely have to use about half of the scenery of a small town, but I'd still put my money on Jackie.

    3. It's a draw. The last scene shows them sitting in the middle of a destroyed village, sharing a barrel of rubbing alcohol and belching.

  8. There's one more game of Bard's Tale lineage from this era, Centauri Alliance (, understandably not on your list as it's Apple II or Commodore 64-only. Billed as "Bard's Tale in Space" and designed by Bard's Tale creator Michael Cranford. I messed around with the Apple II one a bit, intrigued by its enhancement of the BT engine of having a an isometric hex-grid screen for combat, and by the fact it was a sci-fi rpg, but I never got far. Might be interesting for you to try, though, as another dip into the 8-bit era non-PC CRPG waters.

    I have the boxed version of Dragon Wars and was considering playing it on the Apple II but I'd likely end up being frustrated by the same things you found frustrating. :)

    1. Centauri Alliance has the option to use characters from Bard's Tale 1-3, Wizardry 1-3, Ultima and Might and Magic. Even magic items and abilities work, although they are altered to fit into the universe of the game.

      WoW :D

    2. Alphabetical Anonymous here: was Centauri Alliance inadvertently left off of your list? 1990 and the screenshots certainly look like an RPG...

    3. I don't remember what happened. I shuffled it from one year to another something. It's on my unplayed list, and as you can see I'm working my way back through the 1980s. I'll eventually reach it again.

  9. The AV and DV adjustments of weapons are certainly reflected in the stats, only the skill effects do not add into it. The thing is only about 30% of the weapons have these benefits, and they are the more unique weapons. The Teeth are something like +8AV and +3 DV.

    I also liked the negative effect many weapons and armor have on certain ratings, Full Plate would drop your AV by 4 or 5 i think, while magic plate would not.

    Also, the part where you can betray Jordan and the princess at byz, then betray the horde outside and make a run at king yourself was cool. I don't think it changes the ending though :( With so many different avenues to take multiple endings would have been great and easy to fit into the plot that is already there. Too bad they didn't do this.

    Still, great game, and a 51 is very respectable.

    1. I thought I read that strength and dexterity have effects on attack and defense that aren't always represented, too.

      Either way, not having the skill effects show up is a little unforgivable since it's not entirely clear what class certain weapons belong to. A "Dragon Sword" is paradoxically not a sword but a two-handed weapon; a "Lance-Sword," which sounds like a two-handed weapon, is a sword. A "Slicer" could be any damned thing.

    2. I thought they were represented as well, but maybe not. regardless, I wonder what logic they were using when they decided to be so cryptic with the weapons. Them and every other game that did the same thing... Did they think it was more realistic? Gave you more to experiment with? either way a terrible flaw that is definitely not done in modern games that I have played.

    3. I'd be happy with a system that had you kill 20 enemies (or whatever) with a weapon before all its stats were divulged.

    4. Not sure if anyone has mentioned this yet, but here: ( is a list of the classes weapons belong to and the relative damage of each.

    5. @Tristan: That sounds like a good mechanic. There has to be a game out there that implements it or something similar. If not then I'll use it at some point. :)

    6. AV and DV automatically reflect changes in DEX (their base value is DEX/4, round down). STR does not affect AV (chance to hit), it only affects how much damage you do.

      The values on the character info page are also modified by the armor and weapons you're using.

      The only thing that's not shown there is the impact of your weapon skills; it's 1:1 when you use the right kind of weapon, but I suppose since the game makes you pay a merchant to figure out which skill goes with which weapon, they decided not to include it automatically.

    7. @Tristan and Zenic

      DCSS had something like this mechanic where you could Identify the + and - to a weapons base values through a undetermined # of uses. The new version drops this for having a weapons specifics discovered based on your skill level with the weapon.

    8. Doesn't Angband have a system like that? I know it does for enemy stats.

    9. It has been so long since I played vanilla Angband I don't rightly remember. Actually thinking about it I don't think Angband did but one of the variants might have. Angband had so many branches, variants, and children that you could likely find any one mechanic in that family tree.

    10. Brogue has a system like that, you need to kill a certain number of enemies to identify a weapon and take a certain amount of damage to identify armor

  10. There are real life human beings that have encountered bears, fought them up close and killed them. So at least it's possible.

    More on point, I agree with your assessment of Dragon Wars. The way I'd solve the point buy levelling issue is to make the level ups come at steady intervals (every 1000 xp for example) and not in the usual geometric form of rpgs. So you could get those two skill points relatively often and not be tied in a build early on, as happens with Dragon Wars, where you get 20 or so skill points up front and that's that.

    I think Dragon Wars knows it has that fault and tries to accomodate by allowing to restart the game with the same characters, but I haven't tried that personally to see how much easier it feels with levelled up characters.

    1. It's actually pretty difficult to have a meaningful level-up mechanic without seriously breaking biological/physical constraints.

      I can't think of many games with believable high level characters. The upcoming Age of Decadence seems to attempt this.

    2. In DSA games, both RoA and Drakensangs, you never get into superhero territory, even on very high levels.

      I think the main problem in most games is HP/MP bloat. Cut that from any given systme, and you'll have a mostly sensible level-up mechanics.

    3. That makes combat more lethal. Which can be compensated for with a 'knock out' mechanic, as Dragon Wars and the Realms of Arkania games both have I think. Then the combats become more a tactics excerise than a grind-till-you-overpower system, with which I am personally happy.

    4. RoA didn't have KO mechanic, Drakensang did. Drakensang's wound system probably got it best in terms of striking the balance between player conveniece and combat meaningfulness.

      In RoA combat lethality (and general lethality - there were far more ways to die than just in combat ;)) was offset by the fact, tha you could resurrect fallen characters relatively easily, given enough gold donated to a temple and enought time spent praying.

      That said, I think that the BEST way to offset combat lethality is to offer plentyful and interesting non-combat solutions ;) Unfortunately, that's very rarely the case.

    5. I think there's a lot to be said for the Dragon Wars system. What's the difference between getting a more powerful sword and gaining a level, anyway? Both increase your power, so your development in combat effectiveness is a function of both.

      In World of Warcraft, levelling switches suddenly and completely from character level to items at max characters level. Characters continue to grow hugely in power after maximum character level is reached as they access equipment from raids. Before raiding, equipment is of little significance as it gets replaced in a few character levels.

      One advantage of the Dragon Wars setup is that your characters actually do play a role you have decided on. You choose your character's abilities, yet if he starts as a mage, it's very hard to turn him into a fighter or vice versa. If you have oodles of skill points, it's harder to avoid characters that become jacks of all trades without forcing explicit class decisions at the start.

      Sure, it's a question of degree, and I wouldn't argue with you if you said, for example, that 3 or 4 points per level would have been more satisfying.

    6. There are satisfying levelling systems that don't lead to huge amounts of inflation:

      Drawing from tabletop games, the Basic Roleplay System never gives you more HP. It just lets you increase your skills, and only ones that you use. So, you can get better at combat through weapon skills and the dodge skill, but it is always risky.

      Additionally, skills go up at random, with the chance of them going up inversely proportional to how good you are at them. This leads to characters getting more well-rounded over time, rather then more and more powerful in one, small area.

      Some point buy systems work this way as well by increasing point costs as you buy higher ranks. Is another +1 HP worth the same as getting first level healing, etc?

  11. Oh man--you are going to like Stonekeep. Think Dungeon Master, but with a massive leap forward in production values.

    I actually wrote an article last year about the advantages and disadvantages of skill-based character creation, inspired in part by your playthrough of Wasteland (it's here, if you're curious: ). I sent it Brian Fargo's way, and he actually emailed me with his thoughts about how they'd be dealing with it in Wasteland 2. Basically, I agree with you that it's a big problem to front-load such crucial choices in an RPG.

    1. I'm not sure Chet values Dungeon Master and high production values as much as you seem to do. ;)
      IMHO, that game is severely lacking in many departments (combat, magic, level design, equipment, quests) and has the annoying/frustrating pixel hunting feature that puts it below most other dungeon crawlers. But it'll be a while before the Addict can judge for himself. :)

  12. "One final game, Swords and Serpents, released solely for the NES, shows a certain Bard's Tale ancestry"

    Ah, S&S. It has a first-person perspective dungeon with turn-based combat and absolutely no, I mean no frills whatsoever. Almost no NPCs, economy, dialogue, story, etc. Imagine if "Don't Go Alone" were even more simplistic and boring.

    I can't believe or remember why I had fun with it. Not because of the 4-player feature, which is actually pretty pointless in a standard, turn-based RPG. The password-based save system was also annoying.

    Dragon Wars may not have made your top 10 list, but it seems to be in your top 20 out of 100; I suspect it will stay in the top 20 for a long time to come, and deservedly so.

    1. Yes, even I forget that 51 is a pretty good score on my blog.

    2. That's one of the reasons why I love your GIMLETs Chet, you give out realistic scores, and not the gushing 10 out of 10 reviews that most places seem to give modern games these days.

    3. More to the point, I'm going for a rating system that will effectively rank games across multiple eras. If a 10/10 game in 1989 was released today, game magazines would say it was awful.

  13. a bit off topic, but Tristan mentioned Age of Decadance, which I recently tried as a free public beta.
    It has an interesting mechanic in that raising Sword skill one point also raises dagger .7, axe .5, hammer .3 and spear .1 ... They call it weapon synergy or something and it seems like a great idea. Learning sword skill SHOULD raise dagger a little, axe a little less and so on. It is more realistic and I have NEVER seen any other game do this.

    1. That is pretty interesting. I never would have thought of that. You could envision that with non-combat skills, too. Someone who understands a lot of "lore" might be slightly better at "diplomacy," for instance.

    2. Right. I sure hope that the creators of games nowadays take time to read blogs like yours to get a taste of what us consumers find enjoyable, effective, annoying etc.. They could learn a LOT from the discussions here. I have learned things I never would have come up with on my own many times here on your blog and cannot imagine a better resource for game developers that is open and free.


      NWN 2 implemented some of these, so it's not quite unheard of.

      It's also done in a more general manner by applying attribute bonuses to skills.

    4. "Someone who understands a lot of "lore" might be slightly better at "diplomacy," for instance." - this connection is often assumed in RPGs, but from personal experience I can say it couldn't be farther from reality. I'm a culture/art theorist, which is probably the closest thing to a "loremaster" you can get in real life, and I suck at even simplest everyday communications completely ;). And so do most of my peers.

  14. Thinking of which, it could be fun to implement a system where at low levels connected skills add to each other, but raising a high-level skill actually makes all others go down - since proficiency usually comes at the expence of breadth.

    1. (that was meant to be a reply to the thread above)

  15. I'm curious what importing a Bard's Tale group into this different system would do.

    1. A walkthrough I read suggests you end up with a party that's significantly under-powered compared to creating one from scratch.

  16. By the way, if this person was telling the truth (probably not) then yes, a bear can be beaten by a human:

  17. "if the player wants to use a character's "bandage" skill a lot, rather than making him type U-6-S-A-B every time, just map those keystrokes to one of the function keys. The problem is that the macros don't save with the game, so you have to re-create them every time you reload."

    I can recommend you something like G15/G19 or G13 (won't name it completely, but google will show immidiately what I mean), where you can create multiple profiles and create almost every possible key combinations or shortcuts. But it will ruin the original experience.

  18. For anyone who could be interested, GOG is also selling "Dragon Wars" now:

  19. Interesting to see the different takes on Swords & Serpents and Stonekeep in the comments. i played a fair bit of both when they were released.

    I found S&S a lot of fun, as simple as it was, and always thought of it as a bit of a hidden NES gem that I'd like to go back to at some point.

    Stonekeep, on the other hand... I eventually decided that it was awful. The ugly digitised graphics certainly didn't help, but I also just found it too punishing. It was too easy to get into a situation where you were scraping by on almost no health, with no way to heal and relying on lucky reloads to get through battle after battle. A shame, as I remember it having quite an immersive interface and it certainly tried to tell an entertaining story.

  20. this seems very one-step-forward, one-step-back for interplay.

    on the plus side, that macro system seems absolutely awesome. automating little things like attacking is a great time-saver. if only it wrote to disk. :(

    also, it seems like this one's got a great, unified feel to it - that all the little pieces gel together in a cool whole. i especially like the "cold war dragons" setup, that's pretty novel. [and i was immensely sad to read about that dragon who was kept in captivity like that :(]

    on the minus side, it seems like everything else. lol.

    i could never/can not take this era of interplay very seriously with the CONSTANT combats. i've tried, several times over the years to get into bard's tale, but every time, combat fatigue kills the momentum of the game for me, somewhere along the way. so i'm not surprised to learn that that was a problem here, even.

    but the other big issue, i feel, is just how little power your characters seem to accrue across the adventure. [though, for my tastes, i tend to prefer a late game outcome that leaves you stomping your foes to smithereens.]

    those two frustrations would turn me away. so i think i'm inclined to agree with your gimlet. a step up from bard's tale, but with some tweaks - particularly to the combat, it could have been great.


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